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Collaborative archaeology project breaks new ground

Archaeology student Katerina Douka on the beach

26 February 2014

‘The UK is the best place I could ever have come to study archaeology,’ says Katerina Douka.

Breaking news: The earliest human footprints outside of Africa have been discovered… on the East England coast! Human anthropologist Dr Isabelle De Groote from Liverpool John Moores University worked out that the footprints were more than 800,000 years old, working as part of a team with the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and other universities.

We spoke to Katerina Douka, who moved to the UK from Larisa in mainland Greece in 2004, when she was 24 years old. She studied for a Master’s in Archaeological Science, then a DPhil, at the University of Oxford.

Katerina is working with the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project, a multinational collaboration between palaeontologists, archaeologists and earth scientists at museums and institutions that is changing our understanding of our ancestors – and ourselves.

‘Growing up in Greece, I was always surrounded by ancient history and I was fascinated by our roots and ancestry, where we come from and what makes us human beings.

‘I saw what the UK had to offer in terms of archaeological science – the combination of archaeology with physics, chemistry, biology – and that, together with the chance to improve my English, was what led me here. The UK is the leading player in the world in archaeological science, partly because of material for study at the British Museum and Natural History Museum, and also because scientists here work together across disciplines. Plus the UK has this incredible landscape full of archaeological finds.

‘AHOB started in 2001 and I’ve been involved for the last three years. My area is carbon dating – it’s great, because I get to do everything, from going out and collecting samples in the UK and all over Europe, Africa and Asia, to cleaning them and analysing them, to even being involved with how they’re displayed at the Natural History Museum in London.

‘One of the beautiful things has been collaborating with many people, from the biggest institutions in the UK and the world, to academies of science, to colleagues from Brazil to Siberia. It’s helped us completely change our understanding of how humans left Africa to colonise the whole of Eurasia during the last Ice Age, about 70 thousand years ago.

‘The Natural History Museum has just opened an exhibition called ‘Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story’. It’s a summary of all those years of work done in a very interactive way, with reconstructions, activities and things people can touch as well as actual remains.

‘This is about everyone’s common ancestors. I think it’s fantastic that in the UK, people want to teach, learn, and get genuinely excited about archaeology.’

Interested in studying archaeology? There are many universities and colleges in the UK offering courses like Katerina’s – click here to see pre-university courses, undergraduate courses or postgraduate courses in archaeology.