Dr Michael Wallace

BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD

Department of Archaeology

Honorary Research Fellow

Dr Michael Wallace

Full contact details

Dr Michael Wallace
Department of Archaeology
  • PhD – University of Sheffield
  • M.Sc. Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy (Distinction)
  • B.Sc. (Hons.) Archaeological Science (First Class)
Research interests

I am a prehistorian and archaeobotanist with research interests centred around the domestication of crops, the Neolithic spread of agriculture through Europe and the subsequent evolution of agricultural economies in European prehistory.

As an archaeobotanist my approach to research is focused on plant remains recovered from archaeological sites, and my research has encompassed a variety of methodological approaches including statistical analysis of archaeobotanical data, morphometrics, stable isotope analysis and genetic studies.

In addition, I have conducted a wide-range of experimental studies for the development of novel and innovative research techniques.

Research Projects

Connections: Crop Exchange Networks in European Prehistory

I am currently undertaking a three-year research fellowship sponsored by an alumni donation. The principal aim of the project is to investigate prehistoric networks of crop movement through geometric morphometric (GMM) analysis of ancient plant remains.

Until now such networks have been largely invisible in the archaeological record. GMM has shown promise in differentiating individual varieties of crop species. The project involves two main phases: first, rigorous ground-truthing using present-day crops, including disentanglement of the role of growing conditions on morphology, and second application of the refined technique to material dated to the prehistory of Europe.

The identification of crop species varieties would allow the interconnectedness of early farming communities to be explored at an unprecedented degree of accuracy.

ADAPT - Life in a Cold Climate
PI: Prof. Terry Brown (University of Manchester). Funding: European Research Council.

The ADAPT project explores the concept of agricultural spread as analogous to enforced climate change and asks how cereals adapted to the new environments to which they were exposed when agriculture was introduced into Europe during the period 7000–4000 BC.

My role included the creation of a compiled database of cereal taxa from Neolithic and Bronze Age sites across Europe, with the view of synthesising environmental and archaeological data with genetic information to understand the influence that the adaptations identified in barley and wheat had on the spread and development of prehistoric European agriculture.

Origins of Agriculture
PI: Dr Colin Osborne (University of Sheffield). Funding: Natural Environment Research Council.

The aim of my work on the OA project was to assemble an archaeobotanical database, which systematically documented the species identity, abundance and size, of seeds recovered from pre-agricultural sites in the Fertile Crescent.

I then conducted analyses of this new archaeobotanical database, quantifying temporal and geographical patterns in seed size and abundance for crop progenitors and other wild species. The resultant database is the largest repository of sample-level archaeobotanical data for the early Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent.

Evolutionary Origins of Agriculture
PI: Prof. Glynis Jones (University of Sheffield). Funding: European Research Council.

The EOA project investigated selective pressures driving the domestication of crops by brining together experimental ecology, molecular biology, and archaeobotany. My involvement in this project included short periods of employment as a postdoctoral research associate and an ongoing informal role

Out of Asia
PI: Prof. Glynis Jones (University of Sheffield). Funding: Natural Environment Research Council.

This project aimed to directly date the spread of agriculture by amassing, and expanding upon, European and southwest Asia radiocarbon determinations of crop remains. My brief on this project was to update the database of radiocarbon dates.

