Nicholas Groat

BSc, MSc

School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities

Research Student

Thesis - Extracting Innovation: An Integrated Material and Experimental Analysis of Early Distillation Technology and its Characterisation in South-Central Asia

Profile picture of Groat

I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2016 with a BSc in Archaeological Science with Employment Experience, with a focus on material culture studies and later prehistory of Northern and Central Europe. During this period, I worked full-time for a year in Derbyshire County Council’s Department of Conservation and Design as a member of the Historic Environment Record (HER) team to enhance the digital and physical HER archive, and associated GIS datasets for commercial archaeology units, academic research, and public access. In 2017, I graduated from Leiden University after completing my MSc in Material Culture Studies, during which I worked within an inter-European study on the ceramic assemblage of Early Iron Age Heuneburg, Germany. 

I began my WRoCAH funded PhD at Sheffield in October 2018 on the production and use of ceramics in the ‘Hellenistic East’ suggested for distillation, working closely with Locksley Distilling Co. Ltd as a commercial partner to help inform research insights and applications. Since 2019, I have been the coordinator of Sheffield Archaeomaterials, the Department’s archaeological materials, material culture, and experimental archaeology research group. Alongside my international work, I have been involved in projects on prehistoric, Roman, and medieval sites across the UK, including Castleton and the Hope Valley, Wytch Farm, Beauchief Abbey, and Thornton Abbey. My experimental portfolio includes demonstrations at public open days across Sheffield as part of the public engagement Roots of Iron Project and University of Sheffield Archaeology in the City initiative, and extensive experimental metallurgical projects. My recent project involvement includes:

  • 2017- MSc Material Culture Studies – Leiden, NL
  • 2016- BSc Archaeological Science with Employment Experience – Sheffield, UK
Research interests

My research primarily focusses on relationships between materials, technology, and society explored through interdisciplinary and integrated methodological approaches. I am particularly interested in exploring the contexts of ceramic production, metallurgy, and chemical technologies (especially alcohol production and distillation), utilising material analysis and technological reconstruction. While this has predominately centred on Middle Bronze Age - early historic sites that interacted with Eastern Mediterranean communities (particularly La Tène and Hallstatt Central Europe, the Black Sea region, and the ‘Hellenistic East’), I am broadly interested in the archaeology of Central Europe and the Mediterranean, and the impact of social interactions from these locales across West and South-Central Asia. I have also recently engaged with discussions on the influence of archaeological narratives and studies on contemporary society. My methodological and thematic focuses in these areas include:

  • Reconstructing technological systems 
  • Societal and human impacts of metallurgy, ceramic, and chemical technologies 
  • Material analysis through chemical, microscopic, and imaging methods
  • Issues pertaining to archaeology, heritage, and contemporary society

PhD Research

Extracting Innovation: An Integrated Material and Experimental Analysis of Early Distillation Technology and its Characterisation in South-Central Asia


Dr Jane Rempel 

Prof Susan Sherratt; Prof Caroline Jackson (secondary supervisors)


Prof Robert Falconer (Chemical Engineering and Advance Materials, University of Adelaide)

Locksley Distilling Co. Ltd. (Sheffield)

In considering the position of technology in contemporary society, the concept of innovation is a pervasive theme integral to the creation of national, regional, and global narratives. Traditionally tied to ancient Greek cultural influences and scientific innovations, this project addresses how early distillation technology (the selective evaporation and condensation of mixed substances) has been identified from archaeological evidence in South-Central Asia and associated with dialogues on the ‘Hellenistic East’. The emergence of distillation marks a changing understanding of material properties, encompassing ideas on extraction, purification, essences, and vapours, and historically associated with proto-chemical explorations of matter. Yet primarily, distillation has been researched through a distinctly technically-led framework of explanation and empiricism. This project therefore challenges the widespread reconstruction of the ‘Gandhāra still’ as a key component within the global charting of early distillation, used on occasion to indicate processes of Hellenisation in South-Central Asia, but also reject early distillation’s ancient Greek origins. First noted as 4th c. BCE – 4th c. CE ceramic remains from modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northern India, the characterisation of the ‘Gandhāra still and tradition’ is comprehensively evaluated in this project (following recent reappraisals) through a systematic material survey and targeted exploratory experimental reconstructions. The body of analysis developed through this project enhances our current interpretation of early distillation by utilising insights gained from the experimental work to reconsider innovations in early distillation through a holistic idea of technological practice. In doing so, an alternative view on the original archaeological evidence is presented that considers the importance of the material away from its entrenched connection with distillation.


