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The McBurney Laboratory is one of the few geoarchaeology laboratories in the UK and Europe that is dedicated to both the analysis of past landscape systems and the use of space on settlement sites using micromorphological and geoarchaeological techniques. The lab was officially open on November 25, 1994, by HRH the Prince of Wales. 

The laboratory is fully equipped with two Brot thin section machines in its own thin section production laboratory, and ten polarizing light microscopes with digital imaging capabilities and an FTIR. It houses a large reference collection of thin section slides and soil/sediment blocks from around the world.

For various chemical and physical analyses, our researchers use the existing facilities in the wider range of Archaeological Science Laboratories, the Department of Geography and external laboratories.


What is geoarchaeology?

Geoarchaeology is the combined study of archaeological and geomorphological records and the recognition of how natural and human induced processes alter landscapes. The main aim of geoarchaeology is to construct integrated models of human-environmental systems and to interrogate the nature, sequence and causes of human versus natural impacts on the landscape. Field stratigraphy, site formation processes and landscape reconstruction are the most fundamental tenets of the discipline.  Geoarchaeology refers to any earth-science concept, technique, or knowledge base applicable to the study of artefacts and the processes involved in the creation of the archaeological record. This has gained recent parlance as ‘microarchaeology’, and encompasses a wide range of micro-analytical techniques, including those most useful in provenancing studies.

The McBurney Laboratory contributes to the George Pitt Rivers Archaeological Science Seminars, usually hosts one or two research seminar days throughout the year and a participates in a variety of public open events.


Studying Geoarchaeology at Cambridge


The McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology is able to support all types of geoarchaeological endeavour, but does favour research that is engaged in the deciphering of landscape dynamics and human impacts. It is best to make email contact with the Director in the first instance to discuss research possible topics, well before formally applying through the Board of Graduate Studies.


Geoarchaeology is one of four main sub-disciplines taught within the MPhil in Archaeological Science course (G10 and G32). This course allows each student to begin to specialise if they so wish, and/or to embark on a dissertation using geoarchaeological approaches. Research topic areas may be developed prior to entry through discussion with the Director via email, but most students develop their topic directions in the first term of the course depending upon their own interests.


See the Archaeological Science courses at the second (Part IIA) and third year (Part IIB) levels. As for the MPhil, geoarchaeology is one of four main sub-disciplines taught within the Archaeological Science courses.


The McBurney St Edmund’s MPhil Bursary in Archaeological Science is offered annually.

Contact Us

Charles McBurney Laboratory
Department of Archaeology
West Building
Downing Street
Cambridge CB2 3DZ

Director Prof Charles French 
Research Technician Dr Tonko Rajkovaca