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Bioarchaeological research at Exeter combines the study of archaeology with branches of the natural and physical sciences to address questions of health and well-being, diet, ecology, subsistence strategies and natural and human-induced environmental impacts in the past.

Our approach is holistic and inter-disciplinary, drawing its inspiration from both definitions of ‘bioarchaeology’: as a study applied to human remains (human osteoarchaeology) and as related to the integration of environmental archaeology, floral and faunal evidence – archaeobotany and zooarchaeology.

Our current research covers a range of themes:

  • the origins and development of social inequality, violence and warfare
  • morphological alteration in response to physical activity and labour in the rise of craft specialists and elites across political, social and economic transitions
  • changing patterns of resource exploitation of plants and animals
  • human – environment relations, in particular the early domestication of plants and animals, and the legacy of past human impact on modern environments
  • how social relationships in the past contribute to funerary patterning in the archaeological record and how these relate to social processes amongst the living

Linked to our bioarchaeology research grouping is the Centre for Human-Animal-Environment Bioarchaeology (HumAnE) whose mission is to explore human-animal-environment interactions though time, using techniques from across the Arts-Science spectrum.

Research postgraduates

Recent research postgraduates:

  • Cynthia Bradley: ‘Remaking the Mazeway: A Study of Skeletal and Mortuary Evidence from the Ancestral Pueblo Site of Wallace Ruin (Colorado, USA)’
  • Lautaro Maximilian Hilbert: Amazonian Dark Earth Agroecosystems do Amazonas Central (CAPES PhD studentship)
  • Daiana Travassos: Santarem Culture Amazonian Dark Earth Agroecosystems of the Lower Tapajos. (CAPES PhD studentship)
  • Emily Johnson: Linearbandkeramik Faunal Assemblages
  • Hayley Foster: Comparing Butchery Patterns at Medieval Castles
  • Belinda Tibbetts: Human Palaeopathology
  • Gillian Cuthbert: Enriching the Neolithic: The Forgotten People of the Barrows
  • Mandy Kingdom: The Past People of Exeter: Health, Social Standing and Well-being in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period
  • Malene Lauritsen: Exeter from fort to city: a faunal perspective
  • Xuelei Li: Fox Trails through time
  • Regina Gonda: Pre-Columbian Amazon-Scale Transformations 
  • Landon Karr: Idenitifying human-induced bone fracture on mammoths in America
  • Penny Cunningham: Prehistoric hazel nut storage
  • Wendy Howard: ‘Commensal or Comestible? The Role and Exploitation of Smaller, Non-ungulate Mammals in Early European Prehistory: Towards a Methodology for Improving Identification of Human Exploitation'
  • Jennifer Watling: Environmental impact of the pre-Columbian geoglyph builders of western Amazonia (AHRC PhD studenship, Fox Fund)
  • Johann Matzke: ‘Murderous Gentlemen: The Written Word and its Role in Forming Noble Identity’
  • Phillippa Stone: ‘An Evidence-led Approach to Intrasite and Intrafeature Spatial Distribution of Disarticulated and Fragmented Animal Bone on Prehistoric Sites in East Anglia’
  • Pip Parmenter: Animal remains from Neolithic causewayed enclosures
  • Ashleigh Haruda: Bronze Age Pastoralism in Central Asia

Current research projects

Members of the Department of Archaeology are involved in a range of research projects which are grouped under two sub-themes:

Domestication and Coupled Human Environment Systems: Zooarchaeology and Archaeobotany

Project titleStaff member 

Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution?

