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CAREER PROFILES: Dr Hannah Russ Marine Zooarchaeologist

20 Sep 2014



I am a Marine Zooarchaeologist; I specialize in the identification, analysis and interpretation of animal remains that are recovered during excavations at archaeological sites. I work on animal bone and mollusc assemblages as part of environmental impact assessments as well as commercial and research projects in Europe and the Middle East. While I am trained and experienced in the identification and analysis of all animal remains, my specific interests within zooarchaeology are in the relationships between aquatic animals and people in the past, environmental and climatic change and past geographic distributions of animal taxa. Much of my work has focused on fish bones, marine mollusc shells and the remains of marine crustaceans (crabs and lobsters). 



I studied for a BSc (Hons.) in Bioarchaeology, an MSc in Biological Archaeology and a PhD in Archaeological Science at the University of Bradford between 2001 and 2010. During this time my research focused on aquatic resource use by Upper Palaeolithic (c. 40,000 – 12,000 years ago) and Mesolithic (c. 12,000 – 6,000 years ago) hunter-gatherers in Europe, for which I was awarded the Eila Campbell Scholarship by the British Federation of Women Graduates for academic excellence. Between 2010 and 2012 I worked as the Laboratory and Technical Supervisor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. In 2013 I was appointed to my current position as a Consultant and Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes Archaeology and Heritage (OBAH) at Oxford Brookes University.



I very much enjoy sharing and communicating my knowledge. I have taught at undergraduate and post-graduate level at University of Bradford (2007-2011) and University of Sheffield (2010-2014). I also now teach identification and analysis of aquatic animal remains as part of short courses at University of Sheffield (Understanding Zooachaeology) and on various courses at Oxford Brookes University. I am also keen on outreach and public dissemination of my research contributing to and organising classes and workshops in schools, museums and at public events.



My interest in aquatic animals began at a young age when, like many children, I collected sea shells on the beaches of East Yorkshire during family holidays. My interest in archaeology came later, at the age of 16, inspired by Steve Thornton, then a teacher of A level Archaeology at Ossett School and Sixth Form College. At university, my Personal Tutor, Dr. Andrew ‘Bone’ Jones, specialized in fish remains in archaeology. He nurtured my interest in this field, and supervised my first research project (MSc dissertation) on the fish bones recovered during excavations at the Upper Palaeolithic cave site of Grotta di Pozzo in central Italy. This study raised many questions about the understanding of fish consumption and use in Palaeolithic Europe – I addressed these questions in my phd study:  A taphonomic approach to reconstructing Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer fishing strategies. 



My PhD took an ecological approach to understanding the remains of fish that were found at archaeological sites; how did they get there? Could we say for certain that these fish bones had been left there by our human ancestors? What about animals that eat fish, or the actions of water or wind that could bring fish remains into an archaeological site naturally? I considered the types of fish that were being identified and assessed the implications for past environmental conditions both on and off the land. I funded my university studies by working on a number of research projects at the University of Bradford as well as taking on commercial work for archaeological contract units. As part of these works I conducted identification and analysis on fish and mollusc remains from sites dating between the Upper Palaeolithic and Medieval periods in the UK. Every project and associated research added to my knowledge and understanding of the relationships between people and aquatic animals in the past; the importance of different animals in different periods and the developments in human culture and technology that can be understood through their study.



Following my PhD studies I continued to work on commercial and research projects on a freelance basis. In 2011 I was invited to join the Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project, working with Dr. Andrew Petersen’s team from University of Wales Trinity Saint David on the animal remains from two Islamic Period coastal sites of Rubayqa and Ruwaydah in northern Qatar. I spent two seasons working on the animal remains from these sites, which were dominated by fish and marine molluscs - indicating the importance of marine resources for survival in this harsh arid environment.


I have created two collections of fish skeletons for research, one held at Oxford Brookes University, and one by the Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project in Qatar. Modern comparative specimens are of crucial importance in the identification of ancient fish remains from archaeological sites. I continue to collect and prepare specimens for these collections – these are procured from fish markets, from beaches and donated to me after natural death (I do not collect live specimens).


I continue my research in understanding past human relationships with aquatic animals, aspiring to become a top researcher in my field with a permanent academic post.


Dr Hannah Russ


Consultant and Research Fellow (Archaeological Sciences)

Oxford Brookes Archaeology and Heritage (OBAH)

Oxford Brookes University


Honorary Research Fellow

University of Sheffield


Honorary Research Fellow

University of Wales, Trinity Saint David


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