AEA Services

Environmental Archaeology

Since my undergraduate and post graduate research I have been using environmental studies to provide archaeological interpretation. I established and developed the successful environmental section at Wessex Archaeology which I steered for nearly 20 years. My specialist skills are in snails, soils and sediments and environmental/landscape archaeology and have a wide knowledge and experience of all aspects of environmental archaeology.

I operate with a group of other key environmental specialists, and we can offer geoarchaeology, snails, pollen, diatoms, soil micromorphology, sediments, charcoal, charred plant remains, waterlogged plant remains, animal and human bone analyses. So, feel free to use me as a one-stop-shop to advise on suitable analyses; co-ordinate your environmental archaeological needs; and edit reports for publication.

AEA and Environmental Archaeology

Do you know what to sample, why and how? Do you need help with defining company-wide general protocols or site-specific sampling strategies? Are you on site and need help with understanding the deposits you have, taking samples, or compiling a team of environmental specialists to help with your analysis. Is dealing with the wide number of specialists a headache – and you’d like one person to co-ordinate them for you. Then ask Mike Allen – that’s what I do … help you provide good environmental archaeology from project design to publication.


It is ironic that soil and sediments are the material that archaeologists spend their life excavating through, yet few fully appreciate the interpretative power they have; even interpretation following a simple site visit can re-write the framework of archaeological discoveries and past communities. I have spent over 25 years recording and interpreting soils, sediments, colluvium and hillwash and providing their archaeological relevance and significance.

Do you understand how your ditches infilled, what the sediments over your site, where they were caused by human action? Which should I prioritise, target and sample?. How do I do that?

Use Mike Allen to help you understand your site in its local topographic, geographic and landscape context.

  • Geoarchaeological Fieldwork
  • Field description and interpretation
  • Sampling
  • Auger programmes
  • Test pitting
  • Soil and sediment mapping
  • Watching briefs

On-site Sampling & Sampling Strategies

To ensure you have sampled the right contexts in the appropriate fashion for the suitable analyses to address your archaeological and environmental questions, it is advisable to ensure your sampling is targeted, cost-effective and appropriate by working within a defined sampling strategy. Just as important is that the correct samples are taken appropriately, and accompanied by suitable geoarchaeological, or sedimentological description. Mike Allen can provide written sampling strategies, advice and on-site sampling for all your environmental needs (land snails, pollen, geoarchaeology, soil micromorphology etc.). This can often be combined with a site visit providing the geoarcheological context of your site or problematic context.

Land Snails

Being an environmental archaeologist undertaking major research in southern England, I am one of the foremost snail analysts, with now over 30 years of experience. The analysis of land snails can provide details of a different prehistoric or early historic landscape to that we see today. Programmes of analysis may provide evidence of human activity prior to the first archaeological evidence you have. It may indicate abandonment phases not recognisable from your excavated evidence. Snails will allow you to address questions such as: did my ditch hold water? was it flowing? Could, or was, the landscape farmed? Was woodland cleared for the construction of the monuments or well before? What was the floodplain like? Could it have been cultivated? How did the land-use develop in tandem with the archaeological evidence? See my book Molluscs in Archaeology.

In order to tackle these queries, it is advantageous to ensure suitable contexts are appropriately sampled. AEA can provide:

  • On-site Sampling
  • Assessment
  • Analysis
  • Report writing

Bespoke, purpose built-laboratory processing facilities

We have purpose built laboratory facilities with geoarchaeology area, processing sink, drying ovens, and chemical cabinet and it is furnished with several stereo-binocular microscopes and extensive land snail reference collection and library.

Outside there are our own design mobile tray flotation tank and drum flotation tanks, 1000 gallon silt trap and geoarchaeology work bench.

