With the emergence of new methods and technologies such as improved DNA analysis and big data, archaeological research has changed radically in recent decades. The researchers from the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the Faculty of Archaeology use new scientific knowledge to answer fundamental questions about human behaviour and our relationship with the world around us.
Three research groups
The researchers conduct their research within three research groups:
- Material Culture Studies
- Digital Archaeology
The archaeologists from the Bioarchaeology group look at how in the past people, plants and animals formed an ecosystem in which a society could develop. How do people use animals, for instance? And what do human bones tell us about diseases in ancient times?
The group is leading a big European research project that is looking into people’s changing eating habits. The researchers are looking at human remains to find out what our ancestors ate. The aim is to learn more about diet, age and possible diseases.
For their research, these researchers work not only with other research groups within the Faculty, but also with parties outside their Faculty such as the LUMC, other universities, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the National Museum of Antiquities.
Material Culture Studies
The Material Culture Studies group focuses on the technology behind archaeological artefacts. How did people develop the ability to work with these objects? How did they use different materials?
A unique area within this group is experimental archaeology. By simulating conditions, these researchers try to find out more about our past. An example of this is the Neolithic house that they reconstructed in Flevoland using technologies and tools from the time. Maintaining this house and later burning it down is helping them gain a better understanding of how this worked in practice.
The Digital Archaeology group, also known as computational archaeology, looks at how digital developments have changed the way in which we study the past. These archaeologists focus on digital data and the digital methods and tools needed to collect, analyse and manage data.
They develop their own software for this. Software, for instance, that can be used to search the documentation on archaeological digs in the Netherlands for undiscovered archaeological traces and patterns.
An important study within this group is the project in which a high-resolution elevation map of the Dutch landscape that was developed by the water boards is being scanned for archaeological traces. A citizen science project has been started so that large quantities of data can be studied, with many volunteers helping with the research. Alongside scientific insights, this collaboration with the public is generating enthusiasm for the field of archaeology.
This enthusiasm is also present in the archaeology students who, like the researchers, are regularly found doing their research projects in the various labs in Leiden. They use the Faculty’s extensive reference collections of human, botanical and animal remains and objects to study the traces of our past.