Building environmental records from arid Iraqi lake sequences using phytoliths

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Becky Briant

Department of Geography, BBK

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Secondary Supervisor:

Mark Altaweel

Archaeology, UCL

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Project Description:

Multiple palaeolake sequences from Arabia have yielded convincing evidence of human activity during noticeably wetter phases both within the Holocene and in earlier time periods such as MIS 5 (e.g. Petraglia et al., 2020). However, environmental data from these sequences is limited because of poor preservation of pollen, so a different approach is necessary. Analysis of phytoliths (rigid, microscopic structures made of silica, found in different intracellular and extracellular structures of plants and persisting after the decay of the plant) has proved successful in developing environmental records from some Holocene sequences in this region (e.g. Preston et al., 2012; Altaweel et al., 2019), but has yet to be applied widely. Recent fieldwork in the Najaf basin has yielded samples from which phytoliths could be extracted which is currently stored in the UK.

Your PhD will assess phytolith presence and build environmental sequences from palaeochannel and palaeolake deposits within western Iraq. Working with already-collected samples, you will undertake lab work and build your expertise in phytolith analysis. There may be opportunities to undertake your own fieldwork in Iraq.

Policy Impact of Research:

These records will provide an environmental background for understanding human response to climate change in arid environments over multiple possible timescales. It will also provide an environmental baseline from which to take future action on climate change in Iraq.

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