Archaeology and Ancient History

Research student projects

Current research projects

Nora Battermann, Revealing Reynard: a 10,000-year cultural biography of human-fox interactions (Midlands3Cities)

This research will unpick the complex cultural history of human-fox interactions in England to disclose how changing worldviews are reflected in the conceptualisation and treatment of animals. As a commensal species with crepuscular habits, the fox inhabits a liminal space: in Cartesian terms it can be seen to be ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘wild’ and ‘domestic’.

The ethology of the fox has generated a diverse range of human responses ranging from classification as vermin to incorporation into folk belief. The diversity of human responses to this animal makes it an ideal vehicle to explore the complexity and changing nature of human attitudes towards animals and ‘outsiders’.

This interdisciplinary study will combine archaeology, biomolecular evidence and written sources (folklore, religious and philosophical). Taking a longue durée perspective will provide new insights into the impact of belief systems, cultural changes, and political and economic shifts on people’s conceptualisations of animals. The main research focus lies on zooarchaeological material, which will be compiled and enhanced by the re-analysis of archived material from Leicestershire to incorporate dietary stable isotope analysis.

Lauren Bellis, A dog’s life: an interdisciplinary study of changing human-animal relationships in Roman Britain (Midlands3Cities)

This research investigates the impact of the Roman Empire on relationships between people and dogs within Britain. The Roman annexation is linked with a greater diversity of dog types, particularly very small 'toy' dogs; these changes may have been accompanied by new attitudes towards dogs within Britain. If so, this may indicate developments in how people perceived the natural world or even treated other humans, as links between animal and human abuse have been found in the present day.

It is possible that influence was not uniform, but varied between different social groups in Britain. Building on Masters research, which indicated significant differences in dog welfare between urban and rural sites across Roman Britain, this work will examine the variation in relationships across social groups, geographic locations and time during the Roman occupation. Remains of dogs, stable isotope analysis, textual sources and artwork will be used. Given their importance in Roman society and close proximity to humans, the ways in which dogs influenced people and Romano-British society will be considered throughout the project.

Rebecca Kibble, Towards the creation of a digital dataset amalgamating the entirety of zoaorchaeological assemblage data within a GIS platform

The research aims at creating a digital dataset using GIS applications that can encode the full complexities of zooarchaeological assemblage data across multi-scalar boundaries. The study will encapsulate empirical research on faunal assemblage data, in terms of methodological procedures from data acquisition to final digital output. Fundamentally I will be using statistics to characterise and amalgamate multi-variate assemblage data into a singular comparative dataset by using the principles of Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and correspondence analysis; to facilitate more flexible and fluid temporal and spatial examination.

Once such a dataset is created the second main aim is to establish how GIS can visualise and analyse the multi-variate, multi-scalar datasets produced within spatial and temporal domains. This has huge significance for the progression of GIS within archaeology, particularly within zooarchaeology in terms of creating a more robust way of recording, analysing and disseminating faunal assemblages.

GIS needs to be able to handle and analyse archaeological data in terms of complex spatial and temporal domains to fully exploit the research potential of GIS applications specific to the archaeological discipline. My research will investigate the analytical potential of multi-variate and multi-scalar data to determine its use within archaeology.

Rachel Small, Food, identity and humoral theory in early modern England: a case study from Leicestershire (Midlands3Cities)

Archaeological studies of food have generally taken an isolationist approach, considering animal and plant remains separately, and most have failed to integrate written sources fully into their discussion. Furthermore, interpretations have tended to focus on the economics of production (e.g. an increase in the consumption of calves can be explained by a rise in dairy production) or on identifying aspects of dietary identity (most commonly social status).

A major omission in current scholarship is the consideration of humoral theory as a framework that guided contemporary attitudes to diet and good health. This was particularly true for the early modern period (c. 1450-1800) when it was believed that the body contained four humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) and good health lay in their balance. All foods had a particular humoral structure and affected the individual's body when consumed. A "correct" diet achieved humoral balance and so determined good health.

This research will use a case-study of an early modern aristocratic household: Bradgate House, Leicestershire, home of the Grey family. As wealthy, literate individuals at the forefront of cultural change (Bradgate House was one of the English brick built houses) they were likely to have been familiar with fashionable dietary advice.

In this study, archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological evidence from the Bradgate House excavations will be quantitatively integrated and reviewed together with the extant household accounts; dietary evidence will be contextualised through regional and national site comparison. Drawing on primary documentary sources, this study will answer the research question 'how did humoral theory influence consumption behaviour and the construction and negotiation of group identities in early modern England?'

Completed doctoral research projects

Emily Banfield, Animals and ontologies in Neolithic long barrows (2018)

Alison Foster, The identification of chicken breeds in the archaeological record (2018)

Eric Tourigny, Upper Canada foodways: An analysis of faunal remains recovered from urban household and rural farmstead sites in the area of York (Toronto), AD 1794-1900 (2016)

Meghann Mahoney, Diet and provisioning in Roman small towns: a case study from Ashton, Northamptonshire (2015)

Rebecca Gordon, Feeding the city: zooarchaeological perspectives on urban provisioning in post-medieval England (AD 1500-1900) (2015)

Brooklynne 'Tyr' Fothergill, The bird of the next dawn: the husbandry, transformation and translocation of the turkey (2012)

Matilda Holmes, Food and status in the Saxon and Scandinavian burhs (2011)

Judith Porcasi, Subsistence in palaeocoastal California (2008)

Stephanie Vann, A generic recording system for animal palaeopathology (2008)

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