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, Harry Kenward (York), Geoff Hill (Birmingham) and Enid Allison (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) have undertaken a 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.
  • 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 is developing 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.
  • David is investigating 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.
  • 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 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.


Books and monographs

  • Smith, D.N. 2012a. Insects in the City: An Archaeoentomological Perspective on London’s Past (British Archaeological Reports: British Series 561). Oxford: Archaeopress.
  • V. Gaffney, Fitch, S. and Smith, D. 2009. Europe’s Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland. (CBA Research Report 160). London:  Council for British Archaeology 

Edited volumes

  • Smith D.N., Brickley, M.B. and Smith, W. 2005 (eds) Fertile Ground: Papers in Honour of Professor Susan Limbrey. (AEA Symposia No. 22). Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Refereed papers in academic journals

  • Hill, T. C. B, Hill, G. E, Brunning, R, Banerjea, R. Y. Fyfe, R.M,  Hogg, A.G. , Jones, J., Perez, M. and Smith, D. N. 2018. Glastonbury Lake Village revisited: a multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental investigation of an Iron Age wetland settlement. Journal of Wetland Archaeology.

  • Smith, D., Hill, G. and Kenward, H.K. 2018. The development of late-Holocene farmed landscapes: Analysis of insect assemblages using a multi-period dataset. The Holocene. 29, 45-63.
  • Thomas, R., Sykes, N., Doherty, S. and Smith, D. 2018. Ring depressions in cattle horncores as indicators of traction use – a cautionary note. International Journal of Paleopathology 22. 140–142.

  • Krawiec, K., Hopla, R., Grinter, P., Smith, D., Marshall, P., Hill, T.and Gearey, B. 2017 Palaeoenvironmental Investigations of the River Chelmer, Chelmsford, Essex, UK,Journal of Wetland Archaeology. 17, 51 – 73.
  • Smith, D.N. 2017. Locating where archaeological sites occur in intertidal sequences: The use of archaeoentomological data as a proxy for tidal regime. Journal of Archaeological Science 82, 1–16.
  • Smith, D.N., Nayyar, K., Schreve, D., Thomas, R. and Whitehouse, N. 2014. Can dung beetles from the palaeoecological and archaeological record indicate herd concentration and the identity of herbivores? Quaternary international 341, 119–130.
  • King, G., Kenward, H.K., Schmidt, E. and Smith, D. 2014. Six-legged Hitchhikers: An Archaeobiogeographical Account of the Early Dispersal of Grain Beetles Journal of the North Atlantic 23, 1–18.
  • Smith, D.N. 2013. Defining an ‘indicator package’ to allow identification of ‘cess pits’ in the archaeological record. Journal of Archaeological Science 40, 526–43.
  • Smith, D.N. and Kenward H.K. 2013.  ‘Well, Sextus what can we do with this?’ The disposal and use of insect-infested grain in Roman Britain. Environmental Archaeology 17, 141–150.
  • Smith, D.N. and Kenward, H.K. 2011. Roman Grain Pests in Britain: Implications for Grain Supply and Agricultural Production. Britannia 42, 243–262.
  • Smith D.N. Fletcher, M, Head K., Smith, W  and Howard A.J. 2010. Environmental Reconstruction of a Later Prehistoric Palaeochannel Record from the Burrs Caravan Park, Bury, Greater Manchester. Environmental Archaeology 15, 16–31.
  • Whitehouse, N. and Smith D. 2010. What is “Natural”? Forest Composition, Open-ness and the British “Wildwood”: implications from palaeoentomology for Holocene development and landscape structure. Quaternary Science Reviews 29, 539–553.
  • Smith, D.N., Whitehouse, N, Bunting, M.J. and Chapman, H. 2010. Can we characterise ’openness’ in the Holocene palaeoenvironmental record? Analogue studies from Dunham Massey deer park and Epping Forest, England. The Holocene 20, 215 – 229.

