Cranborne Chase excavations

Sadly I am missing out on the first day of excavations at this site due a snazzy exam about Alexander the Great, but I thought I would introduce you to the area I will be excavating with the University of Southampton for the best bit of the next two weeks (06/06/17 -14/06/17).

Geographically, Cranborne is a chalk plateau that straddles the counties of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. The chalk landscape typically has very shallow stratigraphy therefore excavations here are not deep. Having taken a module in landscape archaeology I now have a newfound appreciation of the importance of underlying geology and the topography of the area in relation to its land use and habitation.

The location has long been of archaeological importance. It was here that Augustus Pitt Rivers developed what is now regarded as modern archaeological fieldwork during the 19th century. It boasts a wealth of archaeological sites from over 3000 years of human habitation. Neolithic and Bronze age monuments litter the landscape however what we are excavating is an Iron age settlement. Another notable example of excavation of the site was that carried out in  2004 by the television show Time Team (anyone who knows me knows my obsession with this show and my dedicated twitter following of @TheHardingHat)  who uncovered a Roman fort – the show is well worth a watch!

For Southampton this is their 5th season working here, and as a first year Archaeology and History student I am joining them to gain experience and be trained in the practical aspects of land based excavation. Teams from Bournemouth University and from Wessex archaeology have used similar locations at Cranborne as training.

The Site we are excavating is by Down Farm on lands owned by Dr Martin Green. I point out this land owner because of his notability as an expert on the prehistoric archaeology of the area. Dr Green has played a significant part in our understanding of Cranborne chase as a prehistoric landscape. Some notable publications of his, that I shall be reading during the course of our excavation include …

Barrett, John, Richard J. Bradley, and Martin T. Green. Landscape, monuments and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Green, Martin. A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 years on a chalkland farm. Tempus Pub Limited, 2000.


So for the final few weeks of my first year at university I am traveling back and forth from this fantastic site hopefully all the wiser and better skilled in the art of  excavation. It should be allot of fun despite the rain predicted to fall over the rest of this week at least. My aim is to complete a day by day field diary for the days I join the team.

Human Origins Essay

submitted finally! This essay taps into the recent biological advancements made in genetics and its application to the early days of our species.  This has been my favorate module  in semester one of my first year at the univercity of southampton and has allowed me to make good use of my biology A-level.

I’m not saying this is a particularly good essay (I’ve almost certainly made many errors) but I found it so interesting to write and read about that that I had to share what I learnt.

Assess the contribution that DNA has made to our understanding of when modern humans (i.e. Homo sapiens) spread out of Africa and what routes they took?

Recent advances in genetic technology have illuminated the time and space Homo sapiens travelled through when leaving Africa.  The ‘Out of Africa’ theory has been widely accepted because of overwhelming genetic evidence; now the question of how and when our species left the continent is being deciphered through a range of genetic testing.  Pushing biology to the extremities of possibility, current research has led to the remapping of the route taken by our ancestors.  Whether this migration occurred as singular or multiple events is widely disputed.  The handful of possible escape route out of Africa has been explored through the comparison of haplogroups in mtDNA lineages. DNA evidence shows a gradual decrease in genetic diversity as the distance from Africa increases.  Genetic analysis has been the most significant contribution in our understanding of this first migration out of Africa.

The 1987 study of mtDNA variation by Cann et al. set a president for the study of archaeogenetics and effectively re-wrote the theory of early modern expansion by disproving the ‘Multiregional Hypothesis’.  The benefit of analysing mitochondrial DNA is that it is non-recombining, only passed on from mother to child; its application in genetic history is therefore more substantiated then nucleotide DNA that is prone to greater variety and mutation.  By tracking the maternal line an original Cann’s study established a “Mitochondrial Eve”. She has been dated back to around 150,000 years and was argued to have given rise to 134 mitochondrial haploid types (Cann 1987).  The work was heavily criticised due to issues in method and computer programming but has since been proven essentially accurate in its conclusions.  These conclusions provided strong support for the ‘Out of Africa’ or ‘single-origin model’ by establishing a single hypothetical ancestor that originated in sub-Saharan Africa who that spread out of the continent 100,000 years ago and replaced all other Homo populations. This infers that only a select few ventured out of Africa; here we can see the restricted variation in Haploid groups as a result of a founder effect whereby a small population has gone on to colonise the rest of the world. There has been evidence that as few as ten “daughters” make up the mitochondrial lineages within modern European populations (Gusar 2004).  One of the prominent points of evidence is the similar age between the three main haplogroups in Eurasia M,N and R ; this indicates they were part of the same colonisation (Macaulay et al. 2005).

