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Who am I? 

Rebecca Wragg Sykes is a Palaeolithic archaeologist, specialising in the Neandertals. She is fascinated by this incredibly adaptable and successful ancient human species, and is passionate about improving their still lamentable public image as the ‘losers of the Ice Age’. She is a stone tool (lithic) expert, and held a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship at the at the PACEA laboratory, Universit√© Bordeaux 2013-15. Her postdoctoral research project, funded by the European Commission 7th Framework, explored prehistoric landscapes and territories by looking at the technology and transport of stone tools from an open-air silcrete quarry in the Massif Central region of south-east France. 

2015 fieldwork in Massif Central, with Jean-Paul Raynal, Vincent Delvigne and Erwan Vaissié

Fossil Hunter Lottie doll, which TrowelBlazers co-developed, in the field in France

What's this blog about?  

The Rocks Remain is a place to share the excitement, fascination and complexity of the coolest hominins, the Neanderthals.

Long answer... 
Digging at Fishbourne Roman Palace, 1997
I was already an archaeology nerd as a young teenager, with a subscription to Current Archaeology, and at 14 did work experience at the Sussex Archaeological Society excavations at Fishbourne Roman Palace. This gave me my first taste for the addictive mix of hard labour, zen-like monotony and sparks of exhiliaration that make up digging.

But a family holiday in south-west France after I finished my A-Levels pushed me back further in time. Visiting the astonishing decorated caves in the Dordogne was a revelation and rekindled my fascination for the Ice Age, first shaped earlier in my teens through Jean Auel's incredibly well-researched Earth's Children novels, starting with Clan of the Cave Bear.

After an undergraduate degree at Bristol I won funding to take the MA Archaeology of Human Origins at Southampton University, where I was very fortunate to be supervised by John McNabb and Clive Gamble. While there I received training in lithic analysis, and I really began to focus on the Middle Palaeolithic, and its makers, the Neanderthals. My dissertation was the first analysis of the Middle Palaeolithic stone tools from Kent's Cavern since the 1970s.

Holding a Late Upper Palaeolithic reindeer bone from the 2008 Church Hole excavations, Creswell Crags.

Delving into the entire British record of late Neanderthals was the subject of my PhD at University of Sheffield. My thesis was the first comprehensive examination of the lithics from well-dated Late Middle Palaeolithic sites (c. 60-35,000 or kyr before present) for two decades. It can be found here:

The La Cotte de St Brelade collections, Jersey

After my PhD I worked on the Quaternary Archaeology and Environment of Jersey Project, looking at lithics from La Cotte de St Brelade, but then was awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship to work at the PACEA laboratory, Universite Bordeaux. The project TRACETERRE, 2013-15, looked at prehistoric landscape use in the Massif Central of south east France (Ardeche and Haute-Loire) through examining a massive silcrete quarry.

While I was in France I had two children, and return to the UK in late 2017 to finish my first book, Kindred: 300,000 years of Neanderthal Life and Afterlife for Sigma Science, Bloomsbury. See my author bio for more information.
I'm now working in other areas, having co-founded an outreach group in 2013 (TrowelBlazers) which continues to grow, managing a touring exhibition and working on heritage consulation.

Popular posts from this blog

Wherefore Art Thou, Neanderthal?

Adventures in Silcrete: "It's flint Jim, but not as you know it!"

Something that everyone who works in the archaeology of deep prehistory has to get to grips with is the technology of stone tools, or lithics. This includes thinking about the ways in which people made their tools, which techniques they chose to use, etc. It also means that Palaeolithic archaeologists, alongside needing to know stuff about climatology, palaeontology, and ecology, need to delve into the science of geology. People in prehistory might not have understood the origins of different kinds of rocks, but they certainly appreciated the diversity in stone qualities, not only between very different rock types but also within geological/mineral categories.

These two Neandertal tools that I studied for my PhD, called handaxes, are both very finely worked, but made from completely different rocks. The one on the left (Castle Lane, Bournemouth) is made from Cretaceous flint found in the south and east of Britain, and the one on the right (Coygan Cave) from rhyolite, a volcanic stone…

Geological Road Trip: Volcanic landscapes of the Massif Central

Geology and geography are fundamental to archaeologists in understanding the landscape contexts that people of the past lived within. While climate and environments have drastically altered over the time span of the Palaeolithic, the topography often, on a broad scale, remains relatively similar. Erosion can be extensive, river systems can change course (the Thames used to flow much further north than it now does for example), and the great depth of sediment accumulation in some areas changed local situations. But the big stuff made of rock like plateaux, mountains and watersheds have remained relatively static over the time hominins have been around. There are exceptions to this however, primarily in the form of volcanism and tectonic action, and the region I'm working in is a textbook example. Here in the Massif Central, there is a long history of volcanic action of many types, the most recent of which occurred less than 5000 years ago- well within the history of human settleme…