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Neolithic lake sites, fossil insects and the spread of agriculture

   School of Geosciences

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  Dr E Panagiotakopulu, Prof Amy Bogaard, Dr A Gathorne-Hardy  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


The project investigates the spread of farming, climate and environmental change in northern Greece and the Balkans during the Neolithic, based on fossil insects.

Project background

The Neolithic is associated with the movement of farmers, forest clearance and the introduction of crops and domestic animals from the Near East to Europe, a process which led to intensification of human impact and subsequently to societal change. Much of the discussion centres around the reasons behind the spread of farming and the parameters which constrained the emergence of agropastoral regimes, with climate change and/or cultural choice considered as the main drivers of change. A large body of the palaeoenvironmental research for the Neolithic has been produced from Central and Northern Europe primarily from well preserved peatland deposits, often from early settlements around lakes. This provides insights into the extensive modification of the landscapes surrounding settlements, domestic animals and agricultural activities. The study of fossil insects from Neolithic sites provides evidence about human impact, landscape change and the biogeographic implications as a result of the initiation of agriculture, which led to distinct synanthropic insect assemblages, often characterized by introduced taxa. Although Greece and the Balkans are key areas for understanding the Neolithic, there are few fossil insect studies, partly as a result of semi-arid conditions affecting organic preservation in most areas. From Dispilio, a lakeshore settlement in northern Greece, preliminary research provided the earliest record for a flightless pest of stored products, introduced from the Fertile Crescent, Sitophilus granarius, highlighting the role of storage in the process of neolithisation of the Eastern Mediterranean. Palaeoenvironmental research from deposits from key archaeological sites in northern Greece and north Macedonia as part of the Oxford led ERC project EXPLO has facilitated sampling for insects which will provide an understanding of both natural and man-made environments. The proposed research into well preserved insect assemblages will provide information on impacts on the biota as a result of landscape clearance and farming and data on the process of invasive taxa becoming established. The results from this research will not only aid the reconstruction of the past environments and climatic conditions but will provide insights into current agricultural landscapes, including the use of traditional measures to control insect pests. 

Research questions

a. What were the environmental conditions and climatic conditions in northern Greece and southern Balkans during the Neolithic as indicated by fossil insect assemblages?

b. What is the insect evidence for agropastoral activities, storage and living conditions from these sites?

c. How can available information from contemporary sites in Europe complement our understanding of the spread of farming in the Neolithic?


Whilst there is substantial research from the British Isles and central and northern Europe, there are very limited data on fossil insects from the southern Balkans and Greece and the research proposed will provide new, much needed datasets from areas with extensive archaeological data from the Neolithic. The project involves laboratory research primarily on Coleoptera from palaeoecological samples already acquired as part of the ERC EXPLO project, with some of the samples already in Edinburgh and other material in the Universities of Oxford and Thessaloniki. Limited fieldwork will take place for additional samples, as required. Visits to the extensive insect collections of Oxford and the NaturalHistory Museum in London and elsewhere will aid identification in addition to the use of the Osborne collections of Coleoptera. Collaboration with the international team of the EXPLO project will complement interpretation of the insect data, in addition to other relevant palaeoecological and ecological insect results, ethnographic data, etc.


A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. Specialized training includes field and laboratory skills in sampling and identification, using comparative insect collections, including the Osborne insect collections in the School of GeoSciences, and training in data management and analysis, using relevant databases and repositories. The candidate will have the opportunity to present their research in international meetings and to publish in peer reviewed international journals.


A background in physical geography, palaeoecology, environmental archaeology, or entomology would be preferred. Relevant field and laboratory experience and previous experience with palaeoecological assemblages and/or entomological skills would be an advantage.


Kotsakis K (2001) Mesolithic to Neolithic in Greece. Continuity, discontinuity or change of course? Doc Praehist XXVIII:63–73.
Panagiotakopulu, E, Buckland, P (2018) Early invaders – Farmers, the granary weevil and other uninvited guests in the Neolithic. Biological Invasions 20:1, 219-233.
Bakels CC (2009) The Western European Loess Belt. Agrarian history, 5300 BC–AD 1000. Springer, Berlin.
Bogaard A, Fraser RA, Heaton THE, Wallace M, Vaiglova P, Charles M, Jones G, Evershed RP, Styring AK, Andersen NH, Aerbogast R-M, Bartosiewicz L, Gardeisen A, Kanstrup M, Maier U, Marinova E, Ninov L, Schäfer M, Stephan E (2013) Crop manuring and intensive land management by Europe’s first farmers. PNAS 110(31): 12589–12594.
Whittle, A (1996)Europe in the Neolithic. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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