Scientific methods in archaeology

Preparing my lecture for the new Scientific Methods in Archaeology course for VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam students studying a minor in Geoarchaeology. The focus will be on detecting human activity in the past, to illustrate this I will include Easter Island/Rapa Nui as a case study. We will focus on how palaeoecological evidence can be used to gain insights into past human activity. Whilst putting this together I discovered these nice documentaries looking at humans and their environmental impacts on Easter Island/Rapa Nui which I wanted to share, they show how much effort people would have had to put into altering their landscape:

For further information see also:

Rull, V., Cañellas-Boltà, N., Saez, A., Margalef, O., Bao, R., Pla-Rabes, S., Valero-Garcés, B. & Giralt, S. (2013) Challenging Easter Island’s collapse: The need for interdisciplinary synergies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 1, DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2013.00003

Past environmental change on Samoa

Zoe and William just after the graduation ceremony (UvA)

Zoe and William just after the graduation ceremony (UvA)

Two students (Zoe van Kemenade and Tessa Driessen) have recently completed projects looking at past environmental change on Samoa working in the Research Group of Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Zoe’s project, part of her BSc Future Planet Studies (major Earth Sciences) at UvA, was entitled “A multi‐proxy analysis on the effect of climate and human activity on the environment of Samoa during the Holocene” and investigated charcoal, macro-fossils, and algae. Tessa’s project, “Biodiversity, fire and human dynamics on Samoa over the last 9200 years”, was completed as an internship during her MSc in Environmental Biology at Utrecht University (UU) that was co-supervised by Rike Wagner-Cremer. Tessa focused on the fossil pollen record to reconstruct past vegetation change. Both projects were conducted in cooperation with Jon Hassel and David Sear (both University of Southampton) who provided access to the Samoan sediments; for more on the Southampton Pacific Islands projects check out their blog Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory at the University of Southampton.

The results from both projects, and work by the University of Southampton team, will be presented at this years GTO conference (European conference of tropical ecology) in Gottingen next week.

William giving his personal view on the work of Tessa at her gradation ceremony (Utrecht University)

William giving his personal view on the work of Tessa at her gradation ceremony (UU)

 

Palaeoecology at UvA and Twente 2015: Teaching and Learning

By Crystal McMichael

The month-long palaeoecology module at UvA is coming to an end. We have had two weeks of lectures and microscope work, an introduction to quantitative palaeoecology, and we just finished a week of fieldwork in Twente, which is in the easternmost part of the Netherlands.

Students working in the field (photo: M. Groot)

Students working in the field (photo: M. Groot)

Will Gosling and I tried something new for the field excursion this year. We split the class into eight groups, and gave each group a set of pollen and phytolith samples from an ‘unknown location’. Unknown in this context means being from one of the eight primary sites that we would visit during the field excursion. The students were required to perform vegetation surveys and characterize soils at each of the primary sites that we visited. The goal of each group was to figure out which location their set of ‘unknown’ samples came from. Basically, we had them doing forensic palynology, with idea that they could then better visualize the different vegetation assemblages seen in the palaeoecological records.
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Paleoecology course University of Amsterdam

Students examining a sediment core extracted with a Russian corer

Students examining a sediment core extracted with a Russian corer

Last week, Will – our new associate professor at the University of Amsterdam – joined us on the field residential module of the undergraduate “Paleoecology” course; 7 days exploring the sediments and vegetation of the Twente region of the Netherlands. The experience provided Will with a lot of information on Dutch language, landscapes, and students; which should be useful to him next year as he will be coordinating the course!

Students examining peat exposures.

Students examining peat exposures.

During this very intensive (4-week) paleoecology course, students get background lectures in past environmental change, learn to identify microfossils in the laboratory (pollen and chironomids), and go on the excursion to experience fieldwork. The field module involves excursions during the day, when students have to identify plant species indicative of different vegetation types in relation to soil nutrient availability and moisture content. The evenings are reserved for the students own paleoecological research investigation; this year students were reconstructing the vegetation history and climate change during the late-glacial from a lake sediment core from Germany. Once data collection was completed the students had to interpret the pollen assemblages they found using the knowledge of modern day ecosystems they gained throughout the week. On the final evening they presented their work to the whole group. The final results they achieved were quite impressive.

Students presenting findings from the days work

Students presenting findings from the days work

I am very curious as to what the course will be like next year, led by Will, and how he will tweak and turn it to his liking.

 

Debating the Vera hypothesis

Debating the Vera hypothesis

 

Teaching in the field: Foundations, feedback and fun

My final teaching job for The Open University was to help deliver the “Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils in the Field” section of the Level 2 Practical Science module (SXG288) offered by the Science Faculty. I have been involved in all three presentations of this section of the SXG288 module, which will now cease to be offered, and a number of other Earth and environmental science residential schools over the last 9 years.

Showing students the rocksHaving the opportunity to engage directly with students and enthuse them face-to-face about the subject I specialise in is a privilege I have gained a lot from. Furthermore, my over-riding impression from the students I have taught is that they feel they benefit greatly from the opportunity to explore first hand the concepts and subjects which they have previously studied in books and online. Based on my experiences on “Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils”, and other modules as both a tutor and a student, I am convinced that to effectively teach geological, geographical, environmental and ecological subjects effectively an element of field-based teaching is required.

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Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils in the Field

 

Students examining the sedimentary deposits at Howick Haven

Students examining the sedimentary deposits at Howick Haven

SXG288 Practical science: Earth and environment
Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils in the Field
23-29 July 2013

Face-to-face teaching of practical skills in field geology is one of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of being a lecturer at The Open University. Over the last few days I have been lucky enough to participate in the running of the Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils in the Field topic within our second level Practical Science module (SXG288). This is one of two opportunities that students taking this module get to head into field, examine rocks, develop observational skills and test scientifc hypotheses; the other field based topic is Igneous & Metamorphic Rocks in the Field.

Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils is based from Longridge Towers School in Northumberland (whilst the regular students are away). Longridge provides the ideal base for this topic because of its close proximity to some world class sedimentary rock and fossil exposures. Over an intensive three day field experience students examine sedimentary deposits from the Silurian and Carboniferous exposed mainly along the Northumberland coast; however, this is not a simple guide to the geology of the region. The topic is founded on the principle of problem based learning and at each field location students are expected to make observations, record them accurately and interpret the past environment. Findings are consolidated and dicussed during evening lab sessions.

On the rocks at Scremerston

On the rocks at Scremerston

This year we were delighted to welcome >40 students, some of who flew in from abroad, to study this topic over two sessions. Given the positive feeback recieved so far I think all enjoyed the topic and gained important geological field skills (for evidence of this also see photos below). I wish them all luck in their future studies and hope that they continue to be interested in Earth Science and progress towards our Natural Science degree qualification.

For further photos see below, follow #SXG288 on twitter, or visit the SXG288 Facebook page.

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