The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

Louisa Matthews

Iron Age Palaeoenvironments of Northwest Scotland


My PhD project, entitled Iron Age Palaeoenvironments of Northwest Scotland, is funded by the IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership with contribution from AOC Archaeology .

Supervisory Team:  

Maarten van HardenbroekAndrew HendersonHelen Mackay, Newcastle University  

Melanie Leng, British Geological Survey  

Graeme Cavers, AOC Archaeology Group

I am new to Geography and I previously had a career in data-management and archiving in archaeology. Between 2015 and 2018 I was Collections Development Manager for the Archaeology Data Service, where I developed an interest in digital preservation.


2008 MSc Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy (University of Sheffield)

2001 BSc Archaeological Science (University of Sheffield)

Memberships and Affiliations

Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA)

Quaternary Research Association (QRA)


Iron Age Palaeoenvironments of Northwest Scotland

The PhD proposes to examine how multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental techniques may be used to enhance understanding of the Iron Age of northwest Scotland.

Biological and chemical materials extracted from lake sediment cores can be used to reconstruct past environmental conditions and detect human influence on landscapes and vegetation. Each evidence type (e.g., pollen grains, seeds and other plant remains, specific molecules, sediment geochemistry) can be a proxy for certain conditions, and when used together, these proxies can build up a detailed picture of conditions thousands of years ago.

Recent projects, such as the AHRC-funded Celtic Connections and Crannogs project, and the Scottish Wetlands Archaeology Programme (SWAP) have begun to take such an approach, placing more emphasis on the environmental context of sites and the potential for multi-proxy analysis to yield information on land use and vegetation change, animal husbandry, and intensity / longevity of use.

The project will use a multi-proxy analysis of sediment cores taken from adjacent three Iron Age sites in the Assynt area of Northwest Scotland and ask: 

What changes in local landscape and vegetation resulted from Iron Age settlements? 

Were the three sites in use during the same period and how did they differ in the intensity and longevity of use? 

Can the evidence tell us anything about how animals were reared and used?

The palaeoenvironmental evidence from pollen, Carbon and Nitrogen isotopes, Biogenic Silica, X-ray Florescence and Loss-on-Ignition will be compared with data recovered from recent archaeological investigations of Clachtoll Broch and Loch na Claise Crannog by AOC Archaeology.

Answers to the questions above can tell us about the nature of the Iron Age economy and its impact on the landscape of Scotland. For example, does the evidence support arguments for intensive ‘garden’ agriculture and on-site animal rearing, or ‘extensive’ shifting cultivation and off-site animal rearing? What are the long-term impacts of human activities on the loch ecosystem and surrounding landscape? 

Publications and Reports

Matthews, L. and Richards, J.D. (2017) Built Legacy: Digital Preservation of the results of historic building and structure recording projects in Building Histories: The proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Construction History Society

Creswick, A. and Matthews, L. (2016) For the Record. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Magazine, Autumn 2016. 47-50.

Saich, D. and Matthews, L. (eds.) Archaeology in South Yorkshire, 1999-2001 South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Sheffield

Saich, D. and Matthews, L. (eds.) Archaeology in South Yorkshire, Number 11 South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Sheffield

Saich, D. and Matthews, L. (eds.) Archaeology in South Yorkshire, Number 12 South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Sheffield