Nicholas Clarke


School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities

Research Student

Thesis- Bogged down with lead: a geochemical investigation into prehistoric lead production in the Peak District

Nicholas Clarke
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Full contact details

Nicholas Clarke
School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities (nee Department of Archaeology)
Minalloy House
10-16 Regent Street
S1 3NJ

My interest in archaeology was sparked as a teenager working on the Vale and Ridgeway project with the University of Oxford, investigating a Roman temple complex in rural Oxfordshire.

I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2015 with a BSc in archaeology, and in 2018 with an MA in Cultural Materials, focusing on the intersection between craft metallurgy, use of space, and soil contamination. My MA thesis was a geochemical survey using field-based portable XRF (pXRF) of Roman lead pollution at the fort of Navio and the surrounding area in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire. 

Following my MA I worked as a professional archaeologist with a commercial unit at sites across the UK, initially as a field technician and then as part of a geophysics field team. I have worked on every type of field intervention in the UK, including excavation as part of high-profile infrastructure projects; evaluation and trial trenching; watching briefs; and both hand-held and cart-based magnetometry survey. 

In September 2017 and 2018 I was an excavator on the Keros-Naxos seaways project with the University of Cambridge on the island of Dhaskalio, Greece. Alongside hand excavation I was involved in photogrammetry and 3D modelling techniques, total station survey and digital records (iDig). In 2017 I also undertook resistivity survey in Albania as part of the MEMOLA (Mediterranean Mountainous Landscapes) project. 

I began my WRoCAH funded PhD at Sheffield in October 2018, exploring the use of geochemistry in archaeology.

As well as the projects mentioned above I have undertaken excavation and survey on prehistoric, Roman and Medieval sites in Sheffield, Derbyshire, Greater Manchester and Dorset. I have a personal interest in experimental archaeology, and have undertaken several metallurgical experiments, workshops, and public demonstrations as part of the Roots of Iron Project and the University of Sheffield Archaeology in the City initiative.

  • 2018- MA Cultural Materials – the University of Sheffield, UK
  • 2015- BSc Archaeology –  the University of Sheffield, UK
Research interests

Thesis- Bogged down with lead: a geochemical investigation into prehistoric lead production in the Peak District

My research primarily concerns the impact of prehistoric metallurgical activity and its impact on the wider landscape and environment. Specifically, my thesis uses geochemistry and techniques from environmental archaeology to determine the extent and impact of past lead production on ombrotrophic (rain-fed) peat bogs in the Peak District, Derbyshire.

Methods used and broad themes explored in this thesis include:

  • Geochemical analysis of soils and sediments using both field- and lab-based portable XRF (PXRF) technology
  • Environmental analyses of soils and sediments (e.g. particle size analysis, magnetic susceptibility)
  • The use of geochemical techniques in archaeology, in the lab and in the field
  • Past craft metal production in upland landscapes (the Peak District)
  • Prehistoric lead production
  • The relationship between craft metallurgical processes and their impact on the landscape

Thesis Abstract

Since at least the Roman period and likely even earlier, lead production has been a key industry in the Peak District, a region of the UK characterised by areas of lowland minerals and upland peat bog. While research has been done on the impact of modern activity on the chemical composition of Peak peat bogs little has been done to investigate the impact of older historic and prehistoric lead extraction and working, despite numerous studies from other areas of the UK and Europe. 

The project proposes using geochemical analysis alongside environmental analyses of cores from upland peat bog environments to determine past deposition rates of atmospheric lead and other heavy metals, and from this reconstruct a geochemical record of past lead production in the region.  This introduces a well-tested method of determining past lead production intensity to an under-studied region within the UK, addressing key gaps identified in regional and national research frameworks. 

By doing so this thesis takes a longue durée approach to anthropogenic activities: as scholars across disciplines continue to explore notions of the Anthropocene, research into long-term contamination serves as a timely reminder of the ancient relationship between people, pollution and the environment

  • 2018-2021- White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) AHRC Studentship, UK
Teaching activities
  • Autumn 2019- AAP6148 Dynamic Landscapes: Investigating ancient environments – Laboratory demonstrator and teaching assistant  (postgraduate)
  • Autumn 2019- AAP6097 GIS for Archaeologists – Teaching cover and teaching assistant (postgraduate)
  • Autumn 2019- AAP6146 Reinventing Archaeology – Teaching assistant (postgraduate)
  • Spring 2019-  AAP108 World Civilisations – Module tutor (undergraduate)
Professional activities and memberships

Current Positions

  • July 2019 – Present- FTIR Amber bead analyses for Dr. K Hemer
  • April 2019 – Present- Organiser, The Space Network Research Group (WRoCAH), UK
  • October 2019 – Present-  Archaeology in the City (University of Sheffield), UK

Previous positions

  • October 2018 – August 2019- Field Technician – Wessex Archaeology, Sheffield, UK
  • Clarke, N. 2017. Burying the lead: an investigation into geochemical signatures from past lead production in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire. MA Thesis, the University of Sheffield.

  • Clarke, N. 2017. Burying the lead: A geochemical investigation into the spatial organisation of Roman Lead production in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire. University of Liverpool 09/11/2017. Historical Metallurgy Society Research in Progress Meetin