As part of this years BSc Palaeoecology course at the University of Amsterdam we visited the Department of Archaeology. Organised by Anja Fischer we visited the human bone collection, the animal bone collection and the archaeobotany section. Amazing collections and lots of opportunities for cross faculty projects and teaching.
In addition to explaining the physical reference collections Anja also explained how she has been developing data mining techniques to allow information to be synthesised from the thousands of archaeological reports across the Netherlands.
She used this approach to make new discoveries about the role of urban farming and ruralisation in Dutch history. Her findings formed a report for the Dutch national heritage organisation (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) which can be downloaded for free (in English).
Fischer, A., van Londen, H., Blonk, A., Visser, R.M. & Renes, J. (2021) Urban Farming and Ruralisation in The Netherlands (1250-1850): Unravelling farming practice and the use of (open) space by synthesising archaeological reports using text mining. Nederlandse Archeologische Rapporten 68. Download free here.
Week 1 (last week) we got everyone up to speed with the fundamentals of palaeoecology (including: key principles, depositional environments, dating methods) and laboratory skills (pollen, phytolith and macrofossil identification). This week (week 2) we are out and about (coring sediments, surveying vegetation and visiting the archaeology department). By the end of the week the students will (should!?) have generated sufficient data in the laboratory and field to be able to identify the location from which their mini-project “mystery slides” were taken. Next week (week 3) will be number crunching to generate the statistical support for their ideas and inferences.
Students collecting sediments using a Russian corer at Langenboom (September, 2022). These samples were recovered in collaboration with the BosGroep Zuid Nederland as part of an ongoing project to gain new insights into the nature of the past landscape in the Netherlands and aid conservation efforts.
The University of Amsterdam MSc Earth Sciences “Geoecological Systems” field course to Peru took place this year during June and July (2022). A team of 18 students and 4 staff spent four weeks in Miraflores Town (c. 3700 m above sea level) working with, and for, local communities to study geomorphology, geology, land-use, water quality and carbon storage. The students were organized into teams of 3 or 4 each of which tackled a research question in the nearby landscapes that had been developed in conjunction with the local community. Access to the area and embedding within the community was enabled by The Mountain Institute Peru. The student reports will be translated into Spanish who will communicate findings to the community in Miraflores Town.
Want to join us on a future expedition? Check out our degree program here to enroll.
On the 19 May the Palynologische Kring (Dutch palynological society) held a hybrid seminar meeting under the theme “Dutch palynologists then and now”.
The meeting was opened by Prof. dr. Henry Hooghiemstra (University of Amsterdam) who focused on the “then” and presented a biopic of pioneering Dutch palynologist Frans Florschütz. Florschütz became one of the major figures in establishing palynology within the Netherlands during the 1900s. Originally, he studied political economy and law, but went on to become the Secretary to the Board of Governors of the Agricultural School in Wageningen. From his position in Wageningen Florschütz had a base to develop his interests in palynology and past environmental change. He started work on the seminar work “Nederland in Ijstijd” (The Netherlands in the Ice Age) in 1939 and it was published in 1950. During his career Florschütz also held positions at Utrecht University (obtaining his doctorate), University of Leiden (endowed chair, until 1958) and University of Nijmegen (post retirement). Click here for further information on Frans Florschütz visit.
The second part of the meeting focused on the “now” with presentations form three Dutch researchers engaged in research abroad. First up with Eric de Boer (Universidad de Granada, Spain), then Thya van den Berg (University of Hull, UK), and finally Henk Cornelissen (University of Manchester, UK). Eric presented new data on the human and climate impacts on the Iberian Peninsula. Thya presented her work in two parts focused on the new datasets on past environmental change from Yorkshire (UK) and then the development of modelling approached to estimate landscape cover on the basis of pollen datasets. Henk took us to the high atlas of Morocco and showed how pollen and chemical data can be integrated to reveal past human presence and impacts.
The next scheduled event will be in the annual excursion which this year will be to Leiden. For further details and to find out more about the Palynologische Kring visit the web pages here.
The third of a seminars in the Mapping Ancient African project took place on Monday 17 January 2022 and was given by Emmanuel Ndiema (National Museums of Kenya). You can watch the seminar now on the Ecology of the Past YouTube channel. Seminar details can be found here.
The Science in Archaeology 2 course, run as part of the minor in “Archaeology Today” by the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA), is currently underway. This year I have again contributed to this course with a weeks worth of activity related to detecting past human impacts. During this week we have focused on what sorts of evidence contained within the sedimentary record can be used to track human actions. We focused in particular on the manipulation of fire regimes and the the abundance of animals in landscapes (i.e. extinctions vs. introductions of domestic species). To illustrate how past human activities can be detected in landscapes I tapped into some recent publications I have been involved with (eastern Andean flank, Samoa and Mauritius) and the students selected papers in line with their own focus to discuss. Here is what they came up with…
The kick off meeting of the INQUA funded Mapping Ancient Africa project took place on the 14 and 15 October 2021. This hybrid meeting linked up face-to-face meetings in Kenya, South Africa, Germany and the USA online. In total around 35 people participated in the meeting over the two days. It was great to start to get researchers back into rooms together, and to take advantage of the online link ups to connect people within regions who could not travel, and people in different continents. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the researchers to each other and to start to think about how we can work together to deliver the project goals of collating and synthesising data related to past climate, vegetation and hominin activity from across the continent.
This year my contribution to the Science in Archaeology course (VU Amsterdam) was done online due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The course comprised live online lectures, pre-recorded video clips and case study discussions. The focus was how to detect past human impacts on the landscape and we explored many proxies including: charcoal, diatoms, egg shells, non-pollen palynomorphs, phytoliths, and pollen. In the final session of the humans impacts section of the course each student presented a case study paper that they had chosen. Here is what they chose:
Luckily, in spite of these trying times, we are allowed to continue our research in Amsterdam and on the Veluwe to determine the effects of air pollution on airborne pollen grains. Unfortunately for us (but generally perhaps one of the few silver linings of this situation), the COVID-19 lockdown has largely eliminated our main variable of interest; air pollution.
With traffic in the city at a minimum, any chemical differences might not be as pronounced between the city and rural areas. However, this may actually provide us with a unique opportunity to get a baseline of the pollen chemistry in Amsterdam with relatively little pollution. This baseline may also be of interest to projects working on urban air quality and greenifying urban spaces, such as the projects in the Amsterdam Knowledge Mile Park, which is included amongst our sampling locations.
For more about our project on pollen and pollution in the Netherlands see other posts: