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The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History

Product Code: TMS007
Series: TMS Special Publications - print copy
Author/Editor: Edited by M. Williams, T. Hill, I. Boomer and I.P. Wilkinson
Publication Date: 16 June 2017
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Microfossils are an abundant component of the sedimentary rock record. Their analysis can reveal not only the environments in which the rocks were deposited, but also their age. When combined, the spatial and temporal distribution patterns of microfossils offer enormous utility for archaeological and forensic investigations. Their presence can act as a geological ‘fingerprint’ and the tiniest fragment of material, such as a broken Iron Age potsherd, can contain a microfossil signature that reveals the geographical source of the materials under investigation. This book explores how microfossils are employed as tools to interpret human society and habitation throughout history. Examples include microfossil evidence associated with Palaeolithic human occupation at Boxgrove in Sussex, alongside investigations into human-induced landscape change during the Holocene. Further examples include the use of microfossils to provenance the source materials of Iron Age ceramics, Roman mosaics and Minoan pottery, in addition to their application to help solve modern murder cases, highlighting the diverse applications of microfossils to improving our understanding of human history.

Type: Book
Ten Digit ISBN:
Thirteen Digit ISBN: 9781786203052
Publisher: GSL on behalf of TMS
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 304
Weight: 0.9 kg



Williams, M., Hill, T., Boomer, I. & Wilkinson, I. P. Microfossils and their utility for archaeological and forensic studies

Environmental applications to archaeology

Whittaker, J. E. & Parfitt, S. A. The palaeoenvironment of the important Middle Pleistocene hominin site at Boxgrove (West Sussex, UK) as delineated by the foraminifera and ostracods

Gearey, B. R., Hopla, E.-J., Boomer, I., Smith, D., Marshall, P., Fitch, S., Griffiths, S. & Tappin, D. R. Multi-proxy palaeoecological approaches to submerged landscapes: a case study from ‘Doggerland’, in the southern North Sea

Innes, J. B. & Blackford, J. J. Palynology and the study of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in the British Isles

Hill, T., Whittaker, J., Brunning, R., Law, M., Bell, M., Ramsey, C. B., Dunbar, E. &Marshall, P. Palaeoenvironmental investigations of a Mesolithic–Neolithic sedimentary sequence from Queen’s Sedgemoor, Somerset

Grant, M. J. & Waller, M. Resolving complexities of pollen data to improve interpretation of past human activity and natural processes

Mazzini, I., Rossi, V., Da Prato, S. & Ruscito, V. Ostracods in archaeological sites along the Mediterranean coastlines: three case studies from the Italian peninsula

Provenance analysis in archaeological contexts

Wilkinson, I. P. Micropalaeontological applications in archaeology: mobility and provenance

Quinn, P. S. Calcareous nannofossils as a tool for the provenance determination of archaeological ceramics, building materials and related artefacts

Dunkley Jones, T., Magrill, P., Hefetz, M. W., Cotton, L. & Pearson, P. N. The contribution of micropalaeontology to the study of Bronze Age potters’ workshops at Tel Lachish, Israel and the biostratigraphy of the Lachish area

Wilkinson, I. P., Williams, M., Stocker, C., Whitbread, I., Boomer, I., Farman, T. & Taylor, J. Microfossils in Iron Age and Romano-British ceramics from eastern England

Tasker, A., Wilkinson, I. P. & Williams, M. Mosaics and microfossils

Forensic applications

Brown, T. Forensic applications of micropalaeontology

Levkov, Z., Williams, D. M., Nikolovska, D., Tofilovska, S. & Čakar, Z. The use of diatoms in forensic science: advantages and limitations of the diatom test in cases of drowning

Bailey, H. W., Gallagher, L. T., Moncrieff, A. &Wood, C. J. Calcareous micropalaeontology in forensic investigations, with particular reference to the so-called ‘Soham murder case’



Clive Waddington

The Approaches and Forensic Applications of Microfossils. A Deeper Understanding of Human History.

The papers hang together well and generally follow a chronological theme. They have been written in an accessible style that will be helpful for the many archaeologists with non-specialist knowledge of environmental science. The breadth of papers will appeal to a wide readership, as will the importance of some of the discussion topics. Although all the papers are strong, particular standouts, based on the research interests of this reviewer, was the use of foraminifera and ostracods for palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimate reconstruction of the Lower Palaeolithic site at Boxgrove in MIS13 - c.05 million years ago (Whittaker and Parfitt), the evidence presented for dry islands or islets in ‘Doggerland’ 80 km off the British coast at the beginning of the Neolithic period (Geary et al.) - much later than any previous palaeocoastline models based on sea level index points, and the discussion of pollen and non-pollen palnynomorph evidence for early farming activity in Late Mesolithic pollen records (Innes and Blackford).

The range and number of authors underscores the importance of the collaborative working and interdisciplinary research that has allowed the study of microfossils to add so much to archaeology and forensics. Whether used for investigating the evolution of past landscapes, the past activities and impacts of humans within and on the landscape, unravelling the interplay of humans, landscape, vegetation and climate, or in the conviction and prosecution of criminals, this important and up to date volume will form a regular work of reference for student and specialist alike.

The papers are predominantly UK-focused, although there are excursions into the countries of the Mediterranean fringe including Italy, Macedonia and Israel. However, the findings discussed in many papers will be of interest to much more than a UK-only readership given that the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic transition papers discuss important data of north-west European relevance, and the methodological issues tackled by most of the papers have a more universal application.

This eclectic collection of papers in a compact volume do an admirable job of highlighting the important, although sometimes overlooked, contribution microfossil studies make to many of our fundamental questions about the past, the evolution of landscapes and the solving of felonies, including war crimes. This volume will be placed on one of my more easily-accessed bookshelves.

Reviewed by: Clive Waddington

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