The European Association of Archaeologists awards the 2020 Student Award to Samantha Leggett of the University of Cambridge for her paper Tackling Early Medieval Transitions Using a Hierarchical and Multi-isotope Approach.

Biomolecular studies have become a common feature of archaeological research over the last few decades. This field has given us new tools to assess the lifeways, practices and histories of mobility of past individuals.

In her paper “Tackling Early Medieval Transitions Using a Hierarchical and Multi-isotope Approach”, Samantha Leggett takes the next logical step in this field: she conducts a series of complex meta-analyses of thousands of isotopic datapoints from medieval Europe in order to draw out spatial and temporal patterns in this increasingly large body of data.

Among the many strengths of Leggett’s approach is her pioneering use of unsupervised machine learning to facilitate statistical analysis of archaeological biomolecular data. These data are drawn from a number of different domains of study, from dietary isotopes to isotopic mobility research, allowing her to develop a complex and multi-scalar model of major medieval transitions, including christianization, the emergence of new economic practices, and changing agricultural systems.

As archaeological data proliferate and more are made easily accessible through open data repositories, we expect this sort of Big Data research to become a standard part of quantitative archaeological research. Leggett’s vision here is instructive: she does not limit herself to simple causes, but embraces the complexity of her data and allows it to feed into equally complex, and entirely social, conclusions.

Honorary mention was awarded to Tomas Janek for his paper Uncovering invisible: Visual enhancement of toolmarks preserved on the Roman tiles.

We congratulate Samantha Leggett and Tomas Janek and look forward to the publication of their papers.

Cate Frieman

Chair of the European Association of Archaeologists’ Student Award Committee