Hayley McParland

Research project

Thesis Title: 'Exploring interior space at Songo Mnara through phytolith analysis'.

Supervised by: Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones

This AHRC funded research seeks to gain an understanding of the use of space within structures at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Songo Mnara, Tanzania, through the application of systematic sampling for phytolith analysis.

Songo Mnara is the site of a 14th-16th century AD Swahili stonetown; located on an island adjacent to the Island of Kilwa Kisiwani, off the coast of Tanzania. Songo Mnara is a Swahili settlement, and as is the case at other contemporary Swahili settlements along the East African coast, the inhabitants participated in the Indian Ocean trade. This trade is evidenced through a range of artefacts recovered from excavations in 2009, 2011 and 2013 suggesting trading connections with  the Arabian Peninsula,  India and South East Asia. 

The town features large coral and lime household and religious structures with almost monumental architecture. Contemporary wattle and daub structures have also recently been identified though magnetometry, test pitting and open area excavations. The stone built structures feature clearly defined plaster floor surfaces, protected by the collapse of the interior ceilings, whilst the wattle and daub structures are identified through a large concentration of collapsed daub, which immediately overlies and preserves a packed earth floor surface. The preservation of these structures and their floor surfaces, combined with a limited occupation of less than 200 years, enabled the development of a systematic sampling methodology outside the complexities of deep stratigraphy, facilitating the analysis of interior space through the application of phytolith analysis. Though the stone structures and artefacts are frequently well preserved at Swahili sites, the preservation of archaeobotanical remains is limited and as a result there is little evidence for the vegetal components of Swahili diet, craft or subsistence.

This research considers and compares the use of plant materials within both stone built and wattle and daub structures at Songo Mnara, contextualising this through a spatial approach identifying areas of activity within each structure, underpinned through the application of statistical analyses and Kriging. This novel approach aims to consider evidence for variation in plant use based on location within the structure, for example public or private space; and the status of the structure, comparing stone built monumental structures with contemporary wattle and daub structures. In addition, the application of phytolith analysis has the potential to identify activity areas, including domestic crop processing areas, craft activity areas or food preparation areas. This approach has the potential to reveal evidence for trade in the form of plant based products, for which there is little archaeological evidence. 

This research forms part of a larger research project, the Songo Mnara Urban Landscape Project, funded by the National Science Foundation (US) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK).The Project website can be found here: Songo Mnara Project Website.


Research Interests

  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Phytolith Analysis
  • Archaeobotany
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Mesolithic Archaeology
  • Neolithic Archaeology
  • African Archaeology



Following an undergraduate degree in Archaeology and an MSc. in Wetland Archaeology and Environments at the University of Exeter, Hayley continued her research into the potential of Phytolith analysis within Britain, specifically the south west of England, as an Honorary Research Assistant in the Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter.

This project saw the completion of a pilot study, assessing the presence of diagnostic phytoliths within British wetland contexts and the creation of a diagnostic reference collection of British phytolith morphotypes. The reference collection largely comprises plant species of environmental or economic significance and the curation of this valuable resource is ongoing. In addition to the phytolith reference collection, Hayley has also created a personal seed reference collection to aid macrofossil identification.  

Following extensive volunteering on research and commercial archaeology projects, including research excavations in Zaraysk, Russia; El Dorado, Argentina; and Butrint, Albania; Hayley was employed by Archaeology Warwickshire, Museum of London Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology among others, as a commercial archaeologist. Gaining experience of both research and commercial fieldwork, including both single and multi-context recording in urban and rural contexts, led to a specialism in Post-Excavation and Environmental Archaeology. Hayley has undertaken environmental sample processing, finds processing and archiving for NAA, Wessex Archaeology and John Moore Heritage Services. She is currently the Environmental Archaeology advisor for the Teffont Archaeology Project, PAsT and Cranbeck Archaeologcial Projects.

Her most recent commercial experience is of post-excavation supervision and finds and archives management, developing her interest in the practicalities of archiving archaeological materials, liaising with landowners and museum curators.

Although phytolith analysis is her main specialism, Hayley also has experience of pollen and macrofossil analysis in commercial and academic contexts.


Hayley blogs about her research at http://phytopost.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @Hayley_McP.


