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Archaeology and History

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Riley Smallman

Postgraduate Research


Riley Smallman (they/he) is a zooarchaeological PhD researcher at University of Exeter, co-supervised by University of Reading.

Their doctoral research project - 'CROW - CultuRal co-evOlution of corvids: Winged omens of the times' - is funded through South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, and investigates British human-corvid relationships from the Palaeolithic to the modern day utilising interdisciplinary methods.

They are supervised by Prof. Naomi Sykes (zooarchaeology, University of Exeter) and Dr. Stuart Black (isotope geochemistry, University of Reading).

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Riley's research interests include birds in archaeology (ornithoarchaeology), symbolic depositions of animal and human remains, funerary osteoarchaeology, semiotics in funerary and ritual contexts, iconographic representation of animals, social zooarchaeology, and the application of zooarchaeological data towards modern conservation and ecology.

Their PhD project - 'CROW - CultuRal co-evOlution of corvids: Winged omens of the times', funded by South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership - seeks to explore changing perspectives on birds of the corvid family (crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, jays and choughs) in England from the Palaeolithic up until the present day. Combining the interests listed above, this project takes a holistic and interdisciplinary approach, with techniques ranging from traditional zooarchaeology and osteological analyses, to iconographic explorations and dietary isotopic analysis, as well as considerations relating to modern field ecology and animal psychology.

Riley's previous research projects examined symbolic depositions of chickens in Britain during the Iron Age and Roman period and the sociocultural importance of domestic fowl, and experimentally investigated the preservation conditions of bog bodies. They are trained in both human and animal osteology, as well as completing their undergraduate in forensic archaeology.

Research collaborations

Riley's home insitution is University of Exeter and co-supervised by University of Reading. He is part of the Centre for Human-Animal-Environment (HumAnE) Bioarchaeology at Exeter. Their current research is funded by South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership.

The 'CROW' project has created the opportunity for Riley to undertake an auditing placement within the zooarchaeology reference collection held by Historic England (Fort Cumberland) in 2022, as well as connecting with the Cornish Jackdaw Project (Penryn) and joining their wild jackdaw nest recording team in 2023. They are also grateful to a range of museum and collection services for their collaboration in providing access and permissions to analyse archaeological material.

Riley's project is further associated with the Wellcome Trust funded 'From 'Feed the Birds' to 'Do Not Feed the Animals'' project, particularly looking at how corvid diet has changed over time, and interrogating whether scavenging bird diet may hold evidence of prehistoric excarnation practices.

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Riley holds a BSc in Archaeology with Forensic Science, MSc in Bioarchaeology (Zooarchaeology), and is currently conducting their doctoral research in Zooarchaeology, all of which have been at University of Exeter.

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