skip to primary navigationskip to content

The George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory for Bioarchaeology

The George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory for Bio-Archaeology supports a range of research into early food, economic plants, and the environmental context of the food quest.

Our core resources are plant reference collections and state-of-the-art microscopes; notably an SEM (Hitachi TM3000) and high-resolution light microscopy (Leica M205C, Leica DM4000M). Chemical preparation facilities are shared with the adjacent Garrod Laboratory. We support diverse research across plant macrofossils, phytoliths, pollen, fibres and tool-use residues

Our recent projects have ranged from explorations of palaeolithic plant foods to studies of urbanism, climate change and agriculture in South Asia (Land, Water and Settlement Project); crop movement across Eurasia (FOGLIP Project); tree exploitation in arid zones; and the fuel economy of Rome.  We favour multidisciplinary research, and archaeobotanists, isotope scientists and archaeogeneticists work closely together, as well as with culturally oriented archaeologists.  Researchers at all stages of their career meet and exchange ideas on a regular basis and there are many opportunities for presenting to colleagues on both a formal and informal basis.


History of the lab

The Lab was established with the creation of the George Pitt-Rivers Professorship of Archaeological Science in 1990, and slightly predates the current buildings housing the McDonald Institute. Early work in the lab included Delwen Samuel’s pioneering research into the archaeobotanical and chemical evidence for brewing in ancient Egypt, and pioneering work of Alex Power-Jones and Marco Madella on phytolith analysis, now continued and expanded by Marco at his own lab in Barcelona.

Our extensive plant reference collection was built up through the formidable energies of Dr Lila Janik, and used to support important work in early agriculture in Europe, India, Africa and Asia. Many of the lab members from that period now run their own research groups, including Dorian Fuller at London and Manon Savard in Quebec.

We have always been interested in the interconnections between archaeobotany, genetics and palaeodietary isotope studies, and a number of our projects have explored those boundaries, from our early work, together with Terry Brown (Manchester) and Robin Allaby (Warwick) on ancient plant DNA, through to our current work on historic crop DNA (Diane Lister and Hugo Oliveira), and isotopic analyses of plants (FOGLIP and other projects).