Professor Derek Hamilton
- Professor (Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre)
As a prehistoric archaeologist, I mix together scientific dating techniques (primarily radiocarbon) with stable and radiogenic isotope analysis, and add a healthy dose of Bayesian statistics to develop robust models for palaeodiet in people and animals, which are underpinned by generational chronological frameworks.
I use these models to explore questions relating to:
- Archaeology of contact and colonization, particularly in late-prehistoric/Roman north-west Europe
- Movement and Mobility in prehistoric societies
- Archaeology of Households and Communities
- Human-Environment interaction through the development of regional social and environmental histories
My personal research interests lie in and around the 1st millennium BC in north-west Europe, but I regularly work with researchers in other regions and time periods, as the techniques are widely applicable.
- Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain
- The application of δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr, and δ18O isotopic analyses to investigate population mobility in ‘Middle’ Iron Age Wessex
- Setting Artefacts Free: an independent chronology for British Iron Age brooches
- Living on Water: Early Iron Age Lake-dwelling Communities in Scotland
(see Additional Information for specific details of select research projects)
Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain. [The Leverhulme Trust] Fernández-Götz (PI-Edinburgh), Cowley (Historic Environment Scotland), and Hamilton. 2021–2024.
A high-precision palaeoenvironmental reconstruction for the Bronze Age upland expansion around Lairg, Sutherland. [Historic Environment Scotland] Hamilton and McDonald. 2019.
The application of δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr, and δ18O isotopic analyses to investigate population mobility in ‘Middle’ Iron Age Wessex. [The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland] Hamilton. 2018–2019.
At the Water’s Edge: Early Iron Age settlement patterns in central Scotland. [The Royal Archaeological Institute] Hamilton and Stratigos. 2018–2019.
Setting Artefacts Free: an independent chronology for British Iron Age brooches. [The Leverhulme Trust] Hamilton. 2017–2020.
Living on Water: Early Iron Age Lake-dwelling Communities in Scotland. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2017–2020.
A (Pre)History of Westray and Papa Westray: from the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition to Norse annexation (PhD project). [Historic Environment Scotland] Hamilton. 2017–2020.
Scottish upland expansion in the Bronze Age: new insights from robust chronological modelling (PhD project). [Historic Environment Scotland] Hamilton. 2016–2019.
Workshop on Archaeological Science in Scotland - Archaeological Chronologies. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook, Hamilton, and Jones. 2016.
Radiocarbon Dating and Bayesian Statistics. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook, Hamilton, and Naysmith. 2015–2016.
Roman encampments in Aberdeenshire: radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling of the oven’s at Deer’s Den and Milltimber. [Historic Environment Scotland] Hamilton. 2016–2017.
Estimating ancient Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects to develop better Arctic settlement histories. [The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland] Krus and Hamilton. 2016–2017.
Bayesian Statistics Fact Finding Site visit, Links of Noltland, Westray. [Historic Environment Scotland] Hamilton. 2014.
Living in the Shadow of Angkor. [Marsden Fund] Beaven (PI), Buckley, Carter, Halcrow, and Hamilton. 2013–2016.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2014–2015.
Development of a robust chronology for the archaeology around Lake Mývatn, Iceland. [The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland] Hamilton. 2013–2014.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2013–2014.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2012–2013.
High precision 14C dating of crannogs. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2012–2015.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. [Historic Environment Scotland] Cook and Hamilton. 2011–2012.
I welcome enquiries from potential PhD students interested in projects that utilises the scientific techniques employed at SUERC and applies them to archaeological questions.
CURRENT POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS
Mairi MacLean (2018–) – ‘Atlantic Scotland in earlier prehistory’ (Historic Environment Scotland PhD grant)
Kathleen McCaskill (2017–) – ‘A (Pre)History of Westray and Papa Westray: from the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition to Norse annexation’ (Historic Environment Scotland PhD grant)
PAST POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS
Sophie McDonald (submitted 2021) – ‘Scottish upland expansion in the Bronze Age: new insights from robust chronological modelling’ (Historic Environment Scotland PhD grant)
Piotr Jacobsson (completed 2016) – ‘Dating south-west Scottish crannogs’ (Carnegie Trust Scholarship award)
VISTING POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS
Ben Spillane (summer 2019) from University College Cork, Ireland
Águeda Lozano Medina (spring 2015) from University of Granda, Spain
Lecturing at Edinburgh University
- Introduction to Statistical Methods for Archaeologists (Instructor of Record)
Lecturing at Glasgow University
- Introduction to Statistical Methods – MLitt in Process of Artefact Studies
- Environmental Archaeology and Human-Environment Dynamics – MSc in Archaeology (Landscape)
- Introduction to Archaeological Science – all post-graduates, Research and Professional Skills course
- Reflexivity and Archaeological Science – MA(Hons) students
I also regularly provide training to archaeologists in Archaeological Applications of Bayesian Chronological Modeling. This 2–3 day training course has been put on at Universities and international conferences in both Europe and North America.
