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My first love was botany - I took a BA degree in it for the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge (1974). Through teaching by staff of the former Sub-Department of Quaternary Research in the Botany School there, I developed an interest in matters Pleistocene and undertook a PhD (completed 1977) with Prof. Richard West on the geology and palaeobotany of a Last Interglacial site in the East Midlands of England. That gave me a grounding in the principles and practice of pollen analysis and the study of plant macrofossils. I then took up a one-year contract at the Environmental Archaeology Unit in the Department of Biology of the University of York... where I remained until 2003, when I transferred to the Department of Archaeology. I was funded (fully, then latterly half-time) through the period 1.10.77 to 30.9.08 by English Heritage (and their predecessors), to whom grateful thanks are due.
I am the Departmental Library Representative, acting as a link between the Department and the University Libraries and Archive Service. I am always happy to receive suggestions of books or other resources which we might profitably add to our collections - simply e-mail me at email@example.com. Day-to-day enquiries about using the library should be directed to the Department's Academic Liaison Librarian, Olivia Else; further guidance about the Library in relation to its archaeology holdings can be found here.
My research has focused primarily on the study and interpretation of archaeological plant macrofossil assemblages preserved in various ways in archaeological occupation deposits. For the most part these are collections of remains such as fruits and seeds—the usual stuff of archaeobotany—but I have also tried where possible to encompass vegetative material such as fragments of moss, tree buds and bud-scales and a wide variety of other plant parts.
I have been fortunate to work for nearly three decades in York where the deeply stratified and often highly organic deposits of Roman, Viking and medieval date have provided a wealth of material for study. From the analyses of plant macrofossils, we now have a good idea about past use in the city of plants for food and in craft and industry (especially in textile dyeing), as well as exploitation of resources from the hinterland of the city and further afield, though many questions remain unanswered. Working closely with other environmental archaeologists, but especially my palaeo-entomological colleague Harry Kenward, has provided excellent opportunities for integrating data from different lines of evidence.
For some time now I have been exploring the past use of turves through their archaeobotanical signature, using data from a wide variety of sites in the region, and some practical experiments in burning samples of turves, to find out what kinds of material survives.
Another interest is the collection and analysis of published data on plant macrofossils—I maintain the Archaeobotanical Computer Database (ABCD (MS Word , 26kb)), created by Dr Philippa Tomlinson in the former Environmental Archaeology Unit, and this will form the basis of a forthcoming Archaeobotanical Flora of the British Isles. The ABCD also provided the basis for Philippa's English Heritage-sponsored Environmental Archaeology Bibliography (EAB), now available through the Archaeology Data Service and currently curated by me (contact me direct for specific queries).
As an inveterate cataloguer and hoarder, it's probably no surprise that I am also the Departmental Library Representative! Staff and students can forward suggestions for additions to the University's collection to me at any time.
One further small-scale departure in recent years has been into the realms of forensic science. Using techniques from archaeobotany, I have been involved with analysis of plant food remains from stomach contents in connection with two murder enquiries carried out by the Metropolitan Police, and since then with the analysis (for an immunologist at a hospital in Manchester) of stomach contents of two people who died as a result of anaphylactic shock after consuming—in one case—a snack bar containing sesame seeds and—in the other—a meal containing prawns or shrimps (yes, I know they're crustaceans not plants!).
Isabella von Holstein (jointly with Prof Matthew Collins)
Apart from ongoing work to collect published records of plant remains from the British Isles for my 'Archaeological Flora', I am involved in various projects within the Department: investigating Early Mesolithic environments in the Vale of Pickering at the Star Carr site (with Dr Nicky Milner), plant use at a 1st millennium CE site at Mothecombe in Devon (with Steve Roskams), and plant materials from burials as part of the InterArchive Project (with Prof. Don Brothwell and Dr Maria-Raimonda Usai).
I am involved in teaching Year 1 Archaeological Science and Field School sessions, and one of the Year 2 research skills modules.
Students (especially!) please note: my post is part-time. During term-time I have 'office hours' when I guarantee to be here to meet with supervisees, and if I am not in the office (K/253) or lab. (KG/027) I am generally working at home where I can access e-mail and respond quickly to messages.