Academic History

BA (hons.) Archaeology
University of Exeter 2:1
MSc. Wetland Archaeology and Environments
University of Exeter




Funding BodyAwardDescription
Association for Environmental Archaeology Conference Fund Funding for a poster presentation at the Association for Environmental Archaeology Autumn Conference, The Big Picture: Archaeology, Society and Environment Conference, Plymouth University (2014). Covering travel and accommodation costs and conference fees.
University of York Department of Archaeology - Departmental Research Fund Funding for a poster presentation at the UK Archaeological Science and Association for Environmental Archaeology joint conference, Cardiff University (2013). Covering production costs, travel, accommodation and conference fees.  
AHRC Doctoral Award Full Doctoral Award covering fees and maintainence for 3 years (2012-2015).
University of Exeter School of Georaphy, Archaeology and Earth Resources - Post-Graduate Fees Bursary Fees bursary providing 25% funding towards an MSc. in Wetland Archaeology and Environments (2007-2008).

Conference Participation


McParland, H., Carrer, F., Inglis, R. and Lancelotti, C. forthcoming. Session co-organisers. Integrated Approaches to Spatial Analysis in Domestic and Inhabited Contexts. European Association of Environmental Archaeologists Conference, Glasgow, September 2015.

Cunningham, P. and McParland, H. 2010. Session co-organisers. Gathering evidence, crafting knowledge: plant procurement, processing, storage and use in the Mesolithic. Meso 2010 Conference, Santander, Spain, September 2010.


Conference Papers

McParland, H., Wynne-Jones, S. and Sulas, F. Spatial Analysis at Songo Mnara: an integrated application of phytolith and geochemical analysis. 9th International Meeting of Phytolith Researchers, Brussels, Belgium, September 2014.

McParland, H. 2010. Added value? Can phytolith analysis add to our understanding of prehistory in the south west? TAG Annual Conference, Bristol, UK, December 2010.

McParland, H. 2010. Making the invisible, visible? Plant resource visibility in the Mesolithic. Meso 2010 Conference, Santander, Spain, September 2010.

McParland, H. and Cunningham, P. 2010. In a nutshell: the production of phytoliths in hazelnuts. Food and Drink in Archaeology Conference, University of Exeter, April 2010.

McParland, H. 2009. Missing a trick? The use of phytolith analysis in the UK and Europe. European Association of Archaeologists Conference, Riva del Garda, September 2009.


Poster Presentations

November 2014: McParland, H., Wynne-Jones, S. and Sulas, F. The Big Picture: Archaeology, Society and Environment Conference 2014, AEA Autumn Conference, Plymouth University. Poster Presentation: 'A Tale of Two Structures: comparitive spatial analysis of interior spaces at Songo Mnara, Tanzania'.

April 2013: McParland, H.: UKAS and AEA Joint Conference, Cardiff University. Poster presentation: ‘Exploring the Urban Environment at Songo Mnara,Tanzania, through Phytolith Analysis’.

April 2010: McParland, H. and Cunningham, P.: Food and Drink in Archaeology Conference, University of Exeter. Poster presentation: ‘In a Nutshell: The production of phytoliths in Hazelnuts’.

February 2010: McParland, H. and Cunningham, P.: Wetland Archaeology in Ireland and Beyond Conference, University College Dublin. Poster presentation: ‘In a Nutshell: The production of phytoliths in Hazelnuts’.

Impact & Teaching



Hayley is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, having completed the Preparing Future Academics (PFA) programme, an acccredited course run by the Researcher Development Team at the University of York. The course aims to provide researchers with the skills to facilitate learning, through an understanding of teaching techniques and pedagogy. Participation in the programme requires participation in teaching, as well as participation in a range of teaching development activities and seminars. The course is assessed through a portfolio of reflective teaching logs, session plans and the presentation of a paper at the PFA Symposium.


Teaching Experience


Introduction to Archaeological Science 1          Seminar Leader          



Accessing Archaeology 1 Seminar Leader
Research Skills for Archaeological Scientists 2 Seminar Assistant with Dr. Oliver Craig
Fieldwalking Post-Excavation Practical 1 Skills Session Facilitator
Introduction to Archaeological Science 1 Seminar Leader


Hayley McParland at Songo Mnara

Contact details

Hayley McParland
Department of Archaeology
University of York
B/S Block, Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD