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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: RESET: Response of humans to abrupt Environmental Transitions

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SOES researchers are involved in a NERC consortium to examine the effects of abrupt climate change on prehistoric humans with a focus on improving the European chronological framework.

RESET logo
RESET logo

This research consortium has developed a novel approach to assessing how humans may have responded to rapid environmental changes in the recent past and brings together experts from a number of different academic fields: Human palaeontology, archaeology, oceanography, volcanology, and past climate change in order to investigate how our ancestors coped with rapid changes in climate during the last 80,000 years.

What caused major shifts in recent human evolution and adaptation have been the subject of much debate for the last 100 years. Ice-core records from Greenland have shown that marked climatic change can occur over as little as 20 years or less. How humans responded to such environmental change is of relevance today because of modern global warming.

Currently such studies are compromised because of the inability to synchronise archaeological and geological records with sufficient precision. Geological dating methods are all subject to statistical uncertainty which means establishing the precise temporal relationships between archaeological events and abrupt changes to the answers elusive. Until a solution is found, answers to many vital and intriguing questions about our recent past will continue to be the subject of intense-debate.

RESET aims to construct a new improved chronological framework for Europe using volcanic ash layers (tephra horizons) which represent time-parallel signatures allowing archaeological and geological records to be linked. Volcanoes throw large volumes of tephra into the atmosphere which is carried by air movements considerable distances from source. For example, tephras from eruptions in southern Iceland, central Italy, the Eifel region of Germany, and the Massif Central region of France reach many parts of Europe where the ash is laid down as layers in lakes, peat-bogs, the sea floor, archaeological sites, and the greenland ice cap. By studying the geochemistry of the tephra horizons, it is possible to 'fingerprint' the eruptive events thereby allowing the construction of a framework which will permit the precise order of events to be resolved. The resulting lattice is expected to give answers to many of the long-standing debates about climate history and the impact it has on humans.

RESET Project (Main Page)

Publication in press:

Rohling, E.J., Grant, K.M., Roberts, A.P., and Larrasoana, J.C. Palaeoclimate variability in the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions during the last 500,000 years; Implications for hominin migrations. Current Anthropology (re. Wenner Gren Symposium, June 2012).



Prof. Eelco Rohling (Co-investigator)

Miss Katherine Grant (PGRA)

Prof. Clive Gamble (Archaeology, University of Southampton)

Dr. William Davies (Archaeology, University of Southampton)

Dr. Dustin White (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University and University of Southampton)

Dr. Christopher Satow (NOCS at the University of Southampton and Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London)

Other Principal investigators external to University of Southampton

Prof. John Lowe, Principal Investigator & Project Co-ordinator (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Prof. Nick Barton, Co-investigator (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford)

Dr. Simon Blockley, Co-investigator (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Prof. Martin Menzies, Co-investigator (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Prof. Mark Pollard, Co-investigator (RLAHA, Oxford)

Prof. Christopher Bronk Ramsay, Co-investigator (RLAHA, Oxford)

Prof. Andrew Roberts, Co-investigator (Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University)

Prof. Christopher Stringer, Co-investigator (Natural History Museum)

Appointed Staff

Dr. Paul Albert (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr. Mark Hardiman (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr. Christine Lane (RLAHA, Oxford)

Mark Lewis (Natural History Museum)

Dr. Alison McLeod (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr. Emma Tomlinson (Trinity College Dublin)

Tied and Associated PhD Studentships:

Sharen Lee (RLAHA, Oxford)

Anna Oh (RLAHA, Oxford)

Anna Todman (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Joanna K. Cross (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Cassian Bramham Law (RLAHA, Oxford)

Associated Researchers

Dr. Anna Bourne (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr Wolfgang Mueller (Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr. Victoria Smith (RLAHA, Oxford)

Dr. Sabine Wulf (GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam)


Key Publications

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