There is a potential wealth of information preserved in historic, prehistoric and geological depositional archives.

But, considering the volume of sediments required, along with the often-complex preparation procedures that are needed to extract, prepare and subsequently analyse any preserved floral/faunal remains, these specialist techniques can often be very costly. When multiple techniques are then combined, the cost can appear considerable.

The potential of each analytical technique in relation to a client’s developing understanding of a site under investigation, must therefore underpin project planning. When there is a i) clear question that needs answering and ii) solid understanding of the sedimentary deposits under investigation, a sampling strategy can be developed that maximises the analytical techniques available. Every project is different, and every investigation will subsequently have different aims and objectives. That is why proactive engagement with specialists can ensure the sites under investigation are having the correct analytical techniques applied to them, from the outset.

As an example, Historic England (2011) Environmental Archaeology outlines key steps to consider at the start of any archaeological investigation that has the potential to require the assessment of biological remains:

  1. Consider the main purpose and drivers for the project.
  2. How will (palaeo)environmental sampling contribute to project aims and objectives?
  3. What types of material need to be recovered?
  4. What types of material are likely to survive?
  5. Consult specialists for advice.

The 5 steps outlined above are all of value when planning a cost-effective environmental sampling strategy. The need for specialist input at such an early stage will help identify which analytical techniques will have the greatest potential, based on the sedimentary archive likely to be encountered. It will also ensure only the most suitable sedimentary units within a sequence will be considered for initial assessment, in an attempt to minimise the number of assessments that yield limited results.


Common questions that are asked in relation to sampling for environmental purposes include:

  • Is this sediment suitable for the type of analysis we are considering?
  • What analytical technique could be most informative to help reveal the provenance of this unit/context?
  • How does sampling differ between the different analytical techniques under consideration?
  • How much sample (volume/weight) do I need?
  • How many samples do I need?
  • What sampling strategy would work best for a sedimentary sequence of ‘xxx’ meters in thickness
  • If only one technique was to be applied to sample/unit ‘xxx’, which would have the greatest environmental potential?

If you require assistance for any such questions, or for further assistance and advice with regards the initial planning and implementation of environmental sampling, please get in touch.