Dr 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 interest in the period of Iron Age/Roman contact in north-west Europe has also led to research that aims to develop very precise artefact-independent chronologies, which will enable archaeologists to better understand this transition into the historic period.
Research Projects - Past & Present
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.
Setting Artefacts Free: an independent chronology for British Iron Age brooches. Hamilton (The Leverhulme Trust) £257,648. 2017–2020.
Living on Water: Early Iron Age Lake-dwelling Communities in Scotland. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £237,330. 2017–2020.
A (Pre)History of Westray and Papa Westray: from the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition to Norse annexation (PhD project). Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £52,558. 2017–2020.
Scottish upland expansion in the Bronze Age: new insights from robust chronological modelling (PhD project). Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £51,113. 2016–2019.
Workshop on Archaeological Science in Scotland - Archaeological Chronologies. Cook, Hamilton, and Jones (Historic Environment Scotland) £2000. 2016.
Radiocarbon Dating and Bayesian Statistics. Cook, Hamilton, and Naysmith (Historic Environment Scotland) £75,000. 2015–2016.
Roman encampments in Aberdeenshire: radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling of the oven’s at Deer’s Den and Milltimber. Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £15,400. 2016–2017.
Estimating ancient Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects to develop better Arctic settlement histories. Krus and Hamilton (The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland) £6415. 2016–2017.
Bayesian Statistics Fact Finding Site visit, Links of Noltland, Westray. Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £522. 2014.
Living in the Shadow of Angkor. Beaven (PI), Buckley, Carter, Halcrow, and Hamilton (Marsden Fund) NZ$956,000. 2013–2016.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £15,000. 2014–2015.
Development of a robust chronology for the archaeology around Lake Mývatn, Iceland. Hamilton (The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland) £2450. 2013–2014.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £15,000. 2013–2014.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £15,000. 2012–2013.
High precision 14C dating of crannogs. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £30,900. 2012–2015.
Radiocarbon Dating – Bayesian Statistics. Cook and Hamilton (Historic Environment Scotland) £10,000. 2011–2012.
Current Postgraduate Students
- Kathleen McCaskill (2017–) – ‘A (Pre)History of Westray and Papa Westray: from the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition to Norse annexation’ (Historic Environment Scotland PhD grant)
- Sophie McDonald (2017–) – ‘Scottish upland expansion in the Bronze Age: new insights from robust chronological modelling’ (Historic Environment Scotland PhD grant)
Past Postgraduate Students
- Piotr Jacobsson (completed 2016) – ‘Dating south-west Scottish crannogs’ (Carnegie Trust Scholarship award)
Visiting Postgraduate Students
- Águeda Lozano Medina (spring 2015) from University of Granada, Spain
- Ph.D. (2011) Archaeology – University of Leicester, U.K. (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award), 2011
- The use of radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling to (re)write later Iron Age settlement histories in east-central Britain
- M.A. Anthropology – University of Denver, U.S.A, 2001
- Three-dimensional visualization of subsurface ground-penetrating radar reflections at a controlled archaeological site
- B.A. History of Art – The Ohio State University, U.S.A., 1995
- B.A. Classics – The Ohio State University, U.S.A., 1994
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London (FSA), 2015–
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (FSA Scot), 2011–
- Reviewer for various international journals (inc. Antiquity, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Documenta Praehistorica, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Radiocarbon, and World Archaeology)
- Associate Editor for Radiocarbon
- European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), member
- Society for American Archaeology (SAA), member
- Prehistoric Society, member
- Hillfort Study Group, member