By comparing mtDNA variety between populations of modern humans and our “Cousins” the chimpanzee, Cann was able to establish a significant lack of variety within modern populations (Cann 1987). The existence of a small pioneering expedition of Homo sapiens who ventured out of Africa 100,000 years ago has now been conclusively accepted; this is largely due to irrefutable genetic evidence.  The study of nuclear DNA, especially of strand CD4 locus on chromosome 12 (Tishkoff et al. 1996), has shown a different variety of mutations in Africa whilst having a heavily restricted variation throughout the rest of the world. This supports the ‘Out of Africa’ theory and posits that non-African descendants originated from a small pioneering group that left Africa at a maximum age of 102,000 years ago given the inferred date of initial mutation (Tishkoff et al 1996).

The contribution of DNA in establishing an approximate date of dispersal, to the point where a few thousand years can be argued either way is one of the greatest archaeological advances of our time.  Our understanding of when this occurred allowed us to irrevocably disprove the traditional ‘Multiregional Hypothesis’ of human evolution and forgo some of the polycentric ideas that became associated with it – disproving the idea of ‘race’.  Analysis of Nuclear DNA has gone a long way in our understanding of the flow of genetics across the world.  Evidence of a restricted genetic pool in the initial colonisation of the world outside of Africa insinuates the occurrence of the founder’s effect or potentially a genetic bottleneck where diversity is heavily restricted.  The evidence resulting from the complete mapping of the Human genome in 2004 emphasised greater variation within sub-Saharan populations than the rest of the world; there was no exodus out of Africa.

Work in the 1980-90’s almost exclusively debated the plausibility of the two main models of human global colonisation however the discussion has turned towards the more intricate task of understanding the relationship between our genetic ancestry and demographic history (Groucutt et al. 2015). The movement of Homo sapiens out of Africa lies at the cusp of scientific possibility; advances in our technical capabilities have expanded our genetic history book by several chapters.  The new millennia now accessible for archaeogenetic study have allowed us to analyse the relationship between modern populations in order to determine the route of the first settlers.  The debate is now largely centred on the mapping of routes our ancestors most plausibly took on their exit from Africa.  Some have speculated that this early migration may have occurred multiple times and not necessarily followed the same path.

The most prominent theories of human dispersal suggest a northerly exit from the African continent seeing three possible escape routes; across the Mediterranean to southern Europe and Italy, across the straits of Gibraltar and across the Levant. Each theory insinuates a sea crossing there being no immediate land bridge between the continents in geographic reconstructions at the proposed time of crossing ~100,000 years ago (Cann 1987).  However others have posited a southerly route across the Indian Ocean is a more probable route as a single dispersal model. The analysis of haplogroups in mtDNA has shown the time periods in which these divergences of populations occurred and archaeological evidence along coastal Africa signify the capability to move across bodies of water in order to populate the new land.

This path out of Africa has been been a matter of great debate however the most prominent thought sees a movement out of the to the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula.  DNA from  southern Indian and southeast Asia comply with the theory that the people who first left Africa came not across the Indian Ocean. This southern route has been supported by the analysis of mtDNA samples from New Guinea, mainland India and the Andaman Islands (Macaulay at al. 2005).  These “relic” populations have been argued to have been the result of a rapid dispersal out of Africa ~65,000 years ago.  The dating suggests that this may have been a secondary route taken at a later stage aiding the theory of multiple dispersion.  However Macaulay makes the argument that the northern routes are less likely exits. Geographic models calibrate a more arid and harsh environment as the ‘ice age’ widens deserts by locking moisture in glaciers and increased the distance to water by reducing sea levels ; the northern passages were probably blocked by desert (Macaulay et al. 2005).  This is backed up by the lineage of haplogroups; the oldest N and R have the oldest date outside of Africa and are found almost exclusively in western Asia and India and arise ~10,000 years before the development of another haplogroup U in northern Africa. This so suggests that the southerly route across to Asia was the route taken by the first global explorers.  The route along this latitude was also a lot more comfortable and ecologically rich. It is plausible that our ancestors took the path of least resistance and remained in the subtropical environments rather than push closer to the ice sheets; models have shown that southern Arabia was in a wetter phase and well within the biological niche that Homo sapiens inhabit (Armitage 2011).

Genetic studies have allowed us to trace the migration of all humans across the globe.  It has contributed a great deal to our concept of ‘race’ and social derivation. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa we have all originated from one small group of pioneering humans who 100,000 years ago decided to venture outside of the continent they were born. Our understanding of genetics and especially interpretation of mtDNA has allowed us to rewrite the earliest pages of our species history.  We have retraced the footprints of the first sapiens to step outside of the “cradle of life” and conquer the word. Geneticists have been able to tell us more about our origins in the last 50 years then we could ever have imagined. Possibly one of the greatest human achievements; the complete mapping of the Human genome in 2004 aimed to provide data in order to aid our understanding of the movement and evolution outside of Africa. We have been able to narrow the time period and space in which the human race could have left the continent. We have much to credit genetic studies for in our understanding of the first migration/s out of Africa.