RESEARCH PROJECTS (Present and Past)
Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain (CoI) (The Leverhulme Trust) – This project aims to fundamentally transform our understanding of Rome’s impact on northern Britain. To contextualise the Roman influence, “Beyond Walls” will analyse the transformation of settlement patterns and lifestyles in an area extending from c. 40 km south of Hadrian’s Wall to 40 km north of the Antonine Wall. The project will adopt a long-term perspective from 500 BC to AD 500 to facilitate the study of changes and continuities before, during, and after the period of direct Roman presence in the region. Adopting an interdisciplinary and multi-scalar approach, the project will focus on rationalising existing survey and excavation data, generating new information through remote sensing and palaeoenvironmental research, and undertaking an ambitious programme of radiocarbon dating and modelling to refine existing chronological frameworks. This combined strategy will produce more robust and nuanced narratives about Roman and indigenous interactions, and also contribute to the wider subject of cultural encounters on the edges of empires, both past and present.
The application of δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr, and δ18O isotopic analyses to investigate population mobility in ‘Middle’ Iron Age Wessex (PI) (The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland) – This research set out to use sulphur, oxygen, and strontium isotopes to trace mobility of individuals from within populations excavated from five ‘Middle’ Iron Age dated (c. 400–200 cal BC) sites in Wessex – Gravelly Guy, Gussage All Saints, Suddern Farm, Winnall Down, and Yarnton. Additionally, the project included the individuals recovered from the site of Barton Farm (nr Winnall Down). The aim is to use the results to develop a nuanced model of Iron Age mobility in Wessex, and potentially provide evidence for connectivity between this region and other areas of Britain. In addition to the formally funded research in central southern Britain, the approach has been applied to the recently recovered individuals from the similarly dated cemetery Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire, which is allowing a wider consideration of residence and mobility at this time in Britain.
Setting Artefacts Free: an independent chronology for British Iron Age brooches (PI) (The Leverhulme Trust) – This project employs an innovative combination of interdisciplinary techniques to address dating issues that are central to archaeological and scientific research in the British Iron Age. The research is developing a much-needed independent chronology for the most ubiquitous, chronologically significant Iron Age find: the brooch. By breaking away from the long-standing art historical approach to artefact dating we are better able to understand the manufacture, use and deposition of brooches in Britain, and the results will help to reconceptualise community connectivity within Britain and address questions of both chronology and connectivity between Britain and the near Continent, in the Iron Age.
Living on Water: Early Iron Age Lake-dwelling Communities in Scotland (Co-Director) (Historic Environment Scotland) – This research focusses on the Early Iron Age (EIA) crannogs in Loch Tay, a compact Highland loch with nine known EIA crannogs. Through underwater excavation and high-precision dating techniques we aim to address questions of temporality and potential contemporaneity on crannog occupation across approximately one-half dozen of the EIA crannogs. The timbers used to construct the crannogs also hold a valuable archival record of past climate prior to being harvested, and stable isotope analysis of the individual rings will allow for detailed reconstruction. Finally, environmental analyses and a programme of terrestrial archaeological research is being undertaken concurrently with the underwater programme, to produce a robust and nuanced narrative for the social history of EIA life around the loch.
(Re)Dating Danebury hillfort and later prehistoric settlements in the environs: a Bayesian approach (with Universities of Leicester & Oxford/Leverhulme Trust) – The project aims to gain much better and more detailed understanding of the chronology of Danebury Hillfort and roughly a half-dozen environs sites, relating transformations at the sites to one another chronologically across the region. Furthermore, we are using this new insight to critically reassess the existing typological sequences and social interpretations and develop fresh perspectives on the settlement dynamics of the Danebury area, while also providing a basis for rethinking the relationship between this region and others in Britain, as well as the near Continent.
Palaeodietary reconstruction and chronology building in island and coastal environments (The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland) – With colleagues at SUERC, I have been using stable isotope-derived (δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S) palaeodietary reconstructions to produce more refined chronological model where 14C dating of people and omnivorous animals might be affected by marine and freshwater reservoir offsets. The current research has been focussed in Iceland and Scotland, but has recently shifted to the North Slope of Alaska investigating the Birnirk and Thule cultures around Utqiaġvik.
Developing palaeoenvironmental chronologies using Bayesian statistics – A more recent collaboration has begun with colleagues in the United States, where we are building Bayesian chronologies for palaeoenvironmental cores from both highland and coastal Guatemala. These refined chronological frameworks are advancing our understanding of the climate change and environmental transitions, as well as volcanic activity. A goal is to correlate these chronologies to refined dating frameworks for nearby settlements.
The Times of Their Lives: towards precise narratives of change for the European Neolithic through formal chronological modelling (with Cardiff University & English Heritage/ERC) – The project is a series of important case studies from across Europe, combining robust chronological modelling with critical, problem-oriented archaeological analysis. As a Collaborative Researcher, I undertook modelling of settlement and burial data from the site of Alsónyék, in southwestern Transdanubia (Hungary) and burial data for a series of funerary complexes in Valencina de la Concepción (Spain), while also providing support for some of the ongoing work on Orkney.
“Living in the Shadow of Angkor”: responses and strategies of upland social groups to polity demise in the late- to post-Angkor period (with University of Otago/Marsden Fund) – This project is examining the archaeology of the ethnic minorities in the Cardamom Mountains of southern Cambodia, using novel integrations of scientific methods to develop the first-ever characterisation of a highland culture’s lifeways and how they fared in the Late Angkorian era. As an Associate Investigator, I was primarily responsible for the development and implementation of the radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling programme.