University of St Andrews


William Hiles

Photo of Will Hiles


Supervisors:  Dr Ian Lawson, Dr Richard Streeter & Dr Katherine Roucoux


Research Title

The palaeoecological impacts of the Norse settlement of Iceland: a palynological approach


Iceland was one of the last areas on earth to be settled by humans. For this reason, prior to settlement around AD 870 Iceland was a pristine, natural environment. When the Vikings colonised the island, they brought with them a suite of techniques, land use practices and domesticated animals developed and honed over millennia. Thus, upon settlement there were immediate, wide-ranging impacts on local ecosystems much more marginal than those the Norse were accustomed to working within. This project aims to use pollen analysis, alongside complementary proxies and within a tephrochronological framework, to assess the impacts of the settlement period on the vegetation of Iceland. 


I gained my undergraduate degree (BSc Geography) from the University of Birmingham in 2014, during which I developed an interest in the Quaternary as a time period and the ways in which past environments may be reconstructed. I pursued these interests in my masters degree (MSc Quaternary Science), awarded in 2015 by Royal Holloway, University of London. During this I focussed predominately on palaeoecological proxies, which culminated in a dissertation using pollen and diatom analysis to explore a late Holocene marine transgression in the Norfolk Broads and its effects on vegetation. During my masters, I was also awarded a student award by The Micropalaeontological Society for coursework in the module ‘Quaternary Microfossils’.

I am currently embarking on a three year PhD project funded by the St Andrews Department of Geography and Sustainable Development. My main interests include human impacts on the environment, particularly early human developments, and the concept of the Anthropocene. I am also interested in the calibration of palaeoecological data as a tool for more accurate and more quantitative palaeoenvironmental reconstructions.