Staff profiles

Photo of Professor Alan Outram

Professor Alan Outram

Professor of Archaeological Science

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01392 724398

Alan Outram is an environmental archaeologist and palaeoeconomist who specialises in zooarchaeology (the analysis of archaeological animal bones and understanding past human/animal relations). Some of his most significant work has been on tracing the domestication of the horse in Central Asia, and studying the development of steppe pastoral societies in Kazakhstan. He is also well known as a specialist in bone taphonomy, particularly fracture and fragmentation analysis.

He is currently engaged on two major ERC projects:
'NeoMilk' is examining the introduction and spread of cattle-based agriculture and dairying by early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) farmers and its implications for modelling the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Northern and Central Europe during the 6th millennium BC. 
'Pegasus' builds on the latest advances in the analysis of ancient DNA molecules to gather new genomic, epigenomic and metagenomic information from ancient horses. This will be integrated with archaeozoological, isotopic and historical data to enhance our understanding of an animal that perhaps most impacted human history. 

As well as teaching zooarchaeology at undergraduate and masters' level he also covers many other aspects of archaeological science. He also teaches modules on hunter-gatherers and early farmers where he combines anthropological and archaeological approaches. He has, for 15 years, led many of our students on a fieldschool in South Dakota, excavating on an early agricultural village site.

Alan is the editor-in-chief of Routledge journal Science and Technology of Archaeological Research (STAR).

Research interests

Central Asian Prehistory, Horse Domestication and Origins of Steppe Pastoralism:

Professor Outram has worked in Northern and Central Kazakhstan on collaborative projects investigating the Eneolithic Botai Culture, horse domestication and and the origins of steppe pastoralism since the year 2000. With substantial funding from the Natural Environment Research Council he has demonstrated that the Botai Culture possesses the earliest currently known domestic horses, which were not only eaten and harnessed for riding, but  also milked. Professor Outram’s research also involves investigating the development of pastoralism from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in Kazakhstan.

NeoMilk: The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe

Prof. Outram is a senior researcher on major inter-disciplinary project is funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (2013-2018) led by Professor Richard P. Evershed (School of Chemistry, Bristol). It explores the introduction and spread of cattle-based agriculture by early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) farmers and its implications for modelling the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Northern and Central Europe during the 6th millennium BC. There is a particular focus on the origins of dairying as a major component of economy. The Exeter work package particularly addresses variation in taphonomy, butchery patterns and animal fat use across time and space within the LBK. Project PhD student, now post-doc, Emily Johnson has been carrying out substantial original zooarchaeological analyses on key sites around Europe. The NeoMilk project has its own website: http://neomilk-erc.eu/

PEGASUS: The Makeup of the Modern Horse: a History of the Biological Changes Introduced by Human Management.

Prof. Outram is engaged as a senior researcher on a project led by Prof Ludovic Orlando (CNRS Toulouse). The horse provided us with rapid transportation, an almost unrivaled secondary product that tremendously impacted the politico-economical trajectory of our societies, revolutionizing the circulation of ideas, people, languages, religions and communication. Horse chariotry and cavalry also changed warfare and beyond the battlefield new equestrian technologies have stimulated agricultural productivity. However, the 5,500 year long history of horse domestication and management, which transformed the natural evolutionary trajectory of wild horses into the more than 625 domestic breeds living today, is difficult to reconstruct from archaeology, history and modern genetics alone. Yet, with archaeogenetics, one can access the genetic information from past individuals and track in great detail past population trajectories. In this project, we will build on the latest advances in the analysis of ancient DNA molecules to gather new genomic, epigenomic and metagenomic information from ancient horses. This will be integrated with archaeozoological, isotopic and historical data to enhance our understanding of the multiple processes underlying the transformation of the animal that perhaps most impacted human history. The Pegasus Project has its own website here: http://orlandoludovic.wixsite.com/pegasus-erc

Initial Middle Missouri Archaeology: The First Farmers of the Northern Plains of America

Professor Outram has, for more than a decade, co-directed excavations at Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. This is an Initial Middle Missouri Culture site belonging to the period when farmers first settled in villages in the Northern Plains to grow crops such as maize, beans and squash. These farmers did not have domestic food animals, only dogs, but also hunted bison in large quantities as well as other game, fished and collected shellfish and other wild foods. These excavations are conducted in conjunction with Dr Adrien L. Hannus of Augustana University.