Other contributions

  • Gearey, B., Hopla, E., Griffiths, S., Boomer, I., Smith, D., Marshall, P., fitch, S. & Tappin, D. 2017. ‘Integrating multi-proxy palaeoecological and archaeological approaches to submerged landscapes: a case study from the southern North Sea’. pp. xx – xx in Williams, M., Hill, T., Boomer, I. & Wilkinson, I. W. (eds.). The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History. (Geological Society Special Publication). London: Geology Society.
  • Smith, D.N. 2015 ‘insect remains’ pp. 121–131 in Alexander, M. (ed.) Medieval and post – medieval occupation an industry in the Redcliffe Suburb of Bristol: Excavations at 1-2 and 3 Redcliff Street, 2003–2010 (Cotswold Archaeology Monograph 8). Cotswold Archaeology, Cirencester.
  • Smith, D.N. 2015. ‘insect remains’ pp. 276–283 in Powell, A., Barclay, A., Mepham, L and Stevens, C. (eds) Imperial College Sports Ground and RMC land, Harlington. (Wessex Archaeology Report 33) Wessex Archaeology: Salisbury.
  • Smith, D.N. 2015. ‘insect remains from Romano British pit (P68)’ pp. 284–289 in Hughes, G. and Woodward, A. (eds). The Iron Age and Romano-British Settlement at Crick Covert Farm: Excavations 1997–1998. Archaeopress, Oxford.
  • Smith, D,N. 2014. ‘insect remains’ pp. 208–209 in Bashford, R. Dodd, A. and Poore, D. (eds) Medieval and Post-Medieval Remains from Excavations on the Site of the New Auditorium, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 2008. Oxonensia 79, 173–209.
  • Brown, F., Cook, G, Druce, D., Huckerby, E., Marshall, P., Rutherford, M. and Smith, D.N. 2014. The Excavation and Analysis of a Burnt Mound, Drigg, Cumbria. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian Society 15, 9–37.
  • Smith, D.N. and Tetlow, E. 2014.’the insect remains’ pp. 204–207 in Casson, L., Drummond-Murray, J. and Francis, A. Roman- British roundhouses to Medieval parish: Excavations at 10 Gresham Street, City of London, 1999–2002. (Museum of London Archaeology Mongraph 67). Museum of London Archaeology, London.
  • Smith, D.N. Jolliffe, C., Nayyar, K., Sharrock,F. Tetlow, E. and Vaughan, D. 2014 ‘the insect remains’ pp. 343–349 in N. Page, G. Hughes, R. Jones and K. Murphy (eds) Excavations at Erglodd, Llangynfelyn, Ceredigion: prehistoric/ Roman lead smelting site and medieval trackway. Archaeologia Cambrensis 161, 285–356.
  • Smith, D. & Nayyar, K. 2013 ‘Insect faunas from Cold Harbour Pill site 9’ pp. 130–139 in Bell, M. (ed.).The Bronze age in the Severn Estuary  (Council for British Archaeology Research Report 172).  York: Council for British Archaeology.
  • Smith, D.N. 2013 ‘insects associated with Building 4’ p. 130–138 in Bell, M. (ed.).The Bronze age in the Severn Estuary  (Council for British Archaeology Research Report 172).  York: Council for British Archaeology.
  • Smith, D.N. 2012 ‘insects’ pp.236–243 in Stafford, E. (ed) Landscape and Prehistory of the East London Wetlands: Investigations along the A13 DBFO Road Scheme, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking and Dagenham, 2000–2003 (Oxford Archaeology Monograph 17). Oxford: Oxford Archaeology Ltd.
  • Smith, D.N. 2011. ‘insect remains’ p. 191 in S. Ripper and M. Beamish (eds) Bodies and Burnt Mounds: Visits to the Soar Wetlands, Neolithic and Bronze Age, Proceedings of the Prehistory Society 78, 173–206.
  • Smith, D.N. and Davis, A. 2011 ‘insect remains’ pp. 560–561, ‘Cereal processing and pests of store product’ p. 353 and ‘health and Hygiene’ p. 412 and CD tables 96, 97 and 98 in Hill, J. and Rowsome, P. (eds) Roman London and the Walbrook stream crossing: Excavations at Poultry and vicinity, City of London (part 2). (Museum of London Archaeology Mongraph 37). Museum of London Archaeology, London.
  • Smith, D.N. 2011. ‘The insect remains’ p. 342 and contributions to text and CD in Burch, M, and Treveil, P, with Keene, D. (eds.) The  Development of Early Medieval and Later Poultry and Cheapside:  Excavations at 1 Poultry and Vicinity, City of London (Museum of London Archaeology Monograph Series 38).
  • Smith, D.N. 2011. ‘Insects from Northfleet’ pp. 88–90 in Barnett, C., McKinley, J.I., Stafford, E., Grimm, J.M. and Stevens, C.J. (eds.) Settling the Ebbsfleet Valley: High Speed I Excavations at Springhead and Northfleet, Kent, The late Iron Age, Roman, Saxon and Medieval Landscape (Volume 3: Late Iron Age to Roman Human remains and Environmental Reports). Oxford/ Salisbury: Oxford Wessex Archaeology.
  • Smith, D. 2011 ‘[Iron age] insects’ pp 171–3 in Jones, A (ed.) Excavations at Little Paxton Quarry, Cambridgeshire, 1992 –1998 (Birmingham Archaeology Monograph Series 10/ British Archaeological Reports, British Series 545). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
  • Smith D. 2011 ‘[Romano-British] insect remains’ , pp. 265–277 in Jones Excavations at Little Paxton Quarry, Cambridgeshire, 1992 –1998 (Birmingham Archaeology Monograph Series 10/ British Archaological Reports B 545). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
  • Smith, D.N. 2011 ‘The insect remains’ pp. 559–63 in Hill, J, and Rowsome, P. (eds.) Roman London and the Walbrook stream crossing: excavations at 1 Poultry and vicinity, City of London (Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph Series 37). London: Museum of London Archaeology Service.
  • Smith, D.N. and Tetlow, E. 2010. ‘The insect remains’ 921–5 and 1481–9 on CD in Howard-Davis. C. (ed.) The Carlisle Millennium Project: Excavations in Carlisle 1998–2001. Volume 2: The Finds (Lancaster Imprints 15). Lancaster:  Oxford Archaeology North.
  • Smith, D.N. 2010. ‘insects’ pp. 130–1 in I. Grainger and C. Philpotts (eds.) The Royal Victualling Yard, East Smithfield, London (Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 45). London: Museum of London Archaeology Service.

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