Professor Oliver CreightonProfessor Alan Outram



Pegasus: The makeup of the modern horse: a history of the biological changes introduced by human management


Professor Alan Outram


Exploring Easter e.g. Shifting Baselines and Changing Perceptions of Cultural and Biological “Aliens”

Professor Naomi Sykes

The End of the Journey: The Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene Colonisation of South America

Professor José Iriarte

Late Gravettian archaeology as a reflection of hunter-gatherer ecological diversity in the Upper Pleniglacial Central Europe

Dr Alexander Pryor
Horse Domestication in the Botai Culture, Eneolithic Kazakhstan Professor Alan Outram
The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, South Dakota Professor Alan Outram; Professor Bruce Bradley; Dr Adrian Hannus

Past projects

Project titleStaff member
Literary Archaeology: Exploring the Lived Environment of the Slave (McKenzie) Dr Catriona McKenzie
Causing a Flap: using chicken-based research to transform education, poultry production and human well-being Professor Naomi Sykes
Going Places: Empowering Women, Enhancing Heritage and Increasing Chicken Production in Ethiopia  Professor Naomi Sykes
Coupled Human and Natural Systems: Late Pre-Hispanic Agricultural Landscapes of French Guiana Professor José Iriarte
Pre-Columbian Human Impact and Land Use in the Bolivian Amazon During the Late Holocene Professor José Iriarte
NeoMilk: The milking revolution in temperate Neolithic Europe Professor Alan Outram
Bone fat exploitation and the importance of fat as a resource Professor Alan Outram
The Paleolithic and Pleistocene of Asia Professor Robin Dennell
Sacred places and funerary rites: southern Jê monumental landscapes of the Southern Brazilian highlands and Argentina

Professor José Iriarte

Understanding prehistoric hunters' economic choices Professor Alan Outram

Key recent publications


  • Dennell, R.W. (2009): The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia. Cambridge University Press. (World Archaeology Series).
  • Knüsel, C.J. and Smith, M. (eds.) (2013): The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict. Routledge, London.
  • Melton, N.D., Montgomery, J. and Knüsel, C.J. (eds.) 2013: Gristhorpe Man, A Life and Death in the Bronze Age. Oxbow Books, Oxford. (ISBN: 978-1-78297-207-5)


Armit, I., Schulting, R., Knüsel, C.J. and Shepherd, I. (2011): Death, Decapitation and Display? The Bronze and Iron Age Human Remains from the Sculptor’s Cave, Covesea, North-east Scotland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 77, 251-278.

Dennell, R.W. and Petraglia, M.D. (2012): The dispersal of Homo sapiens across southern Asia: how early, how often, how complex? Quaternary Sciences Reviews 47, 15-22.

Dennell, R.W. (2012): The Nihewan Basin of North China in the Early Pleistocene: Continuous and flourishing, or discontinuous, infrequent and ephemeral occupation? Quaternary International 30, 1-12.

Dennell, R.W., Martinón-Torres, M. and Bermudez de Castro, J.M. (2011): Hominin variability, climatic instability and population demography in Middle Pleistocene Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews, doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.11.027

Iriarte, J. and E. A. Paz. 2009: Phytolith analysis of selected native plants and modern soils from southeastern Uruguay and its implications for paleoenvironmental and archeological reconstruction. Quaternary International 193, 99-123.

Iriarte, J., B. Glaser, J. Watling, A. Wainwright, J. J. Birk, D. Renard, S. Rostain and D. McKey. 2010: Late Holocene Neotropical agricultural landscapes: phytolith and stable carbon isotope analysis of raised fields from French Guianan coastal savannahs. Journal of Archaeological Science 37,2984-2994.

Iriarte, J., M. J. Power, S. Rostain, F. E. Mayle, H. Jones, J. Watling, B. S. Whitney and D. B. McKey. (2012): Fire-free land use in pre-1492 Amazonian savannas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109, 6473-6478.

Karr L.P., Outram, A.K. and Hannus, L.A., (2011): Open-area excavations at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, South Dakota (A.D. 1000-1150): new interpretations of site function from interdwelling areas., Journal of Field Archaeology 26, 281-288

Knüsel, C.J., Batt, C.M., Cook, G. Montgomery, J.M., Müldner, G., Ogden, A.R., Palmer, C., Stern, B., Todd, J., Wilson, A.S. (2010): The St. Bees Lady, Cumbria: An Osteobiographical Approach. Medieval Archaeology 54, 275-317.

