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Dr Becky Briant

Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography

BA Geography (Cambridge)
MSc Quaternary Science (Royal Holloway)
PhD Quaternary River Systems (Cambridge)


  • Becky is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography with a specific focus on Quaternary Science. She works on Quaternary palaeoevironments, river activity, modelling and dating techniques. She is the Meetings Officer for the Quaternary Research Association and also involved in the Fluvial Archives Group (FLAG) and FACSIMILE (Field And Computer SIMulation in Landscape Evolution) network.
  • She joined Birkbeck in 2008, having held lectureships previously at Queen Mary, University of London and at Kings College, London since 2003. Prior to this, she was an English Heritage funded PDRA in 2003 and did a PhD in Cambridge 1998-2002.

Research interests

  • I am an expert in Quaternary palaeoenvironments, with particular interests in sediment dating methods (OSL, radiocarbon), fluvial sequences and integrating geological data with numerical modelling. I am currently working on improving radiocarbon pretreatments on plant material, which is both important and timely, and supported by a NERC Radiocarbon Facilities Grant, in collaboration with Dr Harry Langford (Geography, Birkbeck), Dr Fiona Brock (Cranfield Forensic Institute) and Professor Danielle Schreve (Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London). Our 2018 paper on this can be found here: and a summary of why the work is important here: We are currently actively seeking funding to use this approach to build a more chronologically robust framework of environmental change during the neanderthal-modern human transition in Britain, France and the Netherlands.
  • I am also working with numerous European colleagues to better integrate numerical computer modelling and geological records within the FACSIMILE network (Field And Computer SIMulation In Landscape Evolution): We have both a joint comparison project ongoing, and individual collaborations such as mine with Professor John Wainwright (Geography, Durham) and Professor Darrel Maddy (Geography, Newcastle) developing the CLEOPATRA model to include periglacial processes, enabling modelling of temperate zones over glacial-interglacial cycles (2010 Natural England ALSF grant, £20,000, Briant, Wainwright, Maddy, in press).
  • In addition, I have a long-standing interest in the intersection of coastal and fluvial systems along the south coast of England (Bates et al., 2010, in review), and am working with colleagues from Earth and Planetary Sciences in Birkbeck (Professor Gerald Roberts and his students) to apply an approach developed on rapidly uplifting coastlines to these lower uplift settings to better constrain highstand timing in this region.
  • I have recently started collaborating with an Iraqi colleague, Dr Ismael Al-Ameri (University of Baghdad, on the Holocene evolution of the Arabian Gulf.


    • I teach the following modules:
      • Climate Change (Master's Level)
      • Landscape Change: Past and Future (Year 3/4 undergraduate level)

    PhD/MPhil Supervision

    • I am interested in supervising in the areas of Quaternary palaeoenvironments, river behaviour and dating techniques and am happy to receive suggestions for projects in these topics in both Britain and Iraq.
    • Specific topics proposed are:
    • EQuaTE – Building a European Quaternary timescale based on AAR analyses
      • Primary Supervisor: Dr Becky Briant
      • Co-supervisor: Dr Kirsty Penkman, Department of Chemistry, University of York
    • The Quaternary period (the last 2.6 million years) is characterized by significant climatic oscillations, switching between intense cold periods and warm interglacials. Despite the European Quaternary geological records being extensively studied (providing a detailed history of these climatic and environmental changes), they have little meaning without a secure chronology, and direct dating of fossil material is extremely difficult beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating (c. 40,000 years). The student will use recent advances in amino acid geochronology, pioneered on the British record, e.g. Penkman et al. (2011, Nature), to construct this essential chronology for the interglacials of the European Pleistocene.
    • Key to the approach is the discovery that commonly occurring calcitic biominerals (snail opercula) provide a closed system repository for amino acids over Quaternary timescales. The amino-acid based chronology that will be constructed in this PhD project, will refine our understanding of European palaeoenvironments over the last 2 Ma, across a transect from Britain to the Black Sea. The student will analyse archive material from sites that have already been identified in which opercula are abundant. The project will provide a secure interglacial chronology for Europe, enabling clearer understanding of the differences between different interglacial events, often used as analogues for future climate change. It will also inform key archaeological debates about factors driving human population movements during the Pleistocene.
    • Reconstructing multiple high sea level events of the Celtic Sea, Bristol Channel and the Channel – the records from southwest England and south Wales
    • Primary Supervisor: Dr Becky Briant
    • Co-supervisors:
      • Professor Gerald Roberts, Dept of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck
      • Dr Matt Telfer, Dept of Geography, University of Plymouth
      • Dr Chris Rolfe, Dept of Geography, University of Cambridge
    • Determining the age of raised beach sequences adjacent to the Channel is crucial in understanding the evolution of the landscape in this region, which has significant implications for the movement of hominins. Such sequences are hard to date reliably, although recent application of OSL dating shows promise where suitable material is available. The synchronous correlation approach, pioneered on rapidly uplifting coastlines, allows raised beach sequences with incomplete dating to be considered as a whole, providing age estimates even for sequences where direct dating is not possible, by using dated sequences as tie-points and knowledge of globally varying sea levels to predict which highstand events will be preserved. Recent application of this approach to the lower uplift rate coasts of Cotentin (France) and Sussex (England) has successfully suggested age estimates for previously enigmatic sequences. Further west within the Channel system, in southwest England and south Wales, there are multiple raised beach deposits of often uncertain age that this approach could more effectively date. In this project, the student will digitally collate using a GIS published records from these beaches (including recent OSL dating by Matt Telfer in Plymouth [external co-supervisor]), undertake fieldwork on yet to be revisited sequences, use OSL dating (as a visitor in Plymouth) to date those sequences where suitable material is available and use the synchronous correlation approach to generate a new age model for this region. This work will be of value to geologists and archaeologists interested in the co-evolution of landscape and human activity in this region.
    • Currently supervising:
      • Marco Meschis: Quantifying rates of active extension and seismic hazard in the upper plate of subduction zones. (Primary Supervisor, Professor Gerald Roberts, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck)
    • Completed:
      • Marcus Hatch: The Pleistocene Solent River and its major tributaries. (Primary Supervisor, Professor Simon Lewis, Geography, Queen Mary, University of London)
      • Marzhan Tleubayeva: Analysis of sustainable development in transitional economies: case studies of Kazakhstan and Russia. (Primary Supervisor, Dr Sian Sullivan, Geography, Birkbeck)


