Dr David Smith MA (Cambridge), MA, PhD (Sheffield), FRES

Dr David Smith

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Archaeology

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

David Smith’s main research interests concern the interpretation of insect remains from the archaeological record. He uses insect remains to investigate landscape and land-use change as well as living conditions in archaeological settlements. David has over 25 years’ experience providing commercial consultancy on insect remains from a range of archaeological sites in the UK and abroad.


  • MA in Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge)
  • MA in Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoecomony (Sheffield)
  • PhD in archaeoentomology (Sheffield)


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.



First year 

  • World Archaeology
  • Aztecs

Second/third year

  • Humans and Environments
  • Environmental Archaeology in the Lab
  • Human Remains

Postgraduate supervision

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.

Find out more - our PhD Classics and Ancient History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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)

Other activities

  • Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London.
  • Associate Editor of Environmental Archaeology: The Journal of Human Ecology.
  • David and Wendy Carruthers are preparing guidance on the retrieval and identification of mineralised insect and plant remains for Historic England.


Recent publications


Smith, D & Caruthers, W 2020, Mineralised plant and invertebrate remains: a guide to the identification of calcium phosphate replaced remains. Historic England. <https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/mineralised-plant-and-invertebrate-remains/mineralised-plant-and-invertebrate-remains-pdf/>


Woodbridge, J, Fyfe, R, Smith, D, de Vareilles, A, Pelling, R, Grant, MJ, Batchelor, R, Scaife, R, Greig, J, Dark, P, Druce, D, Garbett, G, Parker, A, Hill, T, Schofield, JE, Simmonds, M, Chamber, F, Barnett, C & Waller, M 2023, 'Agricultural systems regulate plant and insect (beetle) diversity and induce ecosystem novelty', Anthropocene. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ancene.2023.100369

Smith, D, Steward, K & Goddard, E 2023, 'The Oriental Cockroach Blatta orientalis L. recovered from Early Roman London: Implications for past distribution and Roman trade', Environmental Archaeology. https://doi.org/10.1080/14614103.2023.2199235

de Vareilles, A, Woodbridge, J, Pelling, R, Fyfe, R, Smith, D, Campbell, G, Smith, W, Carruthers, W, Adams, S, Hégarat, KL & Allot, L 2023, 'The development of arable cultivation in the south-east of England and its relationship with vegetation cover: A honeymoon period for biodiversity?', The Holocene. https://doi.org/10.1177/09596836231185836

Rowney, F, Fyfe, R, Anderson, P, Barnett, R, Blake, W, Daley, T, Head, K, MacLeod, A, Mathews, I & Smith, D 2022, 'Ecological consequences of historic moorland 'improvement'', Biodiversity and Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-022-02479-6

Jenkins, D, Timberlake, S, Davidson, A, Nayyar, K, Marshall, P, Mighall, T, O'Brien, C & Smith, D 2021, 'Copper mining in the Bronze Age at Mynydd Parys, Anglesey, Wales', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, pp. 1-31. https://doi.org/10.1017/ppr.2021.4

Smith, D 2021, 'Pondering privies: construction, use, reuse and other speculations about cesspits in the archaeological record', Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 446-469. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-020-09459-6

Woodbridge, J, Fyfe, R, Smith, D, Pelling, R, de Vareilles, A, Batchelor, R, Bevan, A & Davies, A 2021, 'What drives biodiversity patterns? Using long-term multidisciplinary data to discern centennial-scale change', Journal of Ecology, vol. 109, no. 3, pp. 1396-1410. https://doi.org/DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.13565

Chapman, H, Van Beek, R, Jennings, B, Smith, D, Helt Nielson, N & Zein - Elabdin, Z 2020, 'Bog bodies in context: developing a best practice approach', European Journal of Archaeology, vol. 23, no. 2. https://doi.org/10.1017/eaa.2019.54, https://doi.org/10.1017/eaa.2019.54

Smith, D, Hill, G, Kenward, H & Allison, E 2020, 'Development of synanthropic beetle faunas over the last 9000 years in the British Isles', Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 115, 105075. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2020.105075

HIll, T, Hill, G, Brunning, R, Banerjea, RY, Fyfe, RM, Hogg, AG, Jones, J, Perez, M & Smith, D 2019, 'Glastonbury Lake Village revisited: a multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental investigation of an Iron Age wetland settlement', Journal of Wetland Archaeology, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 115-137. https://doi.org/10.1080/14732971.2018.1560064


Smith, D 2024, online appendix 14: Insect remains’ and sections of text in publication. in F Brown, P Clark, A Dickson, RA Gregory & J Zant (eds), From an Ancient Eden to a New Frontier: An archaeology Journey Along the Carlisle Northern Development Route. vol. 32, Lancaster Imprints, vol. 32, Lancaster Imprints, Lancaster.

Smith, D & Allison, E 2020, chapter 23: Insects. in A Fairman, S Teague & J Butler (eds), in Bridging the Past: Life in Medieval and Post- Medieval Southwark: Excavations along the Route of Thameslink Viaduct and at London Bridge Station: Thameslink Archaeology Series 2. Oxford Archaeology, Oxford / London, pp. pp.643-654.

Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Smith, D 2019, Archaeoentomolgy. in SL López Varela (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences. John Wiley & Sons. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119188230.saseas0023

Other chapter contribution

Smith, D 2019, Insect remains. in T Havard, M Alexander & R Holt (eds), Iron age Fortification Beside the River Lark: Excavations at Mildenhall Suffork. East Anglian Archaeology , vol. 196, Cotswold Archaeological Trust, Cirencester, pp. 116-119.

View all publications in research portal