McDonald, K., Martinón-Torres, M. , Dennell, R. W., and Bermudez de Castro, J.M. (2012): Discontinuity in the record for hominin occupation in south-western Europe: Implications for occupation of the middle latitudes of Europe. Quaternary International 271, 84-97.

McKey, D., S. Rostain, Iriarte, J., B. Glaser, J. J. Birk, I. Holst and D. Renard. (2010): Pre-Columbian agricultural landscapes, ecosystem engineers, and self-organized patchiness in Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 107,7823.

Outram, A.K., Stear, N.A., Bendrey, R., Olsen, S., Kasparov, A., Zaibert, V., Thorpe, N. and Evershed, R (2009): The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking. Science 323, 1332-1335.

Outram, A.K., Stear, N.A., Usmanova, E, Varfolomeev, V. and Evershed, R.P., (2011): Horses for the dead: Funerary foodways in bronze age Kazakhstan, Antiquity 85, 116-128.

Outram, A.K., Kasparov, A., Stear, N.A., Varfolomeev, V., Usmanova, E. and Evershed, R.P., (2012): Patterns of pastoralism in later Bronze Age Kazakhstan: New evidence from faunal and lipid residue analyses, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 2424-2435.

Other important publications:

Bendrey, R., Thorpe, N., Outram, A.K. and van Wijngaarden-Bakker, L.H. (2013): The Origins of Domestic Horses in North-west Europe: new Direct Dates on the Horses of Newgrange, Ireland, Proc. Prehist. Soc. 79, 1-13

Bogaard, A. and Outram, A.K. (2013). Palaeodiet and beyond: stable isotopes in bioarchaeology. World Archaeology 45, 333-337.

Dennell, R.W., Louys, J., O’Regan, H. and Wilkinson, D. (2013): The origins and persistence of Homo floresiensis on Flores: biogeographical and ecological perspectives. Quaternary Sciences Reviews 30, 1-10.

Dennell, R.W. (2012): Hominins, deserts, and the colonisation and settlement of continental Asia. Quaternary International 43, 205-226.

McDonald, K., Martinón-Torres, M. , Dennell, R. W., and Bermudez de Castro, J.M. (2012): Discontinuity in the record for hominin occupation in south-western Europe: Implications for occupation of the middle latitudes of Europe. Quaternary International 271, 84-97.

Dennell, R.W. (2011): An earlier Acheulian arrival in South Asia. Science 331, 1532-1533.

Dennell, R.W. (2010): Early Homo sapiens in China. Nature 468, 512-513.

Dickau, R., Whitney, B. S., Iriarte, J., Mayle, F. E., Soto, D., Metcalfe, P., Street-Perrot, F. A., Loader, N. J., Ficken, K. J. and Killeen, T. (2013): Differentiation of Neotropical ccosystems by modern soil phytolith assemblages and its implications for palaeoenvironmental and archaeological reconstructions. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 193, 15-37.

Dickau, R., M. C. Bruno, Iriarte, J., H. Prümers, C. Jaimes Betancourt, I. Holst and F. E. Mayle. (2012): Diversity of cultivars and other plant resources used at habitation sites in the Llanos de Mojos, Beni, Bolivia: evidence from macrobotanical remains, starch grains, and phytoliths. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 357-370.

Grobman, A., D. Bonavia, T. D. Dillehay, D. R. Piperno, Iriarte, J., and I. Holst. (2012): Preceramic maize from Paredones and Huaca Prieta, Peru. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109, 1755-1759.

Iriarte, J. (2009): Narrowing the Gap: Exploring the Diversity of Early Food-Production Economies in the Americas. Current Anthropology 50, 677-680.