  • Portillo, M., Ball, T., Wallace, M., Murphy, C., Pérez-Díaz, S., Ruiz-Alonso, M., Aceituno, F., López-Sáez, J. (2019). Advances in Morphometrics in Archaeobotany. Environmental Archaeology.
  • Wallace, M., Martin, P., Bonhomme, V., Stillman, E., Russell, J. Timpany, S. (2019). Searching for the origins of bere barley: a geometric morphometric approach to cereal landrace recognition in archaeology. Journal of
    Archaeological Method and Theory 26(3): 1125-1142.
  • Wallace, M., Jones, G., Charles, M., Forster, E., Stillman, E., Bonhomme, V., Livarda, A., Osborne, C., Rees, M., Frenck, G., and Preece, C. (2019). Re-analysis of archaeobotanical remains from pre- and early agricultural sites provides no evidence for a narrowing of the wild plant food spectrum during the origins of agriculture in southwest Asia. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 28(4): 449-463
  • Bonhomme, V., Forster, E., Wallace, M., Stillman, E., Charles, M., Jones, G. (2017). Identification of inter- and intra-species variation in cereal grains through geometric morphometric analysis, and its resilience under experimental charring. Journal of Archaeological Science 86: 60-67.
  • Preece, C., Livarda, A., Christin, P.-A., Wallace, M., Martin, G., Charles, M., Jones, G., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P.(2017). How did the domestication of Fertile Crescent grain crops increase their yields? Functional Ecology, 31: 387-397.
  • Bonhomme, V., Forster, E., Wallace, M., Stillman, E., Charles, M., Jones, G. (2016). The first shoots of a modern morphometrics approach to the origins of agriculture. Web Ecology, 16: 1-2.
  • Broderick, L. & Wallace, M. (2016). Manure: valued by farmers, undervalued by zooarchaeologists. In Broderick, L. (ed). People with Animals: Perspectives and Studies in Ethnozooarchaeology. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Wallace, M., Jones, G., Charles, M., Fraser, R., Heaton, T. and Bogaard, A. (2015). Stable Carbon Isotope Evidence for Neolithic and Bronze Age Crop Water Management in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0127085.
  • Charles, M., Forster, E., Wallace, M. (2015). 'Nor ever lightning char thy grain’1: Establishing archaeologically relevant charring conditions and their effect on glume wheat grain morphology. STAR: Science and Technology of Archaeological Research 1: 1-16.
  • Preece, C., Livarda, A., Wallace, M., Martin, G., Charles, M., Christin, P.-A., Jones, G., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P. (2015). Were Fertile Crescent crop progenitors higher yielding than other wild species that were never domesticated? New Phytologist 207(3): 905-913.
  • Styring, A.K., Fraser, R.A., Arbogast, R.-M., Halstead, P., Isaakidou, V., Pearson, J.A., Schäfer, M.,
  • Triantaphyllou, S., Valamoti, S.M., Wallace, M., Bogaard, A., Evershed, R.P. (2015). Refining human palaeodietary reconstruction using amino acid δ15N values of plants, animals and humans, Journal of Archaeological Science 53: 504-515.
  • Wallace, M., Jones, G., Charles, M., Fraser, R., Halstead, P. Heaton, T. and Bogaard, A. (2013). Stable carbon isotope analysis as a direct means of inferring crop water status. World Archaeology 45(3): 388-409.
  • Wallace, M. & Charles, M. (2013). What goes in does not always come out: the impact of ruminant digestion on plant material and its importance for the interpretation of dung-derived archaeobotanical assemblages. Environmental Archaeology 18(1): 18-30.
  • Bogaard, A., Fraser, R., Heaton, T., Wallace, M., Vaiglova, P., Charles, M., Jones, G., Evershed, R., Styring, A., Andersen, N., Arbogast, R.-M., Bartosiewicz, L., Gardeisen, A., Kanstrup, M., Ninov, L., Schafer, M., Stephan, E. (2013). Crop manuring and intensive land management by Europe’s first farmers. PNAS 110 (31): 12589-12594.
  • Fraser, R., Styring, A., Wallace, M., Bogaard, A., Jones, G., Charles, M., Heaton, T. (2013). Assessing the effects of charring, burial, ABA pre-treatment and natural variation in the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of archaeobotanical crop remains. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 4751-4766.
  • Styring, A., Manning, H., Fraser, R., Wallace, M., Jones, G., Charles, M., Heaton, T., Bogaard, A., Evershed, R. (2013). The effect of charring and burial on the biochemical composition of cereal grains: investigating the integrity of archaeological plant material. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 4767-4779.