Funding and Awards

  • 2023: Transforming and Activating Places (TAP) partner funding for student projects, University of Sheffield
  • 2022: Department of Archaeology Research Stimulation Fund, University of Sheffield
  • 2021: White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) AHRC Researcher Employability Project; Department of Prehistory and West Asian/Northeast African Archaeology, Austrian Institute of Archaeology
  • 2021: White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) AHRC Knowledge Exchange Project; University of Sheffield and Locksley Distilling Co. Ltd.
  • 2021: Think Ahead Researcher Activities Fund (on behalf of Sheffield Archaeomaterials), University of Sheffield
  • 2020-2021: White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) AHRC Studentship (COVID-19 Research Extension); University of Sheffield
  • 2019: Ancient India and Iran Trust Research Bursary 
  • 2018-2022: White Rose College of Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) AHRC Studentship; University of Sheffield
  • 2015-2017: British Institute at Ankara (BIAA) Settlement of Anatolia Strategic Research Initiative; funded by as part of project by Dr Jane Rempel and Prof Susan Sherratt (Sinop Kale Excavations, Turkey)
  • 2016: Petrie Watson Exhibition Prize, University of Sheffield
  • 2016 Department of Archaeology Fieldwork Bursary, University of Sheffield
Teaching activities
  • Transforming and Activating Places (TAP) student supervision
  • Supervision of undergraduate projects, Spring-Summer 2023
  • University of Sheffield: AAP6102 Heritage, History, and Identity
  • Seminar tutor (postgraduate), Autumn 2022
  • University of Sheffield: AAP116 Towards Modernity: Anthropology, Archaeology, and Colonialism
  • Module tutor (undergraduate), Autumn 2019-2020
  • University of Sheffield: AAP6082 Experimental Archaeology
  • Practical and laboratory demonstrator (undergraduate and masters), Spring 2018-2019, Spring 2019-2020, Spring 2020-2021
  • University of Sheffield: AAP108 World Civilisations
  • Module tutor (undergraduate), Spring 2018-2019
  • Sinop Kale Excavations
  • Fieldwork demonstrator and lecturer, Summer 2017 
Professional activities and memberships

Current Positions

  • March 2019 - current: Coordinator, Sheffield Archaeomaterials (University of Sheffield), UK 
  • Departmental research group
  • April 2019 - current: Organiser, The Space Network Research Group (WRoCAH), UK
  • Funding consortium research group

Previous Roles

  • March 2020: Organiser, 2nd Experimental Archaeology Student Symposium (EAStS), Sheffield, UK 
  • Summer 2017: Assistant Trench Supervisor, Sinop Kale Excavations, Sinop, TR
  • November 2016: Organiser, Ceramic Petrology Group Annual Meeting, Leiden, NL
  • October 2014 - September 2015: Internship, Archaeology Department and Historic Environment Record, Department of Conservation and Design, Derbyshire County Council, Darley Dale, UK


  • 2010 - current: Council for British Archaeology member
  • 2020 - current: Sussex Archaeological Society member
  • 2021 - current: European Association of Archaeologists member 


  • Groat, N., and Lester, M. J. 2021. Experimental Archaeology, Today: Critical Reflections on Some Key and Emerging Themes. Assemblage, EAStS Proceedings (2021). pp. i-viii.

  • Groat, N., 2020. Abrasion and Inebriation: Investigating the Application of Use-Wear Analysis in Studies of Alcohol Production. In A. Van Gijn, J. Fries-Knoblack and P. W. Stockhammer (eds.) Pots and Practices: an Experimental and Microwear Approach to Early Iron Age Vessel Biographies. BEFIM 3. Leiden: Sidestone Press. pp. 171-192.

  • Marks, Y., Groat, N., Lortie, L. O., Hughes, M., Thompson, H. F., Woodland, C. J., Adams T. MS., Thorpe, T., Tang, B., Kenyon R., Langhorne, B., and Fraser-Darling, J. 2020. Smelting Conditions and Smelting Products: Experimental Insights into the Development of Iron Bloomery Furnaces. EXARC Journal, 2020(2). pp. 1-10.    