Karr, L.P. and Outram, A.K. (2012): Actualistic research into dynamic impact and its implications for understanding differential bone fragmentation and survivorship, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 39, no. 11, 3443-3449

Karr, L.P. and Outram, A.K. (2012): Tracking changes in bone fracture morphology over time: environment, taphonomy, and the archaeological record, Journal of Archaeological Science, 555-559

Karr, L.P. and Outram, A.K. (2012): Bone Degradation and Environment: Understanding, Assessing and Conducting Archaeological Experiments Using Modern Animal Bones, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, doi:10.1002/oa.2275

Karr L.P., Outram, A.K. and Hannus, L.A., (2010): A Chronology of Bone Marrow and Bone Grease Exploitation at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Plains Anthropologist 55, 215-223.

Knüsel, C.J. (2010): Bioarchaeology: A Synthetic Approach/Bio-archéologie: Une Approche Synthétique. Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris 22:62-73. (ISSN: 0037-8984)

Knüsel, C.J. (2011): Men Take Up Arms for War: Sex and Status Distinctions of Humeral Medial Epicondylar Avulsion Fractures in the Archaeological Record. In Baadsgaard, A. Boutin, A.T., and Buikstra, J.E. (eds.) Breathing New Life into the Evidence of Death: Contemporary Approaches to Bioarchaeology, pp. 221-250. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe (NM). (ISBN: 978-1-934691-48-9)

Knüsel, C.J. (2013): Courteous Knights and Cruel Avengers: A Consideration of the Changing Social Context of Medieval Warfare from the Perspective of Human Remains. In Knüsel, C.J. and Smith, M. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict. Routledge, London. (ISBN: 978-0-415-84219-8)

Knüsel, C.J., Wastling, V., Ogden, A.R. and Lynnerup, N. (2013): Gristhorpe Man: An Osteobiography. In Melton, N.D., Montgomery, J. and Knüsel, C.J. (eds.) Gristhorpe Man, A Life and Death in the Bronze Age. Oxbow Books, Oxford. 
Martinón-Torres, M., Dennell, R.W., and Bermudez de Castro, J.M. (2011).The Denisova hominin need not be an African story. Journal of Human Evolution 60, 251-255.

Mayle, F.E. and Iriarte, J. In press. Integrated palaeoecology and archaeology: a powerful approach for understanding pre-Columbian Amazonia. Journal of Archaeological Science.

Melton, N.D., Montgomery, J.M., Knüsel, C.J., Batt, C., Needham, S., Parker Pearson, M., Sheridan, A. with Heron, C., Horsley, T., Schmidt, A., Evans, A., Carter, E., Edwards, H., Hargreaves, M., Janaway, R., Lynnerup, N., O’Connor, S., Ogden, A., Taylor, T., Wastling, V., Wilson, A. (2010). Gristhorpe Man: An Early Bronze Age Oak-Coffin Burial. Antiquity 84(325): 796-815. 

Montgomery, J.M., Knüsel, C.J., and Tucker, K.E. (2011): Identifying the Origins of Decapitated Male Skeletons from 3 Driffield Terrace, York, Through Isotope Analysis: Reflections of the Cosmopolitan Nature of Roman York in the Time of Caracalla. In Bonogofsky, M. (ed.) The Bioarchaeology of the Human Head: Decapitation, Decoration and Deformation, pp. 141-178. University Press of Florida, Gainesville (FL).

Outram, A.K. (In Press): Animal Domestications. In Cummings V, Jordan P, Zvelebil M (eds) Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter Gatherers. Oxford: OUP.

Outram, A.K. (Forthcoming): Pastoralism . In Barker, G. and Goucher, C. (eds) A World with Agriculture. Cambridge: CUP.

Piperno, D. R., A. J. Ranere, I. Holst, Iriarte, J., and R. Dickau. (2009): Starch grain and phytolith evidence for early ninth millennium BP maize from the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106, 5019.

Watling, J. and Iriarte, J., (2013): Phytoliths from the coastal savannas of French Guiana. Quaternary International 287:162-180.

Whitney, B., Dickau, R., Mayle, F. E., Soto, D. and Iriarte, J. (2013): Landscape impact and agriculture in the Monumental Mound Region of the Llanos de Moxos, lowland Bolivia. Quaternary Research 80, 207-217.