Post-doc Researcher in Focus

Dr Lea Drieu tells us about her research

My research interests are focused primarily on pottery function by applying Organic Residue Analysis (ORA), of ceramic vessels from the Mediterranean. I am particularly interested in specificities related to vessel use in this area: commodities (plant oils, wine, fruits, etc.) and the preservation of organic matter, which is related to the Mediterranean climate and the geological environment.


Figure 1 : Everyday work in the laboratory to extract lipids from the ceramic matrix before analysis with gas or liquid chromatography. Photo: Manon Bondetti.

I completed my PhD at the Université Côte d’Azur in Nice (France) under the supervision of Dr Martine Regert. My thesis “Biomolecular investigation of organic substances related to the manufacture and use of Prehistoric and Protohistoric European ceramic vessels” explored the interactions between the ceramic matrix and lipids during pottery use but also considered the entire pottery sub-system, from the sourcing of raw materials to the disposal of the vessel. For this purpose, I studied archaeological potsherds from the Early Neolithic to the Iron Age in South-Western Europe and I carried out a wide range of experiments of pottery manufacture, use and degradation.

Figure 2 : Palermitan amphora from Castello San Pietro (Sicily), 9th century AD. Photo: Paola Orecchioni.

I am currently undertaken postdoctoral research as a part of the Sicily in Transition project (, PI Pr Martin Carver and Pr Alessandra Molinari). Within this project I have been investigating the contents of transport amphorae throughout the Mediterranean between the 5th and the 13th centuries, with a specific focus on Sicily.

Questions relating to the research include whether wine and olive oil were transported throughout the region from the Early Middle Ages in the Mediterranean. However, identifying these commodities remains an analytical challenge. Other products that may also be found within the amphorae, include diverse plant oils, fish sauce, citrus, or spices, but at present an analytical protocol to identify these has not yet been developed. In close collaboration with Pr Oliver Craig (BioArCh) and Pr Jane Thomas-Oates (Chemistry), I am analysing modern references, experimental and archaeological samples with a battery of extraction and detection methods to resolve this caveat. I am aiming to improving the identification of these typical Mediterranean products but also at setting up an analytical protocol suitable for studying large batches of samples and minimising the destruction of valuable archaeological remains. 

Figure 3: Quest for modern Sicilian products in Castronovo di Sicilia market to compare with archaeological remains in amphorae. Photo: Laura Elias.

As part of the SICTRANSIT project, the results of this research will improve our knowledge of the changes in trade relating to the successive changes of regimes (Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Swabian) undergone by Sicily during the Early Middle Ages.