Reference list :

Armitage, S.J., Jasim, S.A., Marks, A.E., Parker, A.G., Usik, V.I. and Uerpmann, H.-P. (2011) ‘The southern route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an early expansion of modern humans into Arabia’, Report, 331(6016), pp. 453–456. doi: 10.1126/science.1199113.

Boyd, R. and Silk, J.B. (2000) How humans evolved. New York: WW Norton & Co.

Cann, R.L. (1987) ‘IN SEARCH OF EVE’, The Sciences, 27(5), pp. 30–37. doi: 10.1002/j.2326-1951.1987.tb02967.x.

Groucutt, H.S., Petraglia, M.D., Bailey, G., Scerri, E.M.L., Parton, A., Clark-Balzan, L., Jennings, R.P., Lewis, L., Blinkhorn, J., Drake, N.A., Breeze, P.S., Inglis, R.H., Devès, M.H., Meredith-Williams, M., Boivin, N., Thomas, M.G. and Scally, A. (2015) ‘Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa’, Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 24(4), pp. 149–164. doi: 10.1002/evan.21455.

Gusar, V., Roostalu, U., Malyarchuk, B.A., Derenko, M.V., Kivisild, T., Metspalu, E., Tambets, K., Reidla, M., Tolk, H.-V., Parik, J., Pennarun, E., Laos, S., Lunkina, A., Golubenko, M., Barać, L., Peričić, M., Balanovsky, O.P., Loogväli, E.-L., Khusnutdinova, E.K., Stepanov, V., Puzyrev, V., Rudan, P., Balanovska, E.V., Grechanina, E., Richard, C., Moisan, J.-P., Chaventré, A., Anagnou, N.P., Pappa, K.I., Michalodimitrakis, E.N., Claustres, M., Gölge, M., Mikerezi, I., Usanga, E. and Villems, R. (2004) ‘Disuniting uniformity: A Pied Cladistic canvas of mtDNA Haplogroup H in Eurasia’, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 21(11), pp. 2012–2021. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msh209.

Macaulay, V. (2005) ‘Single, rapid coastal settlement of Asia revealed by analysis of complete Mitochondrial Genomes’, Science, 308(5724), pp. 1034–1036. doi: 10.1126/science.1109792.

MitoDNA ACWilson nature1987 (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2016).

Stringer, C. and Andrews, P. (2005) The complete world of human evolution: With 432 illustrations, 180 in colour. NEW YORK: Thames & Hudson.

Tishkoff, S.A., Dietzsch, E., Speed, W., Pakstis, A.J., Kidd, J.R., Cheung, K., Bonne-Tamir, B., Santachiara-Benerecetti, A.S., Moral, P., Krings, M., Paabo, S., Watson, E., Risch, N., Jenkins, T. and Kidd, K.K. (1996) ‘Global patterns of linkage Disequilibrium at the CD4 locus and modern human origins’, Science, 271(5254), pp. 1380–1387. doi: 10.1126/science.271.5254.1380.


Guess Where I’m Going …

I am very excited about the end of exams – more than just the simple fact I will no longer be taking exams and panicking about their impact – I will be of to a place I have never been before and I cannot wait!

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and and for a city with such a rich and diverse history it is amazing I hadn’t heard of it before. The Ancient Greek myths of  Jason and the Argonauts were said to have established the city after fleeing from the King of Aetes having stolen the golden fleece.  Having encountered a dragon whilst there the city’s “dragon bridge” is named after Jason’s victory over the monster – I will be sure to take a selfie!

However most accounts state that the city began in the 1st century AD as a Roman one ; highlighting on the trade route between Upper pannonia and the northern Roamn colonies of Norcicum and Aquilia. Roman walls and dwellings give physical evidence of this period unlike the supposed Greek settlement. Before the trade route was utilized the area was populated with celtic tribes since around 2000 BC ; the ground was largely marsh and dwellers were subsistence hunter-fishermen.



The germanic occupation began in the 6rd century; with them came rapid growth. I look forward to visiting many of the city squares of which most are from this era. The city developed despite battling to eventually come under Habsburg rule in 1335 and suffering a huge earthquake 1511. Rebuilding under renaissance style it will be interesting to see the contrast in architecture as the city changed hands frequently in the middle ages each bringing a unique style – that is if any of it survived through several earthquakes!

