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 Rebecca Ferreira BA, MA

Postgraduate Research student

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I am a Postgraduate Researcher in the Archaeology Department here at Southampton. My research focuses on the Mesolithic of the Solent region, both above and below the water line.

I hold a BA Hons in Archaeology (2013-2016) and a Masters in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton (2016-2018). I began my postgraduate research at Southampton in 2020, following a successful scholarship application to the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership 2 (SWW DTP2). I am supervised by Dr Rachel Bynoe and Professor Fraser Sturt from the University of Southampton and Professor Duncan Garrow from the University of Reading.

My MA dissertation assessed the impact, both qualitatively and quantitively, that submerged landscape research in the North Sea has had on broader conceptions of the Mesolithic in Northwest Europe. The conclusions of this assessment highlighted that the current state of research in the North Sea has had a limited effect on changing understandings of the Mesolithic in Northwest Europe, particularly in Britain. This seemed to be as a result of the limited research and excavation happening in UK waters. The evidence indicated that there were two steps that needed to be taken in order to have an impact on wider interpretations of the Mesolithic. The first being a clear need for more active prospection, investigation and excavation of submerged Mesolithic sites at both a regionalised and localised scale. The second step, which was the more critical point of departure, was that there was a clear need to integrate both the terrestrial and submerged record. This would allow for a re-evaluation of the evidence that could have the potential to expand our knowledge of the Mesolithic in Britain and Northwest Europe.

Following the completion of my MA in Maritime Archaeology, I worked as a Marine Archaeology Consultant on offshore developments at Cotswold Archaeology and then Maritime Archaeology Ltd (the commercial arm of the Maritime Archaeology Trust). During this time, I gained valuable experience supporting offshore developments in the North Sea, English Channel and Irish Sea at various stages of the Environmental Impact Assessment process. I also had the opportunity to research and dive on the site of Bouldnor Cliff, the only in situ submerged Mesolithic site in the UK, located in the northwest Solent and managed by the Maritime Archaeology Trust.

My MA research and my time working as a marine archaeology consultant significantly informed my postgraduate research. Whilst my MA highlighted the broader issues of submerged landscape research in the UK, my PhD intends to move the current research forward from questions of potential to active investigation at a more manageable scale. As a result, my focus shifted away from the North Sea to the Solent and Southampton Waters, on the south coast of Britain. As well as being home to Bouldnor Cliff, the Solent also provides further evidence of numerous finds across the submerged zone and has an extensive archive of sea-level change data, such as submerged peats suitable for scientific dating. In order to move towards active investigation, I have been critically reviewing and re-analysing secondary data, including archaeological, environmental, geological and commercial data from both onshore and offshore contexts. This re-evaluation of the current known record has allowed me to begin to characterise the Mesolithic in the Solent region and enabled me to start to establish areas of high archaeological potential for the primary data collection phase. The primary data collection phase will utilise a synergistic approach, building and combining stages of fieldwalking, terrestrial and marine geophysical survey, and geoarchaeological sampling, with responsive and targeted diver survey deriving from these datasets. This research ultimately seeks to add critical time-depth to the understanding of the Mesolithic in the Solent Region as well generate data that can be used more meaningfully to transform the broader understanding of the Mesolithic in Britain.

Research interests

Since the first year of my undergraduate degree, I have had a keen interest in earlier prehistory, with a particular focus on the Mesolithic period in northwest Europe. However, I have in more recent years engaged more frequently with the Palaeolithic period through my involvement with the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO) research group.

My fascination with the Mesolithic in Britain developed because I viewed it as a challenge. Not just in regard to the evidence (or lack thereof), but also because of the limited interpretations of it, and I was eager to understand why this was the case. The fragmentary record of the Mesolithic in Britain has led to pervasive understandings of Mesolithic people as leading passive existences, with their livelihoods dictated by their environmental bounds. Much of these preconceptions of the Mesolithic can be traced to the historical trajectories of Mesolithic research at national, regional, and local levels. I became interested in understanding these historical developments during the writing of my master’s thesis, as it became clear that there had been a slower evolution of understandings and interpretations of the Mesolithic compared to other time periods in prehistory. The need to understand this was two-fold. First, a synthesis of the historical developments of Mesolithic research would provide contextual background for the later approaches and interpretations. Second, but more importantly, it would highlight the current approaches and interpretations that were still problematic, thus allowing for an assessment on where and how to move the discipline forward.

The Mesolithic was also a period of great environmental change, with rising sea-levels instigating the reconfiguration and submergence of large areas of contemporary landscapes. I therefore recognised during my masters that if I was going to study the Mesolithic I would need to have a requisite understanding of these submerged areas. Researchers working on submerged landscapes often talk of the potential of these areas for transforming our understanding of this period, but there is still no clear consensus on how to work in these unknown areas to find new archaeological sites. Furthermore, there has been great difficulty in bringing together the evidence of the Mesolithic from both the onshore and offshore contexts. To combat this, my PhD research intends to establish a framework and methodology with which to target and investigate submerged landscapes, as well as developing a more seamless approach to the integration of the onshore and offshore evidence.

During an early point of my masters, it became abundantly clear to me that learning to dive would transform my ability to investigate submerged landscapes. So, I began to gain recreational qualifications to achieve this. I am now a qualified HSE Scuba commercial diver and have experience diving on a variety of archaeological projects in the North Sea, English Channel and Solent Waters. I am currently one of the core dive team for the Submerged Pleistocene – Happisburgh project, run by Dr Rachel Bynoe at the University of Southampton. The project involves diving and geophysical data-collection off the coast of Happisburgh, UK, with the aim of generating new data and relating the offshore deposits with the known onshore sites and their associated deposits.

PhD supervisors

I am supervised by Dr Rachel Bynoe and Professor Fraser Sturt from the University of Southampton and Professor Duncan Garrow from the University of Reading.

Funding agency

I am funded by the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership 2 (SWW DTP2).

Research Project

Submerged Pleistocene – Happisburgh

I have been one of the core dive team on this project since its inception in 2018.

Research group

Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins

Affiliate research groups

Centre for Maritime Archaeology, Maritime Archaeology, Centre for Archaeology of Human Origins Contracting

In 2020, I became one of the co-organisers for the CAHO Seminar Series, with the aim of providing more of a platform for the submerged landscape research in human origins as well as encouraging more of a Mesolithic presence in the discussions of human origins (after all, period boundaries are arbitrary!). 

I was also part of the organising committee for the Postgraduate Researchers Archaeology Symposium (PGRAS) 2021. PGRAS is the Archaeology Department’s annual student-led conference that encourages postgraduate researchers to showcase their research year-by-year. This provides great opportunity for the PGRs to have constructive discussions about their research with the aim of helping them to develop their ideas. My responsibilities included:

  • organising the Keynote address.
  • coordinating the production and selling of bespoke PGRAS merchandise to raise funds for the sponsored charity.
  • organising and chairing conference sessions.

I am now a co-chair of the Unravelling the Palaeolithic 2023 Conference Committee. UTP 2023 will take place here at Avenue Campus, University of Southampton on the 31st of March to the 2nd of April 2023. For more information and to keep up to date with the conference details, please click here.

Rebecca Ferreira
Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton
Avenue Campus, Highfield
SO17 1BF
United Kingdom

Room Number : 65A/2241

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