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I am an Assistant Professor in Physical Geography, specialising in Quaternary Science. My PhD research, completed at the University of Hull (2005-2009), explored concepts of marginality and anthropogenic reponses to changing environmental conditions in prehistoric Orkney, primarily via pollen analysis. During my PhD I developed interests in the use of models of pollen dispersal and deposition for quantiative reconstruction of past land-cover and cultural landscapes. My post-doctoral research on the Crackles Bequest Project at the University of Hull developed and applied a standard methodology to test one of the fundamental assumptions that underlies the use of these models - that pollen productivity has remained constant in space and time. Following a brief spell working as a palynologist for English Heritage (now Historic England), I spent two years working at Queen's University Belfast as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow on the ERC-funded FRAGSUS (fragility and sustainability in restricted island environments: adaptation, culture change and collapse in prehistory) project before returning to the University of Hull as a Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography in February 2016. I have worked at Coventry University since February 2017.

Research Interests

My main research interest is in human-environment relationships during the Holocene, particularly in landscapes that are today considered marginal for human settlement, and especially on islands. I am also interested in the application of pollen dispersal and deposition models and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to quantitative reconstruction of past vegetation cover and cultural landscapes. I am currently working on four main projects.


1) Palaeoenvironments of the Maltese Islands

The ERC-funded FRAGSUS (fragility and sustainability in restricted island environments: adaptation, culture change and collapse in prehistory) project, led by Caroline Malone (Queen’s University Belfast), takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Neolithic Temple Culture of the Maltese Islands. The Maltese Temple Culture flourished between c. 3600 and c. 2350 BC and is characterised by highly elaborate megalithic architecture and figurative artwork. It is currently unclear how these small, relatively isolated, resource-poor islands were able to support such a complex society for over a millennium. Existing palaeoenvironmental evidence indicates that early Holocene woodland began to be cleared before 5500 BC, and subsequent land-use during the Neolithic consisted of both crop cultivation and animal husbandry. Archaeological data suggest a possible ‘collapse’ occurring at around 2350 BC, but currently there is no clear explanation for this event. My role within the project is to contribute to the reconstruction of prehistoric environments in the Maltese Islands by undertaking palynological analysis of sediment cores retrieved from several locations. I am also researching modern pollen-vegetation relationships in Malta in order to understand potential taphonomic biases within the palynological data, and have carried out fieldwork in Sicily with the aim of obtaining estimates of relative pollen productivity which can be used to produce quantitative reconstructions of past vegetation cover and land-use in Malta.


2) Reconstruction of Neolithic cultural landscapes

The ERC-funded Times of Their Lives project, led by Alasdair Whittle (Cardiff University) and Alex Bayliss (Historic England), aims to construct more precise chronologies for the Neolithic period in Europe through the application of formal chronological modelling in a Bayesian statistical framework. My role within ToTL is to apply quantitative methods for reconstruction of landscape setting and land-cover dynamics to existing palynological data from the Somerset Levels and Orkney. Within this sub-project, extant pollen datasets have been collated, age-depth models refined, and the Multiple Scenario Approach to land-cover reconstruction is being undertaken in order to create maps of possible past vegetation mosaics in these important cultural landscapes for key time slices. Analysis of these reconstructions allows us to consider the extent to which activity within these landscapes might be expected to be detectable in existing pollen records, and provides a context for improved understanding of the cultural reshaping of these iconic landscapes during the Neolithic.


3) Estimates of relative pollen productivity

A key goal of palynologists since the earliest days of the discipline has been the quantitative reconstruction of past vegetation abundance. Empirical estimates of relative pollen productivity (RPP) extracted from measurements of modern pollen assemblages and vegetation cover are an essential pre-requisite for testing pollen dispersal and deposition models and applying PolLandCal approaches to vegetation reconstruction from pollen signals, such as the Landscape Reconstruction Algorithm or the Multiple Scenario Approach. A fundamental assumption of most pollen analytical work, whether quantitative or qualitative, is that RPP can be treated as a constant for a given pollen morphotype regardless of climate or habitat. A wide range of values for single taxa have been reported from different studies, but since each study used a different methodology, it is not possible to determine whether the assumption is in error, or whether the different methods used have led to systematically different values. Research undertaken as part of the Crackles Bequest Project developed and applied a standardised methodology for obtaining estimates of RPP for common taxa in several different habitats at multiple locations in north-west Europe, allowing the assumption of constant RPP to be tested.


4) Orcadian palaeoenvironments

My PhD research utilised pollen analysis and a suite of allied techniques to explore concepts of marginality and anthropogenic responses to changing environmental conditions in prehistoric Orkney. Since completing my Ph.D. I have maintained my interest in Orcadian palaeoenvironments and am currently collaborating on the “Bay of Ireland Palaeolandscape Assessment”, funded by the Carnegie Trust and led by Scott Timpany (University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney College). This project takes a holistic approach to the investigation of landscape change in Orkney over a period of approximately 7000 years, from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, by analysing a section of landscape which incorporates the dryland, intertidal and marine zones. The interdisciplinary approach will provide data on changing sea-levels, climate and landscape, and information relating to sustainability and resilience of prehistoric communities in their interactions with the changing landscape will add significant depth to our understanding of prehistoric Orkney. It is hoped that the results will also be applicable to sites elsewhere in the UK and northern Europe.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctorate, University of Hull

1 Oct 200530 Sep 2009

Award Date: 15 Dec 2009

Degree, University of Wales

1 Oct 200031 May 2003

Award Date: 1 Jun 2003


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