The Archaeology of Fat:

Much of his research has been on the exploitation of bone marrow and grease by people under subsistence stress. In order to study this issue archaeologically, he developed a new methodology for the detailed examination of bone fracture and fragmentation patterns. This research has included the study of bone assemblages from Palaeoeskimo and medieval Norse sites in Greenland, Norse sites in Iceland, a Neolithic site in Sweden, and Mesolithic sites in Britain and Italy. He is now carrying out analysis of a Plains Indian Village site in South Dakota, where the processing of bison bone for grease appears to be a large-scale activity that may well have involved trade with other, less fat-rich societies further to the south. Professor Outram chaired a session on the Palaeoeconomics of Animal Fats at the International Council for Archaeozoology 2002 conference.

Bone Fracture and Fragmentation: Constructing Taphonomic Histories

Professor Outram is recognised as an authority on how bone fractures and fragments under different conditions and has carried out many experiments to investigate this issue. He is widely published on how fracture and fragmention patterns can help us understand the taphonomic history of human and animal bone assemblages for purposes such as understanding butchery, food processing, site formation processes, cannibalism and undertaking forensic investigations.

Understanding Unusual Treatment of Animal and Human Remains:

At many prehistoric sites animal and human remains are found in mixed deposits and display strange patterns of deposition and treatment. Could these be ritual, cannibalism or just unusual taphonomic circumstances? He has also been employing his bone fracture and fragmentation methodologies to study the unusual treatment of human and animal remains at the Bronze Age ritual site of Velim Skalka, Czech Republic.

Hunters' Economic Choices:

Professor Outram is interested in the decisions that hunters make when they have killed an animal. How much of it did they use? Which bits did they transport away? Why did they make they choices they did? How much did the choices relate to the environment and dietary needs, to social needs or matters of taste? In order to build up suitable data, he has carried out research, involving experimental butchery, into the food utility and hunting of horses.

Research collaborations

Alan has collaborations with a wide range of international institutions and scholars in relation to various research projects:

Work on horse domestication and pastoralism in Central Asia has involved partners at Kokshe Academy (KZ), Karaganda State University (KZ), Pavlodar State University (KZ), Institute of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences (RU), Carnegie Museum of Natural History (USA), University of Bristol (UK), University of Cambridge (UK) and University of Copenhagen (DK).

Research into cattle husbandry and milking in the LBK involves collaboration with University of Bristol (UK), University College London (UK), CNRS, Paris (FR) and University of Poznan (PL).

Fieldwork and analyses on the Initial Middle Missouri Culture involves colleagues at Augustana University, SD (USA) and University of Bristol (UK)

These collaborations are very interdisciplinary in nature, involving archaeologists, anthropologists, biogeochemists and molecular geneticists.

Alan was also a participant in the OpenArch EU project that involves a network of open air archaeology museums in England, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Spain and Serbia.

Research supervision

Professor Outram supervises research students in the following subject areas:

Zooarchaeology, palaeoeconomic archaeology, experimental archaeology, hunter-gatherer and early farming societies (particularly pastoral ones). Geographical areas of interest include Europe, Central Asia and the Northern Plains of N. America.

Research students

I am currently supervising the following research students:

Xuelei Li: The Comparative Study of the Zooarchaeology of the Fox

Malene Lauritsen: The faunal remains from Exeter city

Philip Kiberd: The MSA site of Bundu, South Africa.

Belinda Tibbetts: Palaeopathology of infants

Rosalind Le Quesne: Dental x-ray applications in osteoarchaeology

 

Past students include:

Dr Emily Johnson (Linearbandkeramik Faunal Assemblages), went on to a post-doc here in Exeter.

