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Peter Ryan


  • Lecturer in Geography (Teaching Focused), Geography

Accepting PhD Students

Personal profile


  • BSc Geography, University of Manchester, 1997
  • MSc Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy, University of Sheffield, 2001
  • PhD in Physical Geography, University of Manchester, 2006
  • Post-Doc, 2007: Iron Age landscape on Myerscough Abbey grounds, Isle of Man, with Centre for Manx Studies
  • Post-Doc, 2007-2009: Deforestation of Upland Britain, supported by AHRC
  • Teaching Fellow in Geography 2009-present

I read for my undergraduate degree at Manchester and then returned to do a PhD in 2002 and have been at Manchester ever since. I am currently a Teaching Fellow in Geography. My work focuses on the environmental impact of prehistoric people through the use of palaeoecology.

Research interests

Environmental impact of Late Mesolithic (hunter-gatherer) cultures

The degree to which Late Mesolithic groups manipulated their environment is the subject of much debate. It has been argued that these groups manipulated woodland through the use of fire in order to improve grazing and browse resources for wild animals. This would increase and concentrate the numbers of game animals and improve the chances of hunting success. My research uses palynology to try to elucidate the processes occurring within the woodland landscape at this time. In addition to the more traditional pollen and charcoal analyses, I also use the fungal spore record as some fungal types can be indicative of particular host plants, burnt substrates and animal dung and thus can provide important additional information and insights. 

The Deforestation of Upland Britain

Most of the uplands of the British Isles are now treeless landscapes. Tree remains preserved at the base of and within the peat deposits that cover much of these uplands indicate that this was not always the case. What processes brought about the deforestation? Climate change, edaphic change, disease, human impact or a combination of these? I have directed an archaeological excavation of a small area of palaeoforest preserved in the North York Moors in order to use the tree macrofossil remains to look for evidence of disease, ring-barking/cutting, fire scars and the dendroclimatological record preserved in the growth rings of the trees. From a peat monolith recovered from the side wall of the excavation trench I also analysed pollen, charcoal and fungal spores to try to match up the palaeoecological proxies. 

The transition from Mesolithic hunter-gathering to Neolithic farming in North-West Europe

The adoption of agriculture is one of the most important transitions in human history. The nature and timing of the transition is the subject of much debate were people or ideas the agents of change? Was agriculture brought by immigrant farming groups or was it an adaptation by the indigenous Mesolithic population? Records of early cereal-type pollen grains from Mesolithic-aged contexts hint at the possibility that cereals were first used by Mesolithic groups or by pioneer Neolithic groups that left no other trace in the archaeological record. Through the use of pollen, charcoal and fungal spore data, my research aims to establish if these early cereal-type pollen grains refer to domestic (rather than wild) grasses, and if so, do they reflect the cultivation and use of cereal crops.

Other teaching information

Year 1

Keswick Fieldtrip
GEOG 10301 - Introductory Tutorials
GEOG 11092 - Approaches to Research (Laboratory Skills)

Year 2

GEOG 20390 - Quaternary Environments and Geoarchaeology (with Jamie Woodward & William Fletcher) 
GEOG 20820 - Doing Geographical Research (Environmental Reconstruction and Environmental Monitoring Methods classes)
GEOG 20062 - Dissertation Tutorials
GEOG 20072 - Morocco Field Course

Year 3

GEOG 30950 - Coastal Processes (with Jeff Blackford & John Moore)
GEOG 30700 - Third Year Team Project

Further information

Recent presentations

2011: 'Neolithic environments at Y Godor, Berwyn Mountains, North Wales, UK' (with J. Blackford), XVIII INQUA-Congress, Bern, Switzerland, July

2010: NPPs as environmental indicators in a Neolithic landscape at Y Godor, Berwyn Mountains, North Wales (with J. Blackford & K. Adamson), 4th International Workshop on NPPs, Besançon, June

2009: Mesolithic landscape evolution: climatic change, human impact and the transition to farming (with J. Blackford, J. Innes & P. Rowley-Conwy), Research seminar at Manchester Metropolitan University, November

2009: Evidence for late Mesolithic cereal growing in the British Isles? Cereal-type pollen in post-fire disturbance phases (with J. Blackford J. Innes T. Mighall A. Hendry & P. Rowley-Conwy), Presented at the Geoarchaeology Conference, Sheffield, April

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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