New Masters project researching archaeological benefits of roadworks

MRes archaeology student Asta Pavilionyte.

The archaeological benefits of roadwork developments in Scotland is the subject of a new Masters by Research (MRes) project funded by Transport Scotland.

The dualling of the A9 trunk road between Perth to Inverness has been hailed as one of the largest transport investments in Scotland’s history. In common with all major infrastructure projects, Transport Scotland has appointed archaeologists to check for archaeology ahead of the roadworks and where necessary excavate and record it.

As part of Transport Scotland’s Academy9 research programme, Asta Pavilionyte began her MRes in Archaeology, at Inverness College campus of the University of the Highlands and Islands, in October.

She will be evaluating and reviewing archaeological mitigation works undertaken in major road infrastructure projects and identifying the public benefits associated with these projects. The research focus is the A9 dualling project.

Asta’s MRes supervisors are Professor Jane Downes, director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Julie Gibson, Orkney’s county archaeologist and Archaeology Institute lecturer, and Dr Monika Maleszka-Ritchie, of Inverness College UHI.

“I decided to apply for this MRes Studentship because I wanted to become a part of challenging research that could help to change archaeological management approaches in current and future infrastructure projects for the better and broaden general public knowledge about archaeology and heritage,” Asta explained.

“I believe that this is a great opportunity to continue the advancement of my skills and it will help me to advance in my future career.”

Before starting the studentship, Asta was a project assistant for Headland Archaeology, one of the biggest commercial archaeology companies in the UK. She was involved in various large-scale infrastructure and commercial projects, investigating archaeological sites across the country.

Another Archaeology Institute PhD student celebrates viva success

Jasmijn at work in the lab at Orkney College.

Jasmijn Sybenga, a student at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, has passed her PhD viva, with no corrections.

Jasmijn’s thesis, Seeing the Wood for the Trees; a palaeoecological approach into the research of past natural woodland in the Scottish Highlands, focused on three areas of peatland in Caithness and Sutherland.

Jasmijn at work in the field.

Using pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and microscopic charcoal, Jasmijn identified the types of woodland previously present against today’s woodland survey of Scotland, causes for the demise of these woodlands and evidence of past woodland disturbances, such as those caused by people and climate.

The results were modelled against predicted climate change to identify what native woodland and tree types offer the best chance for establishment through re-afforestation of these areas – information that will have implications for future conservation strategies in the Highlands and potentially across Scotland.

Jasmijn started her PhD in February 2016 after finishing both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Her PhD supervisors were Dr Scott Timpany, Dr Roxane Andersen and Dr Melanie Smith and her research funded by a Forestry Commission Scotland Funded Studentship and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, please get in touch by e-mailing or see our guide page.

PhD candidate sought for Severn valley settlement research project

The Medieval Settlement Research Group (MSRG), in conjunction with the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham, is seeking a PhD candidate for its application for an M4C collaborative doctoral award: Dispersed Settlement in the West Midlands’ Severn Valley: An Interdisciplinary Approach.

If successful, the project will start in September 2021 and focus on landscapes of dispersed settlement (consisting of isolated farmsteads and hamlets) in the middle Severn valley.

The post-Conquest (1086-1500) settlement history of the West Midlands has been little-studied recently. Generally, medieval settlement studies have focused on areas of nucleated settlement (large villages, with houses clustered together), broadly stretching in a band from the south-west to the north-east of England through the East Midlands, so this proposed research fills both geographical and intellectual gaps in our current understanding of rural settlement formation.

Research questions:

  1. Which factors were more influential on patterns of dispersed settlement: physical (e.g. soils, relief) or cultural (e.g. lordship, agriculture, industry)?
  2. How do patterns of dispersal compare and contrast across the region studied?
  3. Is it possible to determine a chronology of development for dispersed settlement?
  4. To what extent did small, isolated settlements subsequently develop?
  5. To what extent did the colonisation of cleared woodland generate later foundations of dispersed settlement?
  6. Did the region have a distinctive social structure, with special regard to lordship, peasant status, holding size, community, parish, farming regime and industry that accounts for dispersed settlements?
  7. (Two local case-studies) To what extent is it possible to determine the lived experience, outlook and culture of medieval occupants of small, dispersed settlements, and how might it have differed from that experienced by people living in larger settlements?

The project will encompass methodologies from landscape archaeology, local history, historical geography, and toponomastics. The following aspects will be key:

  • Multi-disciplinary literature review focusing on landscape archaeological, historical, geographical and place-name outputs relating to English medieval settlement scholarship, alongside a comparative review of writing on European settlement.
  • Identification of dispersed settlement within the study area using historical documents (especially manorial surveys, court rolls and deeds), early maps, aerial photographs, and placenames.
  • Review of key local published histories, including the Victoria County History series and the output of county archaeological and historical societies.
  • Review of archaeological grey literature for the study area, alongside a thorough search of the data on the Historic Environment Record (HER), and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
  • Analysis of existing placename datasets for the study area.
  • The development and population of a database for analysis of the corpus of settlement sites.
  • Use of GIS to map settlement sites, in particular the distribution of hamlets and isolated farmsteads and cottages.

The MSRG are keen to hear from applicants who have completed/are close to completing an MA/MSc in either landscape archaeology, local history, historical geography or toponomastics.

To apply, please send a covering letter and two references to Dr Susan Kilby, Hon. Secretary, MSRG, by email to by Friday, December 11, 2020.

The group intends to hold virtual interviews for potential candidates.

Funded PhD Opportunity – human/animal interaction in Wales (AD700-1000)

Cardiff University and the National Museum Wales have a fully funded collaborative doctoral studentship available focusing on human/animal interactions in Wales between AD700-1000.