Dr Hayley Foster (Butchery Patterns at Medieval Castles), now a staff zooarchaeologist for Oxford Archaeology

Dr Ashleigh Haruda (Bronze Age Pastoralism in Central Asia), is now undertaking a post-doc in Halle, Germany..

Dr Pip Parmenter (Faunal remains from Etton and Staines Neolithic causewayed enclosures), now works freelance on archaeological reports.

Dr Faye Sayer (née Simpson) (community archaeology excavations), who is now a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Dr Penny Cunningham (prehistoric nut storage), went on to be a project manager for community archaeology projects, here in Exeter.

Dr Jodi Reeves-Eyre (née Flores) (the nature of replicative experiments in archaeological research), went on to a post-doc at Arizona State University.

Dr Landon Karr (early Paleoindian bone flaking technology in North America), went straight to an assistant professorship at Augustana College, South Dakota, USA.

Dr Wendy Howard (the role and exploitation of small mammals in prehistory)

Dr Chris Carey (geochemical survey in relation to ancient metal working), is now a senior lecturer at the University of Brighton.

Dr Tine Schenck (Experimental archaeology and organic material culture).

Dr Julia Heeb (experimental study of copper axe-adzes in SE Europe), now the experimental archaeologist at archaeological open air centre Museumsdorf Düppel in Berlin.

Dr Theresa Kamper (Determining tanning technologies from microscopic dermal fibre analysis), now leading primitive techology workshops across Europe.

Dr Cindy Bradley (Funerary archaeology in SW United States)

Dr Jennifer Watling (environmental archaeology in Brazil), is now undertaking post-docoral research in Brazil.

Dr Genevieve Hill (wetland Archaeology of NW Coast America/Canada), is now anthropology collections manager at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Fieldwork

I regularly undertake fieldwork in both Kazakhstan and South Dakota, USA.

The fieldwork in Kazakhstan has been ongoing for about 19 years and relates to my research into horse domestication and early pastoral societies in Central Asia. This work has included excavation and geophysical survey of Eneolithic and Bronze sites, but the current focuss is the famous Eneolithic site of Botai in Northern Kazakhstan (dates to c. 3,500 BC). This site is the source of the best current evidence for early domestic horses. Working with the site's longterm director, Professor Victor Zaibert, we have carried out large scale geophysical survey and have been investigation features not previously targeted by research, including a potential enclosure or corral. I frequently take a small number of students with me to work at the site.

Over the last 15 years, the excavations in South Dakota have formed one of the Department's main fieldschools for students between their 1st and 2nd year of study. Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is an Initial Middle Missouri culture village (c. AD 1050) that represents the early colonization of the Northern Plains by agriculturalists who had been working their way up the river systems ever since the domestication of maize in Central America. The villagers lived from their gardens of maize, beans and squash and from the hunting of bison. The site is exceptionally well preserved and contains very deep and rich deposits. A particularly interesting part of the site is covered by a unigue structure, the Archeodome, that provides air conditioned protection from the elements as well as onsite laboratories for finds processing work. The site and facility produces a world class opportunity for research and student training, and is also open to the public along with a museum nearby. The annual excavations are in collaboration with Dr Adrien Hannus of Augustana University, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

External impact and engagement

Professor Outram has recently been engaged in the OpenArch project, which was led in Exeter by Prof Linda Hurcombe and funded by the EU's Culture Programme. The project involved a large consortium of open air archaeology museums from around Europe. It aimed to allow this increasingly popular form of museum to develop through international workshops and collaborative activities. Exeter was the only academic institution involved, because of its acknowledged specialist knowledge in the field of experimental archaeology and reconstruction. Our task was to contribute to the 'dialogues with science' work package of the project. In other words, we employed our technical and academic expertise to try to enhance the value and rigour of the excellent education and visitor experiences these museums offer. Our partners in Wales, Scotland, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Serbia and Spain, and we continue to cultivate these partnerships now that the initial project has completed.

