Meet our #UoRWomen – Part 2!

Last year we profiled some of our staff to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year, we asked some of our brilliant PhD students about their research and their inspirations.  Read on for a selection…

Josie Handley

What is your research specialisation/topic?

Through my PhD I am assessing the impact human activity and climate change has had on the sustainability of terraced agriculture in the Peruvian Andes through the analysis of phytoliths, pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, and charcoal analysis.

What made you choose this area?

Since undergraduate level, I have been interested in how past civilisations interacted with each other as well as their environments and, in particular, how this may be able to tell us more about environmental changes currently taking place, or those that may take place in the future. This inspired me to undertake an MSc in Environmental Archaeology here at the University of Reading. Whilst working on my master’s dissertation with my now PhD supervisor, Dr Nick Branch, I fell in love with Peru and its history and because of this he encouraged me to apply for a PhD.

 What is a current exciting development in your area?

In recent years, several new climatic records from speleothems, marine cores, and lake cores, have been published from Peru and South America. These illustrate how the climate has changed over the course of the Holocene; information that was lacking at the beginning of the decade. This is valuable information for those that want to understand whether agriculture has been resilient to climate change in the past.

 What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

To get as much experience as you possibly can early on, whether that be through volunteering on digs or work experience in labs. I found that getting involved with local events and helping out in the lab have not only been beneficial training experiences but was also a lot of fun!

 Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My parents have always motivated me and supported the decisions I have made, both for my education and my career; this has been absolutely fundamental in getting me to where I am today. I was also lucky enough to have two very inspiring female geography teachers in secondary school that sparked my interest in earth sciences at quite a young age.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

When I am not working on my PhD I enjoy getting out into the countryside, going for walks and getting some fresh air, it is really important to find time for you whilst studying; it’s helpful in clearing the brain for a while! I also enjoy baking and being creative.


Claire Nolan

What is your research specialisation/topic?

My research examines the relationship between heritage and wellbeing, exploring the therapeutic value and potential of the prehistoric landscapes of Stonehenge, Avebury and the Vale of Pewsey, in the present day. It is particularly concerned with how the historic environment impacts people, personally, and what it means for them.

What made you choose this area?

My love of prehistory and psychology, my passion for helping people and a hunch that heritage is fundamental to our wellbeing and development.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

The heritage and health sectors are beginning to work together increasingly to find new ways to promote wellbeing and justify the deeper impacts of heritage.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

Do what you love – if it inspires you, just go for it!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

The late Dr Tessa Adams. Celebrated psychoanalyst, theorist, and my former masters supervisor, Dr Adams was a force of nature, had a brilliant mind, and recognised the potential links between archaeology and wellbeing. I have also been inspired by the work, support and encouragement of Dr Jim Leary, Prof Tim Darvill and the late Prof Peter Woodman.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Walking in prehistoric landscapes!


Rebecca Scott

What is your research specialisation/topic?

My main interest is the use of soils and sediments to understand the archaeological record. My PhD draws on this by investigating the use of fire by early humans in the Palaeolithic. In the earlier parts of this period (the Lower Palaeolithic and parts of the Middle Palaeolithic), we simply don’t find much evidence for it – why? My research, therefore, focuses on the effects of fire on different soils and sediments, and the conditions under which evidence for humanly-controlled fires are preserved. I study this by using experimental archaeology – I build fires and try to identify the factors affecting their visibility.

What made you choose this area?

Although my background is in the environmental and earth sciences I have always had a keen interest in archaeology. I became fascinated by Quaternary geology and Pleistocene climates during my undergraduate degree and I am particularly interested in the interactions between humans and the environment – both how humans have shaped their environments and, conversely, how environments have shaped humans, particularly via subsistence strategies.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

Research involving the early use of fire has had a resurgence in recent years. We now have a range of scientific techniques at our fingertips which we can use to help us answer the many questions we have about this important development in human history.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

Go for it! Get experience if you can, work hard, read widely, and most importantly – ask questions!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My mum who always encouraged me to read and pursue my interests (however weird and wonderful they may be!), and of course all of the pioneering and forgotten women of science – the Trowelblazers, like Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison – who were disregarded, actively discouraged, and written out of the textbooks.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

In my spare time, I enjoy relaxing at home with my cat and some good music, and cooking/experimenting in the kitchen.


Candace McGovern

What is your research specialisation/topic?

I am a Biological Anthropologist and currently researching puberty and childbirth in Roman-Britain.

What made you choose this area?

As an Ancient History undergraduate, I was assigned to read Sarah Pomeroy’s Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves which was a life changing moment for me as I was also becoming more active in the LGBT community. Since that moment, I have been interested in studying those less represented or marginalized. Childbirth has been primarily studied from an evolutionary perspective by males, my work aims to widen the scope of research we can gain from the topic.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

Working on addressing the stereotypes associated with obstetric hazards and early marriages among past populations.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

For young women who are considering Archaeology, or a related subject like Biological Anthropology, I encourage them to pursue their passion. Develop a sense of inner strength and perseverance, so when they might be the only woman in a class they have the courage to speak out. Also, help each other out instead of tearing each other down. I always thought I was rubbish at science once I got to secondary school; however, now I love biological sciences and I am really glad I had the opportunity to continue on with it.

