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The application of sedaDNA to landscape archaeology

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 10, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Highlights:
• The opportunity to establish a methodology for sedimentary DNA (sedaDNA) as a viable technique for landscape archaeological investigations
• The opportunity to assist in the study of a potentially new class of monument associated with the “super” henge at Durrington Walls
• The potential to add significantly to our knowledge of the World Heritage landscape at Stonehenge

The application of sedaDNA within landscape archaeology is a largely an untested method. The current application provides an opportunity to consider sedaDNA methodology, against a series of proxy palaeoenvironmental methods, within a strategic and high profile project.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project undertook one of the largest terrestrial multi-sensor, archaeo-geophysical surveys in Britain. Covering c. 10 square kilometres around one of Britain’s iconic archaeological monuments, this survey has generated thousands of potential archaeologic features and these have been described in a series of articles and are currently being prepared for a comprehensive publication. Whilst most features identified are interpretable or conform to known comparators several exceptional features remain unexplained and are, potentially of considerable importance. These include a series of massive geophysical anomalies related to one of the largest monuments in the region – the Durrington Wall Henge.

Initially interpreted as modern dewponds, a recent excavation identified 3 similar anomalies and interpreted these as, potentially, natural sinkholes with prehistoric fills. Further research identified no fewer than 15 similar features with a distribution essentially circling the later Neolithic Henge. These anomalies, and their suggestive distribution, were of sufficient interest to mount a separate exploratory campaign of high-resolution survey and coring proving that the magnetic anomalies represent pits 18 metres diameter and up to 4.8 metres deep. Coring also suggests that the position of some of these monuments on the Avon river terraces may provide conditions to test the boundaries of sedaDNA applications, whilst also seeking to assess the function of these peculiar, massive archaeological features

The proposed programme of work will enhance and extend our knowledge of these massive features and will include re-survey of all available features and coring across a series of features for palaeoenvironmental study and a broader dating programme. It is also intended to work within the landscape, and the Avon river terraces specifically, to provide a broader context to data from archaeological features. The PhD candidate will retrieve sedaDNA from samples of cores to assess taphonomy in the context of the monuments, and based on these findings determine to what extent sedaDNA can reveal about them in terms of their use and the depositional environment. Ancient DNA techniques for sedaDNA developed at Warwick will be followed using dedicated ancient DNA facilities and a world class research group. Next generation sequencing will be applied, combined with bioinformatic protocols to analyse data.

Training and skills:
Students will be trained in ancient DNA techniques, next generation sequencing techniques as well as computer programming skills required to analyse data. Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

Partners and collaboration:
Dr Martin Bates, University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Dr Richard Bates, University of St Andrews
Dr Christopher Gaffney University of Bradford
Professor Vincent Gaffney, University of Bradford
Mr Eamonn Baldwin, University of Birmingham

Possible timeline:
Year 1: Initial data generation from preliminary coring. SedaDNA extraction from preliminary samples, generation of ancient DNA sequence. Basic taphonomic profiling.
Year 2: Secondary coring mission. Responsive to initial data generation.
Year 3: Large scale data analysis and publication of findings.

Funding Notes

This funding provides full tuition fees at the Home/EU rate, pays an annual stipend in line with UK Research Councils (currently £15,009) and a research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Gaffney, C, and V. Gaffney 2011 Through an imperfect filter geophysical techniques and the management of archaeological heritage In Corley,D, (Ed.) Remote Sensing for Archaeological Heritage Management EAC Occasional Paper No. 5 Occasional Publication of the Aerial Archaeology Research Group No. 3
Gaffney, C., Gaffney, V., Neubauer, W., Baldwin, E., Chapman, H., Garwood, P., Moulden, H., Sparrow, T., Bates, R., Löcker, K., Hinterleitner, A., Trinks, I., Nau, E., Zitz, T., Flöry, S., Verhoeven, G. and Doneus, M. 2012 The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. Archaeological Prospection, 19(2):147–155
Gaffney V, Neubauer W, Garwood P, et al. 2018 Durrington walls and the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project 2010–2016. Archaeological Prospection, 2018; 1–15.
T. Saey, M. Van Meirvenne, P. De Smedt, B. Stichelbaut, S. Delefortrie, E. Baldwin, V. Gaffney 2014 Combining EMI and GPR for non-invasive soil sensing at the Stonehenge World Heritage Site: the reconstruction of a WW1 practice trench European Journal of Soil Science 12/2014
De Smedt, P., Van Meirvenne, M., Saey, T., Baldwin, E., Gaffney, C., Gaffney, V., 2014 Unveiling the prehistoric landscape at Stonehenge through multi-receiver EMI Journal of Archaeological Science 07/2014; 50:16-23
Putting Stonehenge in its place. Scientific American. March 2nd 2011.
Smith O, Momber G, Bates R, Garwood P, Fitch S, Pallen M, Gaffney V, Allaby RG (2015) Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago. Science 347: 998-1001
Reports held by Historic England, the National Trust and Wiltshire Historic Environment Record
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project 2011. Interim Geophysical Survey Report Field Season 1 2010–2011. (Unpublished) Interim report for the National Trust and English Heritage, University of Birmingham
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project 2012 Interim Geophysical Survey Report Field Season 2 2011–2012. (Unpublished) Interim report for the National Trust and English Heritage, University of Birmingham
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project 2013 Interim Geophysical Survey Report Field Season 3 2012–2013. (Unpublished) Interim report for the National Trust and English Heritage, University of Birmingham
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project 2014 Interim Geophysical Survey Report Field Season 4 2013–2014. (Unpublished) Interim report for the National Trust and English Heritage, University of Birmingham
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project: Lesser Cursus, Wiltshire – Section 42 report of geophysical survey, April 2012
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project: Cursus Barrow Ridge, Wiltshire – Section 42 report of geophysical survey, September 2012
Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project: Stonehenge World Heritage Site, Wiltshire – Section 42 report of geophysical survey, June 2013, July & November 2014

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How good is research at University of Warwick in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 12.60

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