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C338: Italian ash in Croatian caves: using tephrostratigraphy to understand the timing and climatic context of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Croatia (Lead Supervisor: Christine Lane, Geography)

Supervisors: Christine Lane (Geography) and Preston Miracle (Archaeology)

Importance of the area of research:

The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (spread and adoption of food production) remains a hot topic of theoretical and field research in Europe. Southeastern Europe, owing to its position between Western Asia and the rest of Europe, is a key area for investigating the transition. In the last decade there has been particular focus on the impact of climatic events (e.g. 8.2 ka event) on the transition. The link between palaeoclimatic proxies and archaeological events, however, are often tenuous and poorly correlated. This project seeks to overcome some of these difficulties by characterising and dating volcanic ash from archaeological sites and nearby palaeoenvironmental sequences along the Croatian (Adriatic) Coast. Pleistocene volcanic ash layers from explosive eruptions in Italy are reported from several sites in the region. Much less is known about these events during the Holocene and their potential to contribute to our understanding of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the region.

Project summary:

The project will contribute to our understanding of complex relationships between past people and their surroundings in the face of dynamic environmental, demographic, and technological changes during the Holocene. The tephrostratigraphic approach is novel in directly integrating palaeoenvironmental and behavioural proxies from archaeological sites and nearby palaeoclimatic sequences. Preliminary work has demonstrated that cryptotephra are preserved within sites in the region and can be correlated with the Italian volcanic record. Rich artefact and ecofact assemblages already exist for many sites; what is lacking is chronological control and a basis for more precisely linking them to local records of environmental change.

What the student will do:

The student will investigate the presence of (crypto-) tephra within cave and rockshelter sites and terrestrial palaeoenvironmental sequences (lakes) along the Eastern Adriatic coast of Croatia. Open sections can be sampled from previously excavated archaeological sites and/or those currently under investigation. Sites to be included in the project extend along the entire Eastern Adriatic Coastline, from Istria to the Pelješac Peninsula. Potential cave and roskshelter sites to be included in the study are Pupićina peć, Vela peć, VSL, Grapčeva spilja, Vela spila, Spila Nakovana, and Gudnja Cave. Sediment cores available for sampling come from a number of lakes, drained-lakes, and poljes in the region, including Polje Čepić, Vrana Lake, Mljet Lakes, and so on. In the laboratory they will conduct crypto-tephra analysis and use geochemical techniques (e.g. WDS-EPMA, LA-ICPMS) to characterise correlate them to proximal, dated eruptions. Results will be form the basis for integrated age-models constructed using Bayesian approaches.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Radić, D. Lugović, B. & Marjanac, L. 2008. Neapolitan Yellow Tuff (NYT) from the Pleistocene sediments in Vela Spila on the island of Korčula: a valuable chronostratigraphic marker of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic. Opuscula archaeological, vol. 31, pp. 7–26.

Forenbaher, S., Kaiser, T, Miracle P.T. 2013. Dating the East Adriatic Neolithic.  European Journal of Archaeology 16: 589–609.

Forenbaher, S., & Miracle, P.T. 2005. The Spread of Farming in the Eastern Adriatic.  Antiquity 79: 514–528.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project

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