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

I can’t credit a specific person but there have been many strong women along the way who have inspired me. I have always been headstrong and inspired by my grandmother who left home at 15. She joined the army a few years later, one of the first women in the US to do so and traveled all over in the 1940’s and 50’s. It was all really ambitious for a young farm girl. I was also lucky to have a few really good mentors in school who saw my potential and encouraged me to stick with it, even when I was really close to failing.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

As a PhD Researcher I don’t have much free time as I also work as a tutor for SEN students. However, I really enjoy travelling and making yummy vegan food.

SAGES receives Silver Athena SWAN Award

The School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science has been successful in receiving the Silver Athena SWAN award, given by the Equality Challenge Unit.

Athena SWAN was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education. It has traditionally covered science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines, but has been expanded to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law departments (AHSSBL) as well.

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

SAGES received the Bronze Athena SWAN Award in 2011 and has continued to be committed to creating an inclusive environment for all. Our School-specific objectives for Athena SWAN are:

1. To aspire to a culture of equality for our staff (academic, admin, research and technical) and students;

2. To enhance induction, communication and consultation processes within and between Archaeology, GES and SAGES;

3. To improve collegiality and achieve a more cohesive structure in SAGES;

4. To foster a supportive culture of mentoring, review (PDRs), training and promotion across SAGES (regardless of career stage).

Dr Nick Branch, current Head of School, says “The last three years has been a period of rapid and positive change for the School. Since our Bronze Award, we have extensively refurbished the School infrastructure, changed the School name and mission, and prioritised equality, diversity and wellbeing. Athena SWAN has been the key platform for transforming the culture and improving working lives within the School.”

Ellie Highwood, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said the silver award to SAGES reflected the impact of innovative actions, such as a year-long School-wide “Gender in Fieldwork” project, on everyone in the School.

Reading Young Archaeologist Club – 2016 Programme Announced!

The new Reading Young Archaeologist Club has announced the programme for 2016! Make sure to mark these dates in your diary…



Saturday 30th January 2016 2pm – 4pm

What is Archaeology?

An introduction to what archaeology involves and some fun activities to help you find out more about what it’s like to be an archaeologist!


Saturday 27th February 2016 2pm – 4pm

Journey to the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife

Learn more about how the ancient Egyptians prepared for the afterlife!


Saturday 19th March 2016 2pm – 4pm


Learn about the development of modern humans using the collection of hominid skull casts and stone axes from the department of archaeology collections. What did early humans look like and how did they live?


Saturday 16th April 2016 2pm – 4pm

Brilliant Brooches

Explore Iron Age and Roman brooches found in Britain and have a go at making your very own brooch inspired by the designs.


Saturday 21st May 2016 2pm – 4pm

Medieval Magic

People in medieval times believed in good and bad magic. In this session you will learn about the different types of magic in medieval times, and what archaeologists have found for the medieval practice of magic.


June/July – Dig at Pewsey (TBC)

A chance to experience life as an archaeologist by visiting the University of Reading’s Archaeology field school at Pewsey in Wiltshire.

500 years of urban life at Silchester: the Iron Age and Roman town

On Wednesday 14th October, Mike Fulford gave a public lecture on the results of the Insula IX ‘Town Life’ Project: 500 years. The fieldwork aspect of the 18 year excavation project came to an end in 2014, but a large team are busy undertaking the post-excavation analysis. Mike’s last public lecture at Reading was 5 years ago, so there was plenty to talk about – the lecture theatre was fully booked, and the audience was packed with old friends from fieldwork, local residents, staff and students.


After an introduction from archaeologist and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Mithen, Mike started off by setting the scene. Calleva Atrebatum is one of only three major Roman towns in Britain on a greenfield site, meaning the archaeology is preserved much better than places like London and York. The Society of Antiquaries excavated the site from 1890-1909, but they missed an awful lot of the archaeology and stratigraphy. Insula IX was chosen back in 1997 as there were plenty of gaps on the map (meaning undisturbed archaeology), plus buildings on the ‘Late Iron Age’ alignment.

Mike casually offered some impressive stats – Insula IX has produced 62486 finds and 16240 contexts! Based on all of this information, the current chronological outline of Insula IX was presented. The Late Iron Age phase of occupation is currently dated from c. 20 BC to AD43, consisting of a ‘Great Hall’, a series of trackways, pits and wells. After the Roman conquest in AD43, activity within the Insula became much more intensive, but still clinging on the northwest-southeast alignment. At the end of the first century AD, there was a major reorganisation of buildings within the Insula, and again in the late Roman period.