Post-excavation Reporting

There is more to the production of a publication text than the receipt and collation of your specialist reports. To maximise the archaeological value of these analyses, it may be necessary to edit the reports to ensure they clearly address the archaeological framework and questions you are addressing. The combination of several scientific environmental reports may allow new themes, issues and ideas to be addressed and explored providing better and fuller understanding of your site and its activities. A good example of this is Potterne, Wiltshire, where the archaeologists and environmental scientists were overwhelmed by the quantity and preservation data that this was, initially, a barrier to the high level of excellent interpretation that was eventually reached through review, editing and an overview reporting. Other examples where good editing and supply of an environmental overview are Dorchester by-pass, (Wessex Archaeology report 11), and the British Archaeological Award winning Mary Rose volume Before the Mast; life and death aboard the Mary Rose.


A solution to your environmental archaeology needs

To maximise your archaeological efforts – AEA can provide advice and support for your environmental and scientific needs. We can provide advice, written sampling strategies and select and co-ordinate your specialist team, or provide liaison between curatorial bodies, clients, consultants and yourselves to smooth your projects progress. This can involve drafting WSI’s, research designs and Environmental Impact Statements, and advice and provision of appropriate and relevant analysts.

I also operate with a group of other key environmental specialists. Between us we can offer geoarchaeology, snails, pollen, diatoms, soil micromorphology, sediments, charcoal, charred plant remains, waterlogged plant remains analyses, human and animal bone analysis. So, feel free to use me as a one-stop-shop to advise on suitable analyses; co-ordinate your environmental archaeological needs; and edit reports for publication. I have provided bespoke company-specific environmental sampling strategies and sampling protocols for several archaeological companies.

I can provide bespoke

  • company sampling strategies, policies and protocols
  • environmental and sampling forms
  • environmental archaeology guidelines and manuals
  • personal and company-wide training


With appropriate selection of radiocarbon samples and modelling of the results it can now be possible to date events in prehistory at the generational scale! Radiocarbon measurement is an accurate, exact and precise science – but is often abused by poor archaeological sample selection. Limited resources are often squandered by submission of inappropriate which provide useless and unhelpful results that litter the archaeological literature. Only careful selection of samples and analysis of the results will help you met your archaeological objectives.

  • Sample selection and submission
  • Result calibration


I can provide in-house training for your company / archaeological society tailored to your audience. For many years I provided in-house training and courses (eg, ‘Geoarchaeology Day’) for Wessex Archaeology. Increasing the knowledge-base of your own in-house archaeologists is one of the most effective contributions to your workforce team. I have provided staff and unit-based training for several archaeological companies, including CBAS and Archaeology Warwickshire, and bespoke training on geoarchaeology, soils and sediments for MoLAS.

  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Sampling and sampling strategies
  • Geoarchaeology

Lecturing, Teaching and Guiding

I am a visiting research fellow at Bournemouth University, and a tutor for Oxford Archaeology’s Applied Landscape Archaeology and have been Associate Tutor at Sussex University (Archaeology & Landscape), and guest lecturer at Brighton, Bristol, Reading, and Lieden Universities. I regularly present papers at conferences and lead field trips for The Prehistoric Society as well as give public lectures on a wide variety of archaeological and environmental archaeological subjects

Devizes World Heritage ResearchDevizes 2010
CIfA conference (mentoring new careers in archaeology)April 2018
Prehistoric Society Day SchoolsSociety of Antiquaries, London 2017-2020
Wiltshire Archaeological & Natr. Hist SocietyDevizes 2020
CBA SE2014, 2016
Sussex Archaeological Society Symposium
Conchological Society
Association for Environmental Archaeology


I continue to conduct and publish my own personal research (fieldwork and synthetic analysis – see Molluscs in Archaeology Chapter 9), and am a part of a number of research project including: Stonehenge Landscape (SPACES, Prof Tim Darvill & Geoff Wainwright; Stonehenge Riverside Project, Prof Mike Parker Parson et al.); Avebury Landscape (Between the Monuments; Living with Monuments, both Profs Josh Pollard & Mark Gillings et al.), Malta Temples (Prof. Tim Darvill), Cerne Abbas Giant (Martin Papworth, National Trust), Pebblebeds (Prof. Chris Tilley), Duggleby Howe (Alex Gibson), amongst others.