Since its founding the citys geographical position has made it strategically vital. The deterioration of the Western Roman Empire saw the destruction of much of the city as the Huns invaded. There are still early christian churches that remain – again more photo opportunities! the best example of it strategic importance would be the building of Ljubljana Castle in the late 15th century. This was in reaction to the threat of the turks who wanted control of the well connected city. The Castle is probably the thing I am most looking forward to visiting – who can resist a good medieval castle !

Ljubljana is a City where Slovenian nationality began. The Slovene language was said to be established here. The rich culture of the city is argued to have been established with the philharmonic in 1701. However it was not until more recent history, the 1860’s, that it truly became the slovenian cultural centre . The city gained true power status and recognition as it hosted the four members of the holy alliance in 1821 who met to discuss the democratic revolution and national movements of Italy and how to suppress them.

6601493 - Kopija

My favorate Ljubljana dweller by far is Tito ; the infamous Yugoslavian leader of the state post WW2 . The first World War had passed the city only indirectly affecting its residents ; the outbreak of the second would drive its path of history to the Right. The city was encircled by the Fascist by a 30m high wire fence to keep it isolated – commemorated in the path of Remembrance and Comradeship  I am aiming to walk around the city following it. Tito died in the city leading to Yugoslavia’s unraveling –  a tension during the Cold War straining the state’s relation with the USSR.


For a city with such rich history it is amazing I had not heard of it before ! I’m revising hard so I can pack up and go already  … if you have ever been to this amazing city, live there or know someone else who has please leave a message or find me on twitter I would love to hear from you.

I will be posting videos and blog posts during my time there (at the end of the month) so be prepared and subscribe !





what I wish I included …

A personal statement is only 2000 character long so you cannot fit everything onto one page. If I could give one piece of advice it is Don’t read anyone else’s. A personal statement is unique to you interest and experience so be as interesting and
experienced as you can.  One great way of showing this is researching the professors and doctors that are leading in your field of interest ( and see what universities they came from) and seeing how they have expressed their passion for the subject.
Neil Oliver, for example, my favorate scottish TV Archaeologist stated “It was the sheer challenge of understanding the ancient world that attracted me and the legacy that those people left behind” in his phenomenal BBC4 series ‘A History of Ancient Britain’. Gathering an insight as to why experts are so interested in their subject is a great way of comprehensively understanding your own interest.

If you are wishing to study joint honours make sure you have some linkage as to why both such as a quote that discusses the relation between both subjects. I wish I included this great quote from Moreland ” The relationship between archaeology and history was, until recently, akin to that between servant and master”  it would have been a great link between what seemed like the two halves of my statement.

Another great resource of information is on university websites. Articles such as “why choose {insert subject here} .. ” and “meet our students” are great for researching why others choose that subject. This is only useful to a certain extent as it also shows what the common themes are likely to be in other applications. However student profiles give a comprehensive list of what the University is looking for in its students. For example one student profile from the University of Exeter  goes on to emphasize the importance of a personal statement ..

What made you choose your degree subject?

I did not have any English qualifications – any official papers (as I like to call them).  Before coming to Exeter Uni, I had been travelling for almost two years between different English speaking countries.  The Uni believed in me and I got the place.  I appreciated a lot the fact that they considered more my personal experience rather than turn me down because I did not have any papers.


One thing I am glad I did was gain experience – my placement at the Mary Rose allowed to get my foot in the door with more than one university! Having experience or a
qualification at some where well-know is one of the best ways of getting yourself  noticed. This could be that you sent an essay to a notable competition on the subject you wish to study or that you visited a conference on a topic you are particularly interested.

I was realy interested in the middle east and the archeology found their. I went along to the Iran Heritage Foundation’s conference of “the Destruction of Monuments and Memory in the Middle East”. what was great about this was that it was relatively small which meant that you could go and talk to speakers and subject leaders personally – I had many interesting conversations while I was their.  ( This conference has now been uploaded onto their YouTube channel see below)


Unfortunately University places are now so competitive that “I’m realy enjoying my studies” doesn’t quite cut it. I said in the introduction not to read anyone else’s personal statement well don’t let anyone else read yours. If they are applying for the same  or similar course it may well be the same admissions team that compares your statements. Keep yours personal. The most important thing is to be yourself, don’t try and include impressive fancy language (unless you’re an english scholar I suppose) but show that you have a sound understanding of what is required in the subject by using key words. Most importantly don’t try and do it in one draft – rewrite rewrite rewrite and you will come up with your own golden UCAS ticket !

To everyone applying for University good luck ! To everyone yet to accept a place good luck ! To everyone taking A-level finals to get into their accepted place good luck! It will all turn out ok … or so I keep telling myself .