Mike with the Silchester artist in residence, Jenny Halstead

Mike with the Silchester artist in residence, Jenny Halstead

Faced with the wealth of material and environmental evidence for life in Insula IX, Mike highlighted a few key themes. Firstly, the wealth of Silchester was shown through objects such as Harpocrates, the Silchester eagle and imported glassware. Secondly, dogs! From the Late Iron Age lap dog buried in the foundation trench of the Great Hall, to the dogs buried in a later Roman pit along with a raven and the famous mating dogs knife handle, and the evidence for dog skinning in the mid Roman period, dogs were a theme of the excavations. Thirdly, the living conditions within Insula IX were a key point, with trickling filter fly, whipworm and maggots all found through the environmental analysis of wells and cesspits. Along the way, Mike highlighted the work of researchers in the Department of Archaeology, including Rowena Banerjea’s study of floors and buildings through soil micromorphology, John Allen’s work on building stone, and Lisa Lodwick’s research on early food imports. Plus of course the amazing archaeological work of Amanda Clarke and her team of excavators!

Mike rounded proceedings off with the end of Insula IX, the mysterious ogham stone, and the role Silchester may have had in the fifth century AD. There was time for questions at the end – with lots of interest in the Insula IX dogs, the decline of Silchester, plus the important question “would you choose Insula IX again?”

The lecture was accompanied by a display of artwork from the Silchester artist in residence Jenny Halstead. Jenny’s paintings and sketches will be on display at the Old Fire Station Gallery, Henley-on-Thames from Saturday 24th October – Tuesday 3rd November.

Looking forward, work is steaming ahead on preparing the next Insula IX monograph on the Late Iron Age archaeology. Meanwhile, the exciting new Iron Age environs project is using a range of techniques, from LIDAR to geophysics, to investigate Iron Age activity in the wider area – something which will provide a vital prologue to the Insula IX story.

You can watch the video of the lecture here.


Follow us on twitter @silchexcavation

Find us on facebook

Archaeology students win Chancellor’s Award for academic excellence

Congratulations to Imogen Burrell and Lisa Nick, current Archaeology students who are receiving the Chancellor’s Award this year for their academic excellence!

The Chancellor’s Award is the most prestigious student award scheme at the University of Reading, which recognises the very best and highest academically achieving students from across the University. This year, 60 students who achieved the highest results in their subject at the end of either their first or second year of study were awarded the prize and will attend a special awards evening tonight hosted by the University’s Chancellor Sir John Madejski and Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell in December.

Well done Imogen and Lisa!

Imogen at Silchester

Imogen at Silchester

The Tale of William Westoby

Follow the story of William Westoby, a 14 year old apprentice in the city of York, in this brilliant new video!

A cartoon has been made to illustrate the life of a medieval teenager based on the research findings of Dr Mary Lewis’ project “Adolescence, Migration and Health in Medieval England“.

You can view the video on our Youtube channel here.

Dr Karen Wicks leads team to investigate Mesolithic activity in the Southern Hebrides

A team from our department, led by Dr Karen Wicks, are on their way to the Isle of Gigha in the Southern Hebrides for a week to investigate Mesolithic activity there. Watch this video to see what they got up to at Easter on the Isle of Mull!

Celebrating the work of Professor Richard Bradley!


Last Friday afternoon in the Meadow Suite on campus, colleagues, former students and friends enjoyed a retirement party for Professor Richard Bradley, one of the founding fathers of our Archaeology department, and a very well respected and world renowned Prehistorian. There were speeches from Professors Roberta Gilchrist, Mike Fulford, Chris Gosden from the University of Oxford, and our Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell, followed by a jolly speech by Professor Richard Bradley himself. As well as a photography exhibition displaying amusing images from Richard’s career, to mark Richard’s love of avant-garde classical music a university string quartet played a suite by Finzi, and Richard was presented with a sculpture by one of his favourite artists, the potter, Antonia Salmon, who started her career as a circuit digger in the 1970s.


Richard has been with the department for over 40 years, starting as an Assistant Lecturer at the age of 25, but did his undergraduate degree in Law at Oxford University. Fortunately for us and for the world of Prehistory, he switched his allegiance to Archaeology, where he found that there was much more enjoyment to be had. Despite his official retirement, Richard assures us that he will not disappear from Reading, or from Archaeology, and that he’ll continue to be around for all the fun events in the department!


Commercial Archaeology and Romano-British Towns

In collaboration with Cotswold Archaeology and support from English Heritage, the Dept of Archaeology UoR hosted a one-day conference on 30th November 2013 to explore the contribution that commercial archaeology has made to our knowledge of Roman towns in Britain since the implementation of Planning Policy Guidance 16 in 1990. Guest speakers included colleagues from the Universities of Bournemouth, Cambridge, KCL, Oxford and UCL as well as from Cotswold Archaeology, English Heritage and South Shields.developer archaeology conf speakers2