I take students to excavate in South Dakota every year at a site that has a museum and is open for the public to see archaeology in action. There is a constant enagement with visitors by both the students and myself. To increase the reach of the activities, we always give press interviews and appear on regional TV and radio, raising the profile of archaeology and our work.  We also hold a special annual archaeology awareness weekend  where there are extra demonstrations and activities for local citizens and tourists.

Contribution to discipline

Editorial Positions:

Editor-in-chief of Routledge journal Science and Technology of Archaeological Research (STAR).

Advisory Board Member (and former Executive Editor), World Archaeology (a Routledge journal)

Honorary Positions:

Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Memberships of Societies and Professional Bodies:

Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London
Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
Member of the Association for Environmental Archaeology
Member of the International Council for Archaeozoology
Member of the Prehistoric Society
Member of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology
Member of the Society for American Archaeology
Honorary Life Member of the Stoke-on-Trent City Museum Archaeological Society

Media

It is important to ensure that the results of research, that may be of wider interest to the public, are disseminated as widely as possible. My paper ‘The Earliest Horse Harnessing and Milking’ published Science (2009), was the subject of co-ordinated press releases to ensure maximum impact with the public. The story was covered by many major newspapers in the UK (e.g. The Times, Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph) and internationally (e.g. The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Edmonton Journal, Shanghai Daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun [Japan]), and through both live and recorded radio interviews including on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Radio 5’s Drive Time, and World Service’s Science in Action. Internationally, there were interviews on USA National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as recorded interviews for translation into foreign languages with German national radio and Radio Classique Paris and Radio Free Europe. The story was covered in major popular magazines (e.g. Science Magazine, Science News, New Scientist, and Discover Magazine), and news/science websites (e.g. National Geographic and Nature).

Alan is currently working with a film maker on a new major documentary on the history of the horse.

Teaching

Professor Outram regularly leads groups of students in the field, whether this be in North America or Central Asia, where students directly participate in ongoing research. Back at Exeter, students also have the opportunity to engage in real research questions through project work and dissertations that relate to real research questions. Alan encourages  undergraduates and masters students to undertake dissertation work that involves the practical acquisition of primary data, particularly though zooarchaeological analyses and experiments.

He teaches on topics such as the archaeology and anthropology of hunter-gatherers, the origins of farming and early pastoral societies, past foodways, and techniques of zooarchaeology, experimental archaeology and general archaeological and forensic sciences. This teaching is always fully informed by his active research in these areas. Alan encourages active participation and discussion by students and takes great pleasure from facilitating students in meeting their full potential.

Modules taught

Biography

Professor Outram read for his BA in Archaeology at Durham University and, having developed a fascination for the archaeology of animal bones, went on to take an MSc in Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomics at the University of Sheffield. He returned to Durham to undertake his PhD under the supervision of Peter Rowley-Conwy. The title of his thesis was "The Idenitification and Palaeoeconomic Context of Prehistoric Bone Marrow and Grease Exploitation". The research combined zooarchaeological analysis with experimental work.

Following his PhD, Alan worked in professional archaeology for about one year, firstly in Stoke-on-Trent and then for Canterbury Archaeological Trust. He has since lectured at Exeter for the past 19 years and is now Professor of Archaeological Science.

Editorial Positions:

Editor-in-chief of Routledge journal Science and Technology of Archaeological Research (STAR).

Advisory Board Member (and former Executive Editor), World Archaeology (a Routledge journal)

Honorary Positions:

Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Advisory Committee Member, Shanghai Archaeology Forum.

Memberships of Societies and Professional Bodies:

Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA)
Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (MCIfA)
Member of the Association for Environmental Archaeology
Member of the International Council for Archaeozoology
Member of the Prehistoric Society
Member of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology
Member of the Society for American Archaeology
Member of the European Association of Archaeologists
Honorary Life Member of the Stoke-on-Trent City Museum Archaeological Society