Dr Rhys Timms

Research interests

Quaternary geology, Geochronology, Tephrochronology, Palaeoclimatology, Human evolution

I am a physical geographer specialising in Quaternary geology and geochronology. My research interests revolve around three main themes: 1) the development and interdisciplinary application of tephrostratigraphic frameworks; 2) the study of abrupt climatic and environmental change, and; 3) the roll of climatic and geomorphic change in early Human development and dispersal.

To date, my research has been focused on NW Europe, the Southern Caucasus and the Levant where I have been investigating how periods of climatic and environmental change influence landscape dynamics and the human populations which occupy them. One of the key issues when studying past events is determining precisely when they occurred. I have therefore specialised in geochronology and in particular, (crypto-)tephrochronology; a technique which exploits the isochronous potential of volcanic ash layers. Deposition of volcanic ash or '(crypto-)tephra' in climate, environmental and archaeological records can be considered geologically ‘instantaneous’, thus tracing tephras to different archives allows these valuable records to be stratigraphically tied, and dated, with a precision atypical of other geochronological methods.


Current Research Projects

Developing a refined tephrostratigraphic framework for the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition (c. 16-8 ka BP), and constraining abrupt climatic oscillations in the British Isles using high resolution (tephro-)chronologies.

The number and stratigraphic resolution of palaeoenvironmental records that span the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition (LGIT, c. 16-8 ka BP) means that it is one of the best periods in Earth's history for understanding the mechanisms behind abrupt climatic change, as well as the environmental and archaeological response. In NW Europe (crypto-)tephra layers of varying age and provenance have become increasing utilised as a means to correlate palaeoclimate records, and to test the spatial and temporal synchronicity of key climatic transitions (see for example work from the INTIMATE community - INTegration of Ice-core, MArine, and TErrestrial palaeoclimate records).

 This project specifically aims to:

  • Refine the tephrostratigraphic record in the British Isles and NW Europe (a region in which these abrupt climatic changes have been well documented).
  • Improve the current age estimates for cryptotephra included within the regional framework
  • Couple tephrostratigraphic investigations with high-resolution palaeoenvironmental reconstructions to answer questions concerning the timing, phasing and magnitude of climatic events.


Project: Pleistocene Archaeology, Geochronology and Environment of the Southern Caucasus (PAGES)

The Southern Caucasus (modern day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) currently host some of the earliest human fossils outside of Africa, making it an extremely important location for understanding Homo sp. dispersal 'out of Africa'. Despite this, the timing of human dispersal, and the mechanisms behind human migrations into the region are not particularly well constrained. The aim of the PAGES project is to:

  • Understand the stratigraphic link between archaeological sites through detailed geological mapping and the geochemical and petrological characterisation of volcanic deposits.
  • Produce independent chronologies for key deposits and archaeological sequences through 40Ar/39Ar geochronology and tephrochronology.
  • Reconstruct past environmental and climatic changes in the region through detailed sedimentological and environmental proxy investigation of key sequences.
  • Provide an environmental context to early human occupation in the region.


Educational background

2012 - 2016
: PhD, Quaternary Science, Royal Holloway University of London

2010 - 2011: MSc, Climate and Environmental Change, Coventry University

2008 - 2009: Earth Science/Geoscience, University of Iceland

2007 - 2010: BSc (Hons), Physical Geography, Coventry University


Quaternary Research Association (QRA)

International Focus Group on Tephrochronology (INTAV)

Integrating Ice core, Marine, and Terrestrial records (INTIMATE)

Pleistocene Archaeology, Geochronology and Environment of the Southern Caucasus (PAGES)

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