Science-Based Archaeology within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry… by Angela Lamb and Holly Miller

On 1st June BGS hosted a workshop with the aim to bring together scientists from BGS and the University of Nottingham to facilitate more collaboration between the institutes on the theme of Science-Based Archaeology. Here Angela Lamb (BGS) and Holly Miller (University of Nottingham) tell us about the workshop….

Angela Lamb introducing the day's agenda
Melanie Leng started us off with an introduction to the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and how the centre has evolved over the year since its creation. The aim of the workshop was for both institutes to share their research interests and techniques with each other to find areas of common ground for research. We started the day by BGS staff presenting how their specific research areas have been and could be applied to Archaeological problems. Angela Lamb gave the first talk of the day, summarising the use of stable isotopes in Archaeology and how multiple isotope systems can be applied to questions including the origins of agriculture, climatic change, origin and migration of animals and past dietary regimes. As Professor Jane Evans couldn't join us I showed a video of Jane elegantly explaining how isotopes work:

Carolyn Chenery discussed how radiogenic isotope systems work and their application to the study of human and animal origin and migration, followed by Melanie Leng who showed us examples of how isotopes can be used to gain sub-seasonal scale climate records from mollusc shells. Chris Vane is head of Organic Geochemistry within the Centre and he summarised the various organic provencing techniques he thought were relevant, provoking much interest and discussion. Simon Chenery rounded off the BGS talks with a review of how we can measure the availability of metals in the environmental and also how elemental microanalysis by ICP-MS can examine the origins of materials such as pottery and glass.

In the afternoon, University of Nottingham staff gave us their research summaries, which included examples of the great collaborations already happening between the institutes. Naomi Sykes illustrated some results from the AHRC funded Fallow Deer and Chicken projects, emphasizing how isotopes can inform us about the origins, movement and domestication of animals and how this is important for future food security. Julian Hendersonhas also a well established research connection with BGS and explained how geochemistry has enhanced his work on the origins of glass within Europe and the near East. Hannah O'Regan has also worked with BGS for many years and shared her work on the diet and evolution of Macaques and her current interests involving linking isotope data with geo-satellite imagery and examining fungi as a hidden food resource. Will Bowden rounded up the talks with a look at the Roman site of Caistor in Norfolk, and his research on the evolution of the town and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, in particular how humans interacted with the nearby river. There were clear potential linkages with BGS's organic geochemistry techniques.

The day ended with a lively discussion about how we could move things forward, especially routes for funding, and I know many individuals left with new contacts forged and a strategy for taking things forward.

By Angela Lamb, Research Scientist at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories, British Geological Survey and Leader of Stable Isotopes in Archaeology within the Centre of Environmental Geochemistry and Holly Miller, Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham and Visiting Research Associate at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratories.