My research investigates the timing and nature of major prehistoric population movements, extinctions, and interaction over the past 100,000 years, and it is based on an integrative approach, combining archaeological, analytical and statistical tools with field observations and laboratory-based protocols.
- the timing of Homo sapiens expansion across Eurasia and the interaction between modern and archaic human groups (e.g. Neanderthals, Denisovans).
- the use of collagen fingerprinting as a way of identifying new human fossils in the archaeological record.
- the origins of personal ornamentation and symbolism (marine shell and ostrich eggshell beads) during the Palaeolithic.
- the onset of plant and animal domestication and the spread of Neolithic farmers around the Old World in the early Holocene.
PalaeoChron is a European Research Council-funded project, led by Prof. Tom Higham. I work with the team since the start of the programme in May 2013. PalaeoChron is investigating one of the most intriguing periods of late human evolution, the transition from the Middle to Early Upper Palaeolithic across Eurasia, through the combination of novel methodologies in radiocarbon and luminescence dating, and the analysis of newly excavated material from key Palaeolithic sites.
I have been responsible for investigating Palaeolithic sites and refining their chronologies using radiocarbon and Bayesian statistics.
The project’s website with details of our work and the rest of the team can be found here : www.palaeochron.org
Dating Pleistocene Southeast Asia
The discovery of a new member of the Homo lineage in south Siberia (“Denisovans”), who admixed with the ancestors of present-day people living in island Southeast Asia, has overturned common perceptions on the role Southeast Asia has played in late human evolution. Combined with the archaeological record, these new dataattest to the behavioural complexity of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living in the region. Unfortunately, the absolute temporal and spatial dimensions, as well as details on the archaeological signature, of these hominids is poorly understood.
With this pilot-study my aim is to revisit the current chronological framework and provide better spatio-temporal understanding of human presence in late Pleistocene Thailand. Four sites (Tham Lang Rongrien, Moh Khiew, Tham Lod, Lang Kamnan), thought to be occupied between ~50-15,000 years ago, were chosen as the initial focus of this work. Preliminary funding has been obtained via a fellowship from the School of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (Evans Fund Fellowship 2014-15).
Spread of the Neolithic in the Aegean
The nature, timing and pathways of the Neolithization process (farming economy with cultigens and domesticates, village settlement, pottery) across the Aegean have been matters of intense debate since the mid-20th century, especially because the Greek Neolithic is seen as the predecessor of European Neolithic, and therefore is expected to best reflect the Anatolian record.
However, the origin (local, western Anatolian, or multiple origins) and the mechanisms (indigenous development, spread by terrestrial or maritime routes) involved in the spread of the earliest Neolithic around the Aegean, are still matters hotly debated. The lack of a reliable chronological framework for several regions is at the heart of the issue.
In 2013, I initiated a project investigating the start of the Neolithic in the south Aegean, mainly in Crete and the Peloponnese, using (i) radiocarbon determinations on well-identified plant material from secure contexts, (ii) the latest radiocarbon chemical preparation protocols for sample cleaning, and (iii) the application of Bayesian statistics for the treatment of the results. A grant by the John Fell Fund (University of Oxford) covered the research expenses and radiocarbon dating costs. It was also accompanied by an Early Career Fellowship by the British School at Athens, which enabled a prolonged stay in Greece for the study of relevant literature and unpublished site reports, as well as the examination and selection of appropriate samples for dating.
A first publication of the results in 2017 focused on the site of Knossos (see in Publications). The project is currently expanding in adjacent areas, such as North and Central Greece.
Collaborators: Prof. Catherine Perlès (France) | Prof. Nikos Efstratiou (Greece).
Dating the Gravettian in Europe & Russia
From 2011-2013 and within the framework of the the “Ancient Human Occupation Occupation of Britain 3″ (AHOB 3) project, I investigated the chronology of the Gravettian dispersal in western, central and southern Europe as well as in Russia. This work was undertaken along with Tom Higham and Rob Dinnis.
An extensive programme of dating Gravettian material from over 20 sites was undertaken and over 200 samples were collected from material held at Abri Pataud (France) and the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale (France), the Palaeolithic Research Centre (Czech Rep.), the Institute and Museum of Anthropology at Moscow State University (Russia), the Institute of the History of Material Culture and the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography at St. Petersburg (Russia) and the University of Siena (Italy). From these samples, ~100 new dates have been obtained, which provide a consistent pattern for the emergence of the Gravettian culture across Europe between 32 and 34 ka ago and form the basis of our research on the spatio-temporal modelling of the Gravettian.
Several publications reporting the results have been planned and work on them has already started.
Collaborators : Dr L. Chiotti, Dr R. Nespoulet, Dr Nejma Goutas, Dr C. Schwab, Dr Damien Pesesse (France) | Prof. J. Svoboda, Dr Martin Novak (Czech Rep.) | Prof. Annamaria Ronchitelli, Dr Paolo Boscato, Dr Stefano Grimaldi, Prof Paolo Gambassini (Italy) | Prof. Alexandra Buzhilova, Prof. Konstantin Gavrilov, Dr Sergey Lev, Dr Andrey Sinitsyn (Russia) | Prof. Chris Stringer (UK)
The first ornaments of Europe
My doctoral research (2006-2011, supervised by Prof. R.E.M. Hedges, University of Oxford) revolved around the direct dating of early Upper Palaeolithic shell beads from about 20 cave and open-air sites situated along the Mediterranean rim.
Shell beads are first attested in Middle Stone Age Africa and possibly the Near East, and their presence is uniquely associated with modern humans. In Europe, such beads become suddenly abundant in the earliest Upper Palaeolithic period at sites spanning large geographic areas, from Lebanon to Italy and southern Spain, all the way to Russia and Austria. They are thought to represent body ornaments and reflect symbolic behaviour amongst groups of migrating modern humans. Reliable dating of such artefacts, therefore, could offer us important insights into the timing of modern human expansion into Europe.
During this research, I developed and applied a new screening and pretreatment protocol for the identification and removal of secondary contamination in the shell carbonate prior to the application of direct AMS radiocarbon dating. I collected more than 200 beads and produced about 120 new AMS dates. These were interpreted within a Bayesian modelling framework which elucidated the timing of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition along the northern Mediterranean rim as well as the timing of the appearance of ornaments.
Collaborators : Prof. C. Perlès, Dr P. Ambert, Dr F. Bazile (France) | Profs P. Gambassini, A. Ronchitelli, Dr P. Boscato, Prof. A. Broglio, Dr M. Peresani, Dr S. Grimaldi, Dr F. Negrino (Italy) | Dr C. Bergman, Profs S. Kuhn, M. Stiner (USA) | Dr F. Wesselingh (The Netherlands) | Dr E. Panagopoulou, Dr P. Karkanas, Dr M. Koumouzelis (Greece).