David Smith


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Past PhD students supervised by David have worked on analogue studies of the plants and insects from hay meadows (with Dr Pam Grinter) and the Palaeoentomology of estuarine deposits at Goldcliff, Gwent (with Dr Emma Tetlow).

At present, David is co-supervising the PhDs of:

Shelagh Norton - who is working on the archaeology and the past environments of the Berth Hillfort, Shropshire and other ‘marshforts’ in the British Isles.
Zena Zein-Alabdin – who is investigating the archaeology, depositional history and past environments associated with a number of European prehistoric bog bodies.
David is available to supervise students with an interest in environmental archaeology (especially archaeological insect faunas) and/or the development of past landscapes and past economies.


Research activity per year

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Personal profile


David Smith read Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University and went on to train in Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy at the University of Sheffield, where he specialised in the study of insect remains for both his M.A. and his PhD. David joined the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham in 1992.

As a discipline, archaeoentomology originated in Britain under Professor Russell Coope and Mr. Peter Osborne here at the University of Birmingham and David was mentored by both Professor Coope and, especially, Peter Osborne in his first years at Birmingham.  David was trained by their student, Professor Paul Buckland at Sheffield and frequently collaborates with Mr. Harry Kenward (retired, formerly English Heritage/ University of York), who was also their student.  He curates the Goring Collection (a historic collection on permanent loan from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) and the Girling Collection (Maureen Girling was also part of the 2nd generation archaeoentomologist trained at Birmingham, which was loaned to the University of Birmingham by her family and Historic England after her untimely death).  These collections are used to support David’s research and that of his students and colleagues.

Research interests

Present research includes:

  • David is one of the partners on the Prof Ralph Fyfe's (Plymouth)  Biodiversity and land-use change in the British Isles. This uses long-term environmental records (including insects) to explore how land-use and population change has impacted upon land-cover and biodiversity patterns in the UK. Details of this project can be found at https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/centre-for-research-in-environment-and-society-ceres/biodiversity-and-human-land-use-change-in-the-british-isles
  • David, Harry Kenward (York), Geoff Hill (Birmingham) and Enid Allison (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) have undertaken an ecological and statistical analysis of changing patterns of beetle synanthropy (association with human settlement) and storage pests in the UK. The hope is that we can use these statistics to examine when and how the various groups of synanthropic beetles and storage pests enter the UK. This work was published in Smith et al.  2019.
  • David and Henry Chapman (Birmingham), Nina Helt Nielsen (Museum Silkeborg, Denmark) and Roy Van Beek (Wageningen, Netherlands) are attempting to link various European bog bodies with their cultural, environmental and landscape contexts. At present research has concentrated on Lindow Moss, Cheshire, (the site of Lindow I, II and II), Bjaeldskovdal, Demark (the site of Tollund and Elling woman) and Borremose (the site of at least three bog bodies). At present the basin, profile and stratigraphy of all three sites has been established by coring. All of the sites contain previously ‘forgotten’ deposits of lowland peat that have potential for environmental analysis using a range of biological proxies. Sampling for dating and environmental analysis of these peats is now underway.
  • David has developed a set of ‘indicator groups’ for the insects from salt marshes so that the location of archaeological sites within the tidal regime can be identified with confidence (Smith 2017).
  • David, Harry Kenward (York) and Geoff Hill (Birmingham) have undertaken a statistical and ecological study of the insect remains from a wide range of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman field systems in the UK. The aim of this work is to establish if there is a distinct ‘farmland fauna’ in the past, investigate its possible origins and determine the speed and spread of this fauna as it developed. It also examines how this longer time dimension may allow us to understand the effects of modern clearance and intensification of agriculture on contemporary insect faunas. This work was published in Smith et al. 2018.
  • David has investigated the history and use of archaeological cesspits. This project uses modern and historical data to examine how cesspits may have been used in the past and the mechanical and cultural issues that may control their construction, use and longevity. This work was published in 2020.
  • David and Harry Kenward (York) are preparing a major monograph on Archaeontomology.
  • David, Henry Chapman (Birmingham) and Shelagh Norton (Birmingham) are undertaking field work and excavation of the Berth Hillfort, Shropshire. The Berth is an example of an archaeological site which is fairly unique in the British Isles. This is a low-lying ‘marsh fort’. Two seasons of excavation have occurred at the Berth. In 2016, the two large stone-lined causeways to the south of the site were excavated. In 2017, we excavated the small entrance on the Eastern side of the main enclosure. A campaign of coring across the basin between the two enclosures has also established the basin profile and landscape development of this area from around 14,000 years ago up to the late Medieval period (c. 15thcentury).
  • David also is a member of Vince Gaffney’s (Bradford) ‘Europe’s Lost Frontiers’ project. This is exploring the climate change, settlement and colonisation of the submerged landscapes of the North Sea basin using ancient DNA, seismic mapping and complex systems modelling.
  • David Smith and Wendy Caruthers have recently had an illustrated identification guide to mineralised remains published by Historic England. This can be accessed via https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/mineralised-plant-and-invertebrate-remains/
  • David has provided a commercial service for the analysis of insect remains from a range of archaeological and geological deposits since 1992.  He has worked with many commercial archaeological units, as well as a number of University-based research projects, in the UK. 

Previous research

  • Past distribution of grain pests in the UK and Europe (Smith and Kenward 2011, 2013)
  • Palaeoentomology of urban settlement in London, the Midlands and East Anglia (Smith 2012, 2013)
  • Defining an indicator package to allow the identification of cesspits in the archaeological record (Smith 2013)
  • The development of Early Holocene woodlands (Whitehouse and Smith 2010)
  • Modern analogues for the archaeological record (Smith et al. 2010, 2014)
  • The insects from intertidal peats and archaeology, particularly the Severn Estuary, and how these have changed in regards to sea level and human interference during the Holocene (Smith 2017; Smith et al. 2000)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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