Research Agenda


The structure of the archaeological research questions follows a nested and hierarchical approach. Overarching, top-level research questions have been established: the ways in which these broad questions can be addressed are set out in a series of subsidiary questions. Questions can be applied between and across prehistoric archaeological periods and different areas within the region, as appropriate.


  • The order of questions and strategies in this document does NOT represent importance. Nether does labeling such as A, B, C, etc. labeling is done for ease of reference. All questions and strategies are considered of equal importance. The order they are in is reflection of the fact that they need to be in some order to fit on a webpage/document to make them easy to read.
  • The term human is used as the most appropriate term to cover all human species (including Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo heidelbergensis and, potentially, Homo antecessor) covered by the timeframe of the Framework. This explanation will be included in questions’ ‘further information’ sections.

A. What prehistoric human groups were active in the region?

The archaeological record from the region covers at least 800,000 years. During this period different human groups would have been present across and between different archaeological time periods and in different locations, potentially reflecting similarities with and/or contrast with the different contemporary populations who inhabited other north European regions.

A1. What genetically distinct populations occupied the region?

A1.1 What are the genetic ancestries of prehistoric populations?

A1.2 What does genetic evidence tell us about source populations and genetic relations to groups in other regions?

A2. What was the material culture associated with human groups across and between archaeological time periods?

A2.1 Can differences in material culture be related to cultural groups?

A2.1.1 What differences in material culture can be identified in the archaeological record?

A3. Were biologically and/or culturally different human groups contemporaneously active within the region?

A4. Were human groups that occupied the region biologically and/or culturally linked or separate from contemporary groups in adjacent north European regions?

B. Where was there prehistoric human activity in the region?

Evidence for human activity indicative of both local settlement histories and broader patterns of human presence/absence in northern Europe over the last 800,000 years will occur in the region. During this period human activity will have varied spatially and temporarily in response to a wide range of factors, including environments, physical landscapes and human cultural and behavioural practices.

B1. Where is direct (e.g., artefacts) and indirect (human modified bone, sedaDNA etc.) evidence of human activity?

B2. Are there particular landscape settings that attracted human activity over generational and longer timescales?

B3. How do settlement histories vary within the region across and between archaeological periods?

B4. How does the settlement histories of the region compare with adjacent north European regions?

B4.1 Do settlement histories within the region complement or contrast with those provided by archaeological records from adjacent terrestrial regional contexts/landscapes?

C. What are the chronologies for prehistoric human occupation?

Chronologies are required to date settlement histories, changes in material culture, and establish what environments and landscapes humans were active in. They also enable the archaeological records to be correlated within the region and with those in other regions.

C1. When were humans present in the region?

C2. How do periods of human occupation, abandonment, and reoccupation vary across the region?

C3. How do the chronologies for human occupation, abandonment, and reoccupation compare with adjacent north European regions?

C3.1 Can chronologies for human occupation, abandonment, and reoccupation from adjacent terrestrial regional contexts/landscapes predict human occupation, abandonment, and reoccupation across the region?

D. What activities and behaviours are reflected in the prehistoric archaeological records?

Prehistoric archaeological records from the region may cover the last 800,000 years. These will reflect activities and behaviours across and between archaeological periods, within distinct landscapes and environments in low-lying settings situated between more upland landscapes of Britain and continental Europe. Such evidence may both be complementary to and/or contrast with those in adjacent regions, providing new insights into the human settlement of northern Europe.

D1. What information can the study of material culture (e.g., stone tools) provide about human behaviour and landscape use?

D1.1 What use was made of non-dietary resources (jet, amber, wood, and lithic raw materials)?

D2. Can patterns of behaviour and landscape use provided by material culture from adjacent terrestrial regional contexts be used to guide research into behaviour and landscape use practices across and between archaeological periods in the region?         

D3. What was the diet of prehistoric peoples?

D3.1What information do animal assemblages provide on prehistoric diets and subsistence practices?

D3.2 What information do plant remains provide on prehistoric diets and subsistence practices?

D3.3 What information do non-food materials (e.g. tools, fire cracked rock, etc.) provide on prehistoric diets and subsistence practices?

