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Institute of Advanced Study

Debating Chronologies: Quaternary environmental change and human activity in NW Europe

Time in conversation with Prof David Bridgland

Time in conversation with Prof David Bridgland

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Our understanding of the past, whether during recent centuries or during the more far-flung scale of hundreds of millennia, relies on the recovery and reliable interpretation of preserved evidence. The strong interplay between humans and their environment means that the analysis of evidence associated with both anthropogenic and natural activities provides relevant and complementary data in several disciplines (Anthropology, Archaeology, Earth Sciences and Geography). An essential part of reconstructing past events and processes is the use of scientific dating methods to provide a common temporal benchmark against which evidence can be compared. The purpose of this theme is to bring together, in a two day workshop, two groups – fieldwork specialists who commission tests and dating specialists who conduct the chronometric measurements – to explore and debate the utility and reliability of the scientific dating methods from their two perspectives.

The workshop will examine human settlement and environmental change during the last million years of the Quaternary period. Stemming from the research interests in Durham, the debates will focus on issues within the North Atlantic and NW Europe during the Holocene and Pleistocene. To provide coherence, it will be divided into two parts covering the Holocene and Pleistocene periods. Within this spatial and temporal remit there are unresolved research questions at a fundamental level relating to the use scientific dating methods, especially in establishing criteria for their reliability and comparability and approaches that obtain the highest resolution.

In each part of the workshop, the programme will contain paper son both dating techniques and interpretation of dating evidence from a palaeoenvironmental and archaeological perspective.  To provide the basis for an informed debate drawn from an interdisciplinary audience, we propose to have pre-circulation of papers and to invite discussants to further develop key questions and issues in the main sessions.  There will also be the opportunity to present a limited number of poster papers.  The proceeding of the workshop will be published electronically.

The workshop will be held during March 2013, and is open to participation by academics, postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students, although the number of participants will be limited to support focussed discussion.  A call for papers was issued in May 2012 and the programme will include a number of invited papers.

The development of activities related to the workshop will be supported by IAS Fellow Professor Liping Zhou, Cheung-Kong Professor of Physical Geography, Peking University.

For further information about the workshop an its related activities , please contact one of the following.
Dept of Archaeology:  Ian Bailiff ( or Andrew Millard (;
Dept of Geography: Colm O’Cofaigh (colm.o’, David Bridgland ( or Jerry Lloyd (;
Dept of Earth Sciences: James Baldini (

For full details of all the events please visit the Events Listing