Research Methods

Our proposed work will be divided intfieldwork, laboratory analysis and collections-based study. Fieldwork will concentrate on specific question-orientated investigations requiring small-scale sampling rather than large new multi-season excavations. Such questions will be directly linked tproviding a better context for understanding existing museum collections, which are primarily based in the Natural History Museum and British Museum, but are alsdispersed in a wide range of provincial museums. Laboratory analyses will stem from both fieldwork and curated material and will be undertaken primarily at the Natural History Museum and Royal Holloway College, but alsat other institutions where well-established links exist.

This project is fundamentally a multidisciplinary approach towards integrating known archaeological and environmental data with the Quaternary chronostratigraphical framework. Understanding of context is essential and our efforts will be directed tclarifying and where necessary confirming through fieldwork the integrity of the stratigraphic contexts of existing collections.

The main methods of enquiry are:

Sedimentology - Attention will be given the continuity of successions, the nature of depositional breaks and how archaeological materials relate tdated or environmentally diagnostic horizons. Sedimentary processes will be examined as key indicators of depositional environments. This will be based on field and laboratory study. Particular attention will be paid tevidence derived from palaeosols and other organic horizons. This may prove critical for reconstructing the environments within which early hominids lived.

Geochronology - Established dating techniques will be used tconstrain the chronology and tie in biostratigraphical models with the independent marine isotope and polar ice core records. This work will be undertaken at the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, and in other institutions with which team members have well established collaborative links. The methods most likely tbe used are:

-AMS radiocarbon age determinations of bone.
-Mass Spectrometric Uranium-series (U-series) age estimations of speleothem and other calcitic materials (important in cave sequences and other areas of calcium carbonate precipitation).
-Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) of sediments that have been exposed tlight then buried will potentially date sediments that contain archaeology, especially former land-surfaces.
-Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) will be used tprovide age estimates of teeth and shell materials.
-Amino Acid Racemisation will be used tdetermine the relative age of molluscan assemblages.

Stable isotope analysis - Stable isotopes of Oxygen, Hydrogen (Deuterium), Carbon and Nitrogen will be used treconstruct the fundamental parameters of past environments and dietary foodwebs. Quantitative data on past conditions will be determined by the use of transfer functions derived from isotopic determinations of materials from analogous modern systems. The most suitable materials for this type of analysis are mammalian teeth and bones, terrestrial and freshwater mollusc shells, plant materials and carbonate precipitates. All of these can be found associated with the archaeological record and offer great potential for providing much more detail of past environments than has hithertbeen possible. The use of laser ablation sampling for , H and C isotopes allows very high resolution in sampling and it should be possible tderive seasonal climatic reconstructions. The use of seriated sampling, and in some instances laser ablation, allow high resolution sampling sufficient for seasonal climatic reconstructions. In addition, C and N recovered from mammalian dentine bone collagen, in combination with enamel C and , will allow tracking of feeding strategies within lifetimes of individual mammals, and situate them within the seasonal range.

Biostratigraphy - Mammalian fossils are particularly valuable in differentiating between the various climatic episodes of the British Middle and Late Pleistocene. Recent work on the late Middle Pleistocene reveals that each successive major temperate stage gave rise ta unique faunal grouping, enabling a sequence of mammal assemblage-zones (MAZs) tbe established. Sub-stage resolution has been established for several critical periods. Other biota can alsbe utilised tprovide biostratigraphical correlation, particularly molluscs and beetles. Fossil pollen can be used within many stages tprovide high resolution environmental reconstructions.

Taphonomy and palaeoecology - information derived from the post-mortem history of biological materials can provide a wealth of environmental data. Potential taphonomic bias in fossil vertebrate assemblages will be studied at the community level and community level structures investigated by means of a method of weighted averages, a simple form of ordination by which the summed environmental preferences of extinct animals are reconstructed from those of their nearest living relatives.

Archaeological studies - The lithic record during the Lower Palaeolithic consists of core and flake assemblages (Clactonian) and assemblages that include bifaces (Acheulian). The Middle Palaeolithic is marked by the introduction of Levallois or prepared core working technologies. The Upper Palaeolithic is mainly characterised by blade production, replaced in the Mesolithic by microlithic industries. The main lithic studies will be documentation of the lithic industries and their geological context and environmental associations. Comparison with the European evidence is of critical importance in placing the British archaeological sequence in its broader context. An important additional means of understanding human behaviour during these periods is through analysis of the human modification of bone. Butchery patterns on bone will be analysed as evidence of past human subsistence. Evidence for the use of bone or antler for tools (e.g. soft hammers) will alsbe sought. Evidence for the use of wood and other soft organic materials should not be overlooked, particularly in the organic sediments at Happisburgh.

Geographic Information System - We will use Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to integrate the faunal, archaeological, and paleoenvironmental data in a geographic and temporal context. GIS technology will allow us tquantify the strength of association between human presence and environmental variables (climate, topography, fauna and flora). The key axes of space and time will provide temporal slices of contemporaneous 'landscapes', while between interval comparisons will describe the shifting environmental milieu in which humans moved intand out of Britain. The system will consist of a database of sites and their variables together with mapping protocols. The latter consist of 'overlays' of the present natural geography of Britain, as well as estimated palaeocoastlines, river courses, and ice margins at selected time intervals. The uncertainties of the latter will pinpoint areas of strength and weakness in our knowledge.

In short, the GIS system will quantify several specific relationships. These include the cohesion of particular mammalian faunal assemblages, the correlation between human presence and aspects of the mammalian fauna, and the correlation between both human and mammalian distribution and climatic factors. The system will alshelp us assess the strengths and weaknesses of the British record, suggesting where the absence of humans is real and where it is an artefact of the record.

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