Coastal prehistorians join the Archaeology department

A new team of prehistorians with a mission to investigate the lives of Stone Age hunter gatherers and early farming communities around the coastlines of the world will join the Archaeology department from October 2004.

Professor Geoff Bailey, one of the several specially created 40th Anniversary Chairs, is an internationally renowned academic with interdisciplinary research projects across the world; currently including Brasil, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Professor Bailey will head the new research team and will be joined by Dr Penny Spikins and Dr Nicky Milner and a group of Research Associates and research students.

Dr Milner is currently engaged in the study of shell middens in Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Portugal– these are large heaps of discarded shell and other rubbish left by coastal dwellers roughly 6000 years ago. She is about to start researching the deposition of human remains in these middens and the possible symbolism of the mounds.

Dr Spikins has recently hit the headlines with the discovery of unique underwater Mesolithic archaeology (c. 10 000 – 4000 BC) off the Northumberland coast. Most of the UK Mesolithic coastline is now beneath the sea, either through erosion or rising sea levels which makes this finding so significant: at last it may be possible to understand more about how stone age hunter-gatherers lived in these productive coastal environments.

Professor Bailey and Dr Milner have also recently been involved in the discovery of the “oldest house in Britain”, the subject of a BBC documentary on the archaeological remains of a structure dating back 10 000 years, which radically changes current perceptions on the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers at this time.

The Coastal prehistory research team joins a strong team of archaeological scientists in Bioarch, a joint initiative by the Departments of Biology and Archaeology to further the use of biomolecular methods to tackle archaeological problems.