D4. How did humans structure their use of places and landscapes?

D4.1 Can we identify different uses of different landscape contexts (e.g., foci for particular activities, habitation locations)?

D4.2 Were resource distributions (both terrestrial and marine) the primary controls on human activity?

D4.3 How were prehistoric human societies organised?

D4.3.1 What were group sizes and population densities?

D4.3.2 Were there social/cultural reasons for prehistoric human activity in different landscape contexts?

D4.3.3How did different prehistoric human groups treat their dead?

D5. What was the health of prehistoric individuals and populations?

D6. How do human activities and behaviours vary across and between archaeological periods within the region?

D7. Were prehistoric human activities and behaviours within the region comparable with contemporary evidence from adjacent northern European regions?

E. What was the climatic, landscape and environmental context of prehistoric human activity?

The prehistoric archaeological record of the region may cover 800,000 years, over which time the region underwent major climatic, sea-level and environmental changes, broadly reflecting alternating warm (interglacial and interstadial) and cold (glacial and stadial) periods. Climatic, landscape and environmental context is therefore central to the prehistoric archaeological record.

E1. What landscapes and environments were prehistoric humans active in?

E1.1 What was the topography of the landscape?

E2. What climatic, landscape and environmental changes occurred and how did these impact on the region?

E2.1 How did vegetation change in response to climatic and environmental changes?

E2.2 How did faunal communities change in response to climatic and environmental changes?

E2.3 What were the sea-level changes (recorded as sea-level index points) and at what timescale?

E2.3.1 How did regional variations in erosion and deposition due to sea-level change reconfigure the landscape?

E3. How did climatic, landscape and environmental changes impact prehistoric human behaviours?

E3.1 How did terrestrial human populations adapt to transitions between low-lying land areas and full marine environments?

E3.2 What were the responses of seafaring populations to the palaeogeographic changes taking place?

E3.3 Which of the changes in environment, climate and sea level occurred at a rate perceivable to prehistoric human societies?

E4. How did climate, landscapes and environments change across and between archaeological periods in the region?

E5. What was the impact of human presence/absence upon the environment, vegetation, and animal population?

Improved archaeological work and management

In addition to direct archaeological research questions, research questions have been identified relating to impacts on the resource and how we work with the archaeological resource. These outline priorities for addressing issues which impact on the sector’s ability to address the archaeological research questions. These have been divided between threat/opportunities, methodologies and magnifying public benefit.

F. What are the threats and opportunities facing the sector?  

The marine environment is continually changing through natural environmental process, development and how we interact with the archaeological resource. Understanding these threats and opportunities are key to improved interaction with, and management of, the archaeological resource.

F1. What processes have impacted on the potential for survival of archaeological evidence?

F1.1 How have past environmental changes and geological processes impacted the preservation of archaeological remains?

F1.2 How have past human activities impacted the preservation of archaeological remains?

F2. How will future processes affect archaeological remains?

F2.1 How will surviving deposits be affected by climate change and how will this impact on our archaeological understanding?

F2.2 How will surviving deposits be affected by current archaeological methods?

F2.3 How will surviving deposits be affected by development impacts or pressures, both isolated and cumulatively?

F3. Where are former land surfaces with the potential to be associated with minimally disturbed/in situ archaeology?

F3.1 Can we predict where such contexts may occur?

G. How can we improve investigation and understanding of the archaeological resource?

Evaluating the current methods and  techniques, and consideration of novel approaches may lead to improved data recovery. There is an array of places to disseminate associated data, research, reports and other outputs (digital and physical archives, online portals and platforms, project specific websites, journals). Understanding pathways to timely and discoverable dissemination is key to improving access in order to answer the research questions.

G1. If a particular area lacks evidence of human presence, does this directly reflect settlement history, or is it a result of research history and techniques?

G2. Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results?

G2.1 Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results for surveying?

G2.2 Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results for sampling?

G2.3 Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results for dating?

G2.4 Which methodological approaches produce the best cost-benefit results for palaeoenvironmental assessment and analysis?

G3. How can dissemination be improved?

G3.1 How can the time from research to dissemination be reduced, for both academic and development-led investigations?