  • van Gijn, A., Jacobs, L., Groat, N., de Koning, N., Braekmans, D., and Verbaas, A., 2019. Studying Vessel Biographies from the Heuneburg: an Experimental Approach. In, P. W. Stockhammer and J. Fries-Knoblack (eds.) Was tranken die frühen Kelten? Bedeutungen und Funktionen mediterraner Importe im früheisenzeitlichen Mitteleuropa. Internationale Konferenz Kloster Weltenburg 28.04.-01.05.2017. BEFIM 1. Leiden: Sidestone Press. pp. 77-99.

Conference Papers

  • Groat, N. 2022. Technically Correct? Understanding the Influence of Technological Reconstructions in the Creation of Global Narratives. University of Edinburgh, 16/12/2022. 43rd Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference 2022.

  • Marks, Y., Groat, N., and Lester, M. J. Reconstruction of Roman Bread Ovens From Doncaster Roman Fort. University of Liverpool, 10/6/2022. 3rd Experimental Archaeology Student Symposium 2022.

  • Groat, N. 2022. Transforming Tastes: Reframing the Study of Alcohol Production in West and Central Asian Prehistory. Österreichische Archäologische Institut, 3/2/2022. Invited lecture hosted by the Department of Prehistory and West Asian and North African Archaeology.

  • Clarke, N., Groat, N. Lester, M., Lortie, L. O., and Thompson, L. 2021. Archaeology: Why Are We Doing This (conference session organiser). University of Leicester, 2021. 42nd Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference 2021.

  • Groat, N. 2021. Affective Apparatus: Early Distillation and Material Separation Practices in the “Hellenistic” East, University of Sheffield, 26/1/2019. University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology Postgraduate Research Conference

  • Groat, N. 2020. Rethinking Technological Complexity: A Critical Overview of Proffered Distillation Apparatus in Gandhāra and South Central Asia. University of Cambridge, 5/12/2020. Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology.  

  • Groat, N. 2020. Experimental Archaeology in the 2020s: New Directions, Challenges, and Opportunities. University of Sheffield, UK, 29/02/2020. 2nd Experimental Archaeology Student Symposium 2020. 

  • Groat, N. 2019. The Essence of Experience: Exploring a Sensory Approach to Early Distillation Practices. University College London, UK, 17/12/2020. 41st Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference 2019. 

  • Groat, N. 2019. Alcoholic Affects: An Experimental Approach to Early Alcohol Distillation Practices. University of Sheffield, UK, 24/1/2019. University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology Postgraduate Research Conference. 

  • van Gijn, A., Jacobs, L., Groat, N . 2017. ‘What Were These Pots Used For?’ An Experimental and Microwear Approach Towards Vessel Function. Kloster Weltenburg, Germany, 28/4/2017. Was tranken die frühen Kelten? Bedeutungen und Funktionen mediterraner Importe im früheisenzeitlichen Mitteleuropa. 

  • Groat, N. 2016. A Critical Evaluation of Experimental Reconstructions of Alcoholic Beverages. Vardiza Monastery, Georgia, 19/5/2016. 8th International Student Archaeologists Conference Dedicated to Pitt Rivers, Vardzia, Georgia.

  • Groat, N. 2016. Trouble Brewing: a Critical Evaluation of Experimental Reconstructions of Alcoholic Beverages. Leicester University, UK, 21/4/2016. Chartered Institution for Archaeologists (CIfA) Annual Conference. 

Other Publications

  • Groat, N. 2021. Book Review: The Affect of Crafting: Third Millennium BCE Copper Arrowheads from Ganeshwar, Rajasthan. Uzma Z. Rizvi. Oxford: Archaeopress. 2018. Assemblage 18. pp. 16-17. 

  • Groat, N., 2019. A Key Resource for South and Central Asian Archaeological Research. INDIRAN: Newsletter of the Ancient India and Iran Trust 13. pp 9.  

  • Groat, N. 2017. Abrasion and Inebriation: Investigating the Application of Ceramic Use-Wear Analysis for Exploring Alcohol Production at Iron Age Heuneburg, Germany. Leiden: Unpublished MSc Thesis. 

  • Groat N. 2016. Trouble Brewing: A Critical Evaluation of Experimental Reconstructions of Alcoholic Beverages. Sheffield: Unpublished BSc Thesis.