ASSESSMENT OF BIODIVERSITY IN PLEISTOCENE BRITAIN THROUGH COMPREHENSIVE SMALL-SCALE MICROSAMPLING OF VERTEBRATE FOSSIL REMAINS

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Life Sciences

Abstract

Biodiversity in the recent past has been increasingly affected by the replacement of natural ecosystems with human-dominated ones. In order to better understand past biodiversity and the impact of factors such as climate change, this project aims to provide a small-scale microsampling technique for the thorough identification of fragmented vertebrate remains that could be applied to all future archaeological and palaeontological cave deposits. This project will focus on a single archaeologically-important site, Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire spanning ~40,000 years of human and animal occupation. This is the ideal site for this project because it has had a recent (1980s) highly-detailed small-scale excavation and a previous (1920s) full-scale excavation and is now used as the type-site for Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 fauna. The detailed 1980s excavations at Pin Hole Cave, where approximately 18,500 bone finds were spatially-mapped, will be used to assess whether core sampling of archaeological deposits can yield information equivalent to full-scale excavation and, if so, the typical size, number and distribution of core samples necessary to obtain this information. This will ultimately offer a small-scale microsampling technique that could be used on forthcoming site excavations to investigate the biodiversity of Pleistocene Britain with minimal site destruction. To do this I propose to digitise the spatially-mapped finds and then identify all morphologically-unidentifiable bone fragments from 50% of the deposits (~7,500-15,000 bone fragments) from the recent small-scale excavations at Pin Hole Cave. The sampling will be carried out in such a way as to investigate increasingly large sections of deposit and the species information that each section contains. These will be compared directly to the species information obtained from the earlier full-scale excavation to evaluate the potential of small-scale excavations that are comprehensively analysed. Reducing the need for full-scale excavation would minimise site destruction and allow for better preservation of cave assemblages for future research. Such a project has not been possible until the recent introduction of mass spectrometry to sequencing ancient proteins such as collagen. Following the analyses of the Pin Hole Cave material, although this species-specific biomolecule can be routinely extracted from British Middle Pleistocene bone analysis of selected specimens from various British sites from 10,000 to ~1,000,000 years in age will be carried out to confirm the application of the proposed techique to other archaeological sites.

Publications

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Wadsworth C (2014) Proteome degradation in fossils: investigating the longevity of protein survival in ancient bone. in Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM

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Buckley M (2014) Proteome degradation in ancient bone: Diagenesis and phylogenetic potential in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

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Buckley M (2013) Proteomics analysis of ancient food vessel stitching reveals >4000-year-old milk protein. in Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM

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Buckley M (2019) Species identification of Late Pleistocene bat bones using collagen fingerprinting in International Journal of Osteoarchaeology

 
Description This research grant used a recently developed method of species identification in fragmentary domesticate animal bones (developed during a NERC-funded PhD studentship and subsequent NERC-funded postdoctoral research) to study changes in biodiversity in Britain over thousands of years during the Late Pleistocene period (~10,000-40,000 years ago).
This required development of the methods to not only cover a much wider range of species than previously studied, but also to develop an approach to studying microfaunal remains, which we could further develop a high-throughput approach to the analysis. The result was a new technique that can analyse over 1,000 samples per week at relatively low cost.
Exploitation Route They appear to be of wide interest to forensic scientists, archaeologists, palaeontologists, heritage and conservation scientists, as well as agricultural and food scientists.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description My findings largely relate to new methods in species identification of extracellular tissues, initially with support from the agricultural sector as well as the NERC. This project further increased the range of species studied to go beyond the main domesticate animal species and as a result these methods have most recently been increasingly exploited by museums looking into improving our understanding of cultural heritage. These methods are now being employed by a wider range of academics worldwide helping other academics gain substantial grant income.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Royal Society Small Grant
Amount £14,930 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2011 
End 02/2012
 
Description AHVLA animal feed collaboration 
Organisation Animal Health And Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My team developed new proteomics approaches (selected reaction monitoring) to identifying animal remains within plant-based animal feeds.
Collaborator Contribution The partners provided the samples.
Impact Still active - no outputs yet.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Media interest (arctic giant camel study) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Our reports on identifications of remains from the High Arctic generated widespread media interest, which resulted in myself being interviewed for numerous newspapers and both pre-recorded as well as live radio shows.

After these interviews, the impact was made clear through direct contact (e.g., letters and emails) from members of the public expressing their interest in these aspects of palaeontology. It should also be noted that this particular study had such a wide impact that it reached major news outlets in many countries worldwide, with google search results for this study (i.e., 'giant arctic camel') numbering approximately million websites, with the number of people having likely read these articles being incidently much greater. Newspapers interviewed included The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Observer, as well as Discover Magazine, and radio interviews included BBC Radio Manchester and World Service Radio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Talk on horse evolution for local equestrian society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk sparked discussion afterwards, with interest in domestication processes.

Higher than expected interest in new scientific methods to study animals of close interest to humans.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011