A radar into the past: using geophysics to identify palaeoenvironmental landscape features

This project aims to test whether geophysical prospection, namely ground penetrating radar, ERT and magnetometry, can be used to map and identify landscape features that may contain sediments of a palaeoenvironmental nature, particularly palaeochannels or depressions which may have filled with minerogenic or organic sediments.

Department: Geography & Environmental Science

Supervised by: Mike Simmonds & Rob Fry

The Placement Project

Although many archaeological studies have used geophysical investigation and geoarchaeological fieldwork as key investigative techniques, few studies have used both techniques in a collaborative way. This project is designed to explore the potential for preliminary geophysical surveys to provide targeted areas for geoarchaeological investigation. This will allow for the identification of archives which can provide information on climate, environment, and human activity, and help to refine methodologies for often costly geoarchaeological fieldwork. For this project, two sites have been identified. These sites have already been subject to geoarchaeological work, where features of geoarchaeological or palaeoenvironmental interest have been identified. Runnymede, managed by the National Trust, is a floodplain on the River Thames, where a palaeochannel has been identified across the site. Thursley and Ockley Bog, managed by Natural England, is a wetland mire in Surrey, where two deep peat depressions have been identified. Currently, the spatial extent of the features identified at these sites is unknown. Undertaking a geophysical survey across these known features will be used to ground-truth how these features represent in geophysical surveys. It is predicted that the geophysical survey should help to define the size and scale of these features. Subsequently, geoarchaeological fieldwork will allow for an assessment of whether any new features are similar to those already present at the site and represent new geoarchaeological or palaeoenvironmental features of interest. If this proposed methodology is successful, it has the potential to increase the accuracy, speed, and resolution of geoarchaeological field surveys, allowing for a greater understanding of past environmental change across these landscapes.


1. Geophysical fieldwork to provide baseline data of the study sites. 2. Data processing and manipulation of geophysical data. 3. Geoarchaeological fieldwork to ground truth the geophysical data. 4. Data processing and manipulation of geoarchaeological data, including Troels-Smith descriptions and stratigraphic logs. 5. Production of a report summarising the geoarchaeological and geophysical results across the study area.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

This placement would suit a student with a background in physical geography or scientific archaeology, and with an interest in environmental change. Prior experience of sediment description, geographical information systems or geophysics would be beneficial but not essential. Training will be provided by the PI’s for any of these elements the student is not qualified in.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will enhance their research skills in several different ways, including: • Improvement of time management in the laboratory by taking responsibility for a research project, including scheduling and managing scientific data; • Experience of a range of fieldwork facilities and techniques associated with geophysics and geoarchaeology; • Experience of the interpretation and implementation of geotechnical and geoarchaeological stratigraphic data; • Experience of using GIS software to develop maps (ArcGIS); • Experience of the integration of sedimentary and archaeological datasets for high-quality research, ultimately with the aim of leading to a publication for which the student will be a contributing author; • Experience of reporting of scientific data to publication standard.

Place of Work

Based in the laboratory facilities/QUEST office in the Wager Building, SAGES

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 01 July 2024 - Monday 26 August 2024

How to Apply

The deadline to apply for this project is 5pm on Friday 26th April 2024. To make an application, please go to the following link and complete the application form: Please remember the title of the project (listed at the top of the page) as you will need this to locate the project on the application form.

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