G3.2 How can grey literature and the outputs of development-led archaeology be highlighted and disseminated in a more effective way?

G3.3 What dissemination pathways are available and do these serve users of the data and research?

H. How can understanding skills gaps future-proof the sector?

Responding to current and future challenges of researching the prehistoric resource in the marine environment requires sufficient breadth and depth of specialist human resources and skill sets. Understanding current and future skills gaps is therefore a priority to future-proof the sector.

H1. Are there skills shortages or gaps?

H2. What impact do any skills shortages or gaps have on the future of the sector?

H3. How does the sector address current and future skills gaps?

H3.1 How can we engage people from multidisciplinary backgrounds into the sector?

I. How can our understanding of prehistory and past environments deliver benefits to individuals and communities?

Prehistoric research is driven by social and legal objectives to preserve and promote understanding of the historic environment, with the aim of enriching the lives of current and future individuals and communities. Evaluating how the benefits of research into prehistory and past environments are delivered may further develop and improve these connections.

I1. What is the public perception of submerged prehistory?

I1.1 Are there groups that feel excluded from engaging with submerged prehistory?

I1.2 How can groups be engaged with submerged prehistory?

I2. What are the best methods, in terms of cost-effectiveness and knowledge imparted, to engage the public with remote periods without any obvious surviving ‘monuments’ or accessible ‘landscapes’?


The aim of this Research Framework is to provide a basis that allows the sector to work in an integrated way to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the prehistoric past of the region and provide public benefit for current and future society. This is directed by priority research questions.

To support this aim, two key strategies have been identified: improving data resources and supporting growth and enhancement of the sector. Specific requirements to enact these strategies have been identified.

A. Developing methodologies for investigations

A1. Develop methodologies for assessing prehistoric archaeological and geoarchaeological potential to aid management of the resource:

A1.1 Develop regional scale (e.g river catchment) palaolandscape studies as baseline datasets.

A1.2 Develop methodologies and standards for targeted, deposit-led studies of areas with prehistoric archaeological and geoarchaeological potential.

A2. Develop approaches to the recovery and contextualisation of prehistoric archaeology and environmental remains:

A2.1 Develop approaches to the recovery and contextualisation of prehistoric archaeology and environmental remains recovered during aggregate extraction (including beach replenishment schemes).

A2.2 Training on the identification of prehistoric archaeology and environmental remains.

A3. Develop collaborative approaches to investigating the prehistoric resource:

A3.1 Working with the industry to identify methodologies which enhance study of the prehistoric resource, and which are compatible with industry methods and processes.

A3.2 Development of standards and collaborative protocols for the recovery and sharing of key datasets (e.g. dating information, Sea Level Index Points).

A3.3 Archaeologists provided with access to Research Council research vessels and associated equipment.

B. Improved data resources

B1. Where possible, ‘open’ publication of material (i.e. Open Data, Open Access, etc.)

B2. Data published using the FAIR principles – Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability.

B3. Development of tools for linking datasets and disseminating results.

B3.1 Data standardisation to allow data exchange.

B3.1.1 Use of standard metadata, including use of standardised vocabularies, allowing discovery of the data, and integration into existing archives (archaeological and marine).

B4. Creation of a central archive where selected sediment cores are deposited and achieved for future research on the completion of projects. Selection for retention should be based on a standard selection and retention policy agreed by the sector.

C. Growing and enhancing the sector/discipline

C1. Identification of knowledge and skills gaps within the sector/discipline.

C2. Development of integrated research and training programmes involving universities, museums and commercial companies that address knowledge and skills gaps.

C3. Increased exposure of associated disciplines at undergraduate and Masters levels, and at career fairs to elicit interest and highlight potential career paths.

C4. Development of stronger connections between the university, museum and development-led sectors that promote sharing of both interpretative and methodological findings and developments.

C5. Development of a unified public engagement strategy so that engagement can take place between projects in a linked-up manner.

C6. Engage new audiences and develop ways of engagement with palaoelandscapes and prehistory.

C7. Engagement with Government research units i.e. House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, etc. Research Units to help communicate important research and needs to policy makers.

Image Credit: Mammoth tusk, Wessex Archaeology CC BY-NC 2.0

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