Soil Micromorphology Workshop at UCL

Institute of Archaeology, UCL London auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

07. – 18. November 2011


Archaeological Soil Micromorphology Training – or Let’s integrate natural science into humanities!


Besides the famous Prime Meridian and several other nice distractions London can offer, the city is also home of an exceptional interdisciplinary Archaeological Institute at the University College London. The interdisciplinary is realized by the existence of related subjects like e.g. geoarchaeology which is treated from an archaeological point of view. Underneath this headline students of archaeological science are offered a closer look to archaeological stratigraphy via the sub-subject ‘soil micromorphology‘. It can be roughly described as a topic which investigates micro-structures of natural and anthropogenic layers of soil. As many other documentation and analysis methods in archaeology, this approach has also been borrowed from geographical sciences but becomes modified, likewise the other subjects, to meet archaeological research questions. The subject has just recently introduced in German archaeological science in fact since the constitution of a Junior professorship of Geoarchaeology at the Eberhard-Karls-University Tuebingen in 2010. Hence, the workshop at UCL given by Richard Macphail was a great chance to attend one of the rare workshops which are held world-wide in ‘Archaeological Soil Micromorphology’.

Richard is not only a very well experienced researcher he also owns a huge world-wide archive of thin-sections consisting of several kinds of soil, coprolites, mummy intestines etc. from periods running from Palaeolithic caves in Greece to the Middle Age in Europe and modern periods in Asia.


Therefore, joining a workshop held by Richard provides:


  • for archaeologists: a close insight into the subject and
  • geographers and pedologists: additional knowledge of archaeological micro-features.

Hence, from my point of view the workshop turned out to be a great opportunity to get a closer look at the micro-stratigraphy of my last excavation (see Ostia Antica 2011) where I took several samples which had been cut and prepared as thin-section of high quality by mfactory/Potsdam.

I learned that not even for thin-section preparation but also for sample taking, an expert is needed or at least the advice of one. Furthermore, since an archaeologist cannot become a pedologist just in 2 weeks I would strongly recommend a close co-coperation between both subjects. On the other hand, within this short time I got an amazing amount of knowledge into the subject and I am looking forward to incorporate it into my thesis.


Certainly, each subject can add some information to the other and finally the interdisciplinary work comes to the most profitable result. The whole scenery finally reminds me on a talk held by Friedrich Lüth which was related to the recent discovery of the DNA relation of Neandertal to recent human kind (opening ceremony at EAA 2010,The 16th Annual Meeting). He stated that natural scientific results had in summary a much greater impact on the understanding of past human cultures as any archaeological ceramic typology.


Forthcoming events at this topic:


  • 01. February 2012, TALK Prof. Chris Miller (see the Event Calendar)  –
  • 08. – 14. July 2012, 14th International Working Meeting on Soil Micromorphology (see the Event Calendar)




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