The four-year project, which falls under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, will be jointly supervised by Professor Jacqui Mulville, Cardiff University, and Dr Mark Redknap, National Museum, and the student will be expected to spend time at both the university and museum as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of UK CDP-funded students.

The research will examine how human/animal interactions impacted on personal experiences in Wales during the formative period of the creation of Welsh identity.

Discussions of early medieval food systems have hitherto relied heavily on limited and inadequate narratives provided through the interpretation of scant historical records or limited datasets.

The enclosed settlement and market centre at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey, excavated between 1994 and 2012, produced the largest unstudied archaeological assemblage of faunal remains (over 50,000 fragments) within dated sequences from early medieval Wales, with the benefits of clear associations with contemporary material culture, buildings and human remains.

The research will:

  • Study this comprehensive evidence base for the definition of early farming practices in the north Wales/Irish Sea region, from the raising of stock, selecting and sourcing foods, occupational practices including butchery, food preparation, consumption and disposal.
  • Define the extent to which animal/human interactions in early medieval/Viking Age Wales reflected practices in Ireland, Britain and on the Continent.
  • Assess the influence of these human/animal interactions on development, identity, health and social structure within early Welsh kingdoms.

Key to this will be the comparison of the Llanbedrgoch bone assemblage with contemporary sites. These include the recently published evidence from the elite, atypical and short-lived crannog at Llangorse (c. AD890-916) in the kingdom of Brycheiniog, where food procurement was apparently linked to supplies chains through food rents with consumption reflecting cultural, economic and environmental drivers.

The community engagement programme will offer the student opportunities to explore issues shared across time and participation in archaeology will provided through the student’s involvement with young people engaging with STEM activities based around food.

Research questions include:

  • How did food consumption in the early medieval Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd differ in character from that of its neighbours?
  • What were the mainstays of the “historical” diet of the population in Wales and the West?
  • To what extent did husbandry support the wider economy?
  • How can animal/human interactions from ninth/tenth-century Wales and the evidence from contemporary Dublin, Man and northern England inform us of changing identities, class, and politics?

The deadline for applications is November 6, 2020. For full details, including how to apply, click here.

Viva success for UHI PhD student

Magdalena Blanz (right) with one of her PhD supervisors, Dr Ingrid Mainland, senior lecturer at the UHI Archaeology Institute.

UHI Archaeology Institute student Magdalena Blanz has passed her PhD viva examination.

Magdalena’s PhD thesis, Seaweed as Food, Fodder and Fertiliser in the North Atlantic Islands: Past, present and future opportunities, looked at the importance of seaweed to past and present island communities. Part of this, involved researching how the chemical and isotopic composition of skeletal material is changed by the consumption of seaweed and the impact of fertilising grain crops with seaweed.

Her PhD was funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

But it is double congratulations to Magdalena, who also has a post-doctoral research appointment at Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science (VIAS), University of Vienna.

Funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the project is entitled Farmers without borders: Ecological perspectives on the spread of animal husbandry from the Mediterranean to southeast Europe (6500-5500 BC).

It deals with the interrelationships of environmental, biological and socio-cultural factors that enabled the spread of domestic animals in the Balkans, by analysing absorbed organic residues in pottery, stable isotope analysis of animal remains, statistical analysis of archaeological kill-off profiles and computational modelling.

If you are interested in postgraduate research at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, please get in touch by e-mailing or see our guide page.

UHI Archaeology Institute research highlighted at Highland Archaeology Festival

Dr Scott Timpany, a lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Island Archaeology Institute, will present a talk next week as part of the ongoing Highland Archaeology Festival.

Scott’s presentation, Recent Palaeoarchaeology Work in the Highlands, focuses on the use of plant remains to answer research questions and explain vegetation changes over time.

The talk will be streamed online, using Microsoft Teams, on Tuesday, October 6, at 7.30pm. Although free to access, pre-booking is required at

On Thursday, October 8, from 7.30pm, three UHI postgraduate students will take the stage to outline their ongoing research.

In “The archaeology of whisky smuggling: searching for things that weren’t meant to be found!”, PhD student Darroch Bratt will discuss the archaeology of whisky smuggling as well as the way trade, legislation, economics and community impacted and changed the archaeological footprint of what became a pillar of the Scottish economy.

PhD student Jasmijn Sybenga’s talk, “Seeing the woods for the trees: a palaeoecological investigation of native woodlands to inform present and future woodland conservation management strategies in Northern Scotland”, outlines her research into three areas of peatland in Caithness and Sutherland.

Pollen grains viewed through the microscope (x400) – tree pollen of alder and hazel can be seen in this photo. (Picture: Dr Scott Timpany)

Using pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and microscopic charcoal, Jasmijn is seeking to identify the types of woodland previously present against today’s woodland survey of Scotland, causes for the demise of these woodlands and evidence of past woodland disturbances, such as those caused by people and climate.

The results of the work are modelled against predicted climate change to identify what native woodland and tree types offer the best chance for establishment through re-afforestation of these areas.

“Out of the Round: a palaeoecological investigation into human-environmental interactions of hut circle communities in Gairloch, Wester Ross”, from MRes student Hannah Genders Boyd, focuses on the Bronze and Iron Age communities who occupied the hut-circle (roundhouse) sites in the area around Gairloch.

One of the hut circles at Achtercairn, in Gairloch. (Picture: Dr Scott Timpany)

Palaeoecological analysis is being undertaken to investigate the interactions between local communities in this area and their environment – in particular evidence of economy, such as pastoral and arable farming and whether any shifts in these can be detected, together with evidence for metalworking from elevated charcoal and heavy metals input into the peat bog the core was taken from.

The project will look at how these communities adapted to changing climate and whether occupation of the area occurred in relatively short bursts of time or over a longer duration.

These talks should be booked at