The view down the microscope

This is my first year taking part in the day of archaeology and so I’d really like to share with you what a typical day is like for me as an archaeologist. I’m just in the third year of my PhD at the University of York and collecting the last of my data! I am working as part of a much wider research project called InterArChive. We as a team are using soil science to investigate the microscopic evidence for burial practice and decomposition within human inhumations. The technique that I am most focused on is micromorphology which is a method that uses resin impregnated blocks of soil, that are then made into 30 micron slices (0.003 mm). I then look at the features and patterns of voids within the soil to understand how they have been formed and reconstruct the burial environment.

Microscope work cropped

Microscope work station.

Using this technique we can actually understand a lot about how soil has formed and what the environment was like within the grave. For example we can use mineral identification and weathering to investigate the origin of the soil and the presence of Iron and Manganese stains to look at how wet soils were in the past.

Quartz minerals in thin section with Fe weathering show in in cross polarized light

Quartz minerals in thin section with Iron weathering show in in cross polarized light

  A typical day for me involves a good deal of micromorphology and most of my time is spent identifying, recording and interpreting features within the soil. A big part of the InterArChive project also involves integrating the micromorphological data with that from the chemistry side of the team! and together trying to make sense of the data and putting it all into an archaeological context!

Although my PhD project involves a lot of lab work, I’m very lucky to be able to go off on digs and visit sites to get a break from my PhD research! And I love to write about my experiences on my blog.

To find out more about the InterArChive project please visit our web pages here.