Personal profile

Scholarly biography

I am a physical geographer with teaching and research interests at the interface of geomorphology, climatology, history and archaeology. My current interests are in two main areas:

  • Understanding the chemical properties of the silica-cemented duricrust silcrete and using this knowledge as part of archaeological stone sourcing investigations in southern Africa and the Stonehenge landscape (UK).
  • Establishing patterns of climate variability in southern Africa over the last 200-300 years through the analysis of historical documents such as newspapers, letters and diaries.

I have authored more than 100 publications, including two edited books, Geochemical Sediments and Landscapes (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007) with Sue McLaren (University of Leicester), and Quaternary Environmental Change in the Tropics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) with Sarah Metcalfe (University of Nottingham).

I am Co-Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Art, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA), a collaborative CDT with UCL and the University of Oxford. My research has been funded by The Leverhulme Trust, Natural Environment Research Council, British Academy, British Society for Geomorphology and The Gilchrist Educational Trust (amongst others). I have successfully supervised eight Doctorate (PhD) research degrees and am currently supervising a further three PhD candidates.

In addition to my post at Brighton I hold an Honorary Research Fellowship  at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. I was presented with the Gordon Warwick Award in 2003 by the British Geomorphological Research Group (now the British Society for Geomorphology) for "excellence in geomorphological research as recorded in a named publication or set of publications".

Approach to teaching

My teaching is underpinned by contemporary case study material drawn from the latest published research as well as from my own projects. I try to encourage students to read extensively and take a critical approach to the published and grey literature. This is exemplified in the module 'Climate Change', where students consider the views of climate change sceptics, a really useful approach for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of current climate change arguments. I am strongly committed to fieldwork, as I believe it helps students contextualise the material they study in lecture sessions. In addition to UK and overseas field courses, I like to make use of the local area for teaching. For example, we visit the cliffs at Peacehaven as part of the module 'Ice Age Earth', where students have the opportunity to examine the impacts of past periglacial processes on chalk landscapes.

Research interests

My current research interests fall into two areas: 1. Understanding the properties of duricrusts and applying this knowledge in archaeological contexts; (2) Unravelling climate histories in southern Africa through the analysis of documentary evidence.

Duricrusts in landscape and archaeological contexts

My primary area of research concerns the development and environmental significance of silcrete duricrusts. The primary goals of this research are to (a) characterise the micromorphology and geochemistry of duricrusts developed in different landscape settings, (b) assess the extent to which duricrusts may be used as indicators of past environments, and (c) apply this fundamental knowledge for use in archaeological contexts. To date, my research has focused mainly upon non-pedogenic silcretes in the Kalahari Desert, central Australia, and the UK, with archaeology-related work in southern Africa and the Stonehenge landscape (UK). I am currently working on British Academy and Leverhulme Trust funded research using silcrete as an archaeological provenancing tool at Stonehenge and in the Makgadikgadi Basin, Botswana.

Reconstructing historical climatic change using documentary sources

My second research focus is the reconstruction of past climate variability through analyses of historical documents, particularly missionary and other colonial sources. Working with collaborators in Europe and southern Africa, I have developed novel methodologies to establish chronologies of hydroclimatic variability in the Kalahari Desert, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Madagascar and western India using these materials. I am currently working on British Academy funded research using documentary evidence to reconstruct a 19th century climate history of Mozambique.

Supervisory Interests

I am interested in supervising PhD and MRes students in the following areas: reconstructing historical climate variability and change; arid geomorphology; environmental change in southern Africa; silcrete provenancing in archaeology.

Knowledge exchange

My research involves close working with non-academic partners in the UK and southern Africa. This includes research and co-publications with colleagues from English Heritage, Historic England, British Geological Survey and the National Museum of Botswana.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, The development and environmental significance of the dry valley systems (mekgacha) in the Kalahari, central southern Africa, University of Sheffield

Award Date: 13 Nov 1992

Bachelor, Geology and Physical Geography, University of Sheffield

Award Date: 1 Jul 1988

External positions

Member, PAGES CRIAS (Climate Reconstruction and Impacts from the Archives of Societies) Working Group, PAGES (PAst Global ChangES)

2018 → …

Chair, PAGES Africa 2k Working Group, PAGES (PAst Global ChangES)


Honorary Research Fellow, University of the Witwatersrand

2009 → …


  • DT Africa
  • Climate history
  • Historical climatology
  • Documentary evidence
  • Drought histories
  • Rainfall variability
  • Climate and society
  • GB Physical geography
  • Duricrusts
  • Silcrete
  • Calcrete
  • Aeolianite
  • Geomorphology
  • Kalahari Desert
  • Geochemistry
  • Geochemical provenancing
  • Middle Stone Age


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