    • Journal Articles
      • Briant, R.M., Wainwright, J., Maddy, D. (in press). Increasing resolution in understanding climatic control of Quaternary river system activity. Geomorphology – Binghamton Symposium special issue.
      • Briant, R.M., Cohen, K.M., Cordier, S., Demoulin, A., Macklin, M.G., Maddy, D., Mather, A., Rixhon, G., Veldkamp, A., Wainwright, J., Whittaker, A., Wittmann, H. (2018). Applying Pattern Oriented Sampling in current fieldwork practice to enable more effective model evaluation in fluvial landscape evolution research. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
      • Briant, R.M., Brock, F., Langford, H.E. DeMarchi, B., Penkman, K.E.H., Schreve, D.C., Schwenninger, J-L. 2018. Improving chronological control for environmental sequences from the last glacial period. Quaternary Geochronology 43, 40-49.
      • Langford, H.E., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Horne, D.J., Penkman, K.E.H., Schreve, D.C., Whitehouse, N., Whittaker, J., 2017. Evidence for the early onset of the Ipswichian thermal optimum: palaeoecology of Last Interglacial deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Journal of the Geological Society, 174, 988-1003.
      • Chauhan, P., Bridgland, D., Moncel, M.-H., Antoine, P., Bahain, J.-J., Briant, R.M., Cunha, P., Locht, J.-L., Martins, A., Schreve, D., Shaw, A., Voinchet, P., Westaway, R., White, M., White, T., Limondin-Lozouet, N. and Despriée, J. (2017) Fluvial deposits as an archive of early human activity: progress during the 20 years of the Fluvial Archives Group. Quaternary Science Reviews 166, 114-149.
      • Rixhon, G., Briant, R.M., Cordier, S., Duval, M., Jones, A. and Scholz, D. (2017). Revealing the pace of river landscape evolution during the Quaternary: recent developments in numerical dating methods. Quaternary Science Reviews 166, 91-113.
      • Hatch, M., Davis, R.J., Lewis, S.G., Ashton, N., Lukas, S. and Briant, R.M. (2017). The stratigraphy and chronology of the Pleistocene fluvial sediments at Warsash, Hampshire, UK: implications for the terrace stratigraphy and Palaeolithic archaeology of the River Test. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 128, 198-221.
      • Cordier, S., Briant, R.M., Bridgland, D., Herget, J., Maddy, D., Mather, A. and Vandenberghe, J. (2017). The Fluvial Archives Group: 20 years of research connecting fluvial geomorphology and palaeoenvironments. Quaternary Science Reviews 166, 1-9.
      • Langford, H.E., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Horne, D.J., Schreve, D.C., Whittaker, J.E., Whitehouse, N.J. (2014). Middle to Late Pleistocene palaeoecological reconstructions and palaeotemperature estimates for cold/cool stage deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Quaternary International, 341, 6-26.
      • Thomas, M., Sullivan, S. and Briant, B. (2013) Sustainability and development in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern European countries. International Journal of Sustainable Human Development, 1(4), 163-176.
      • Roberts, G.P., Meschis, M., Houghton, S., Underwood, C., Briant, R.M. (2013). The implications of revised Quaternary palaeoshoreline chronologies for the rates of active extension and uplift in the upper plate of subduction zones. Quaternary Science Reviews 78, 169-187.
      • Mann, S., Briant, R.M. and Gibin, M. (2014). Spatial determinants of local government action on climate change: an analysis of local authorities in England. Local Environment 19(8), 837-867 DOI:10.1080/13549839.2013.798633
      • Briant. R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Coope, G.R., Field, M.H., Wenban-Smith, F.F. ad Whittaker, J.E. (2013). Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction from a decalcified interglacial sequence in the former Solent river system at St Leonard's Farm, Hampshire, England. Quaternary Newsletter 130, 23-40.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Schwenninger, J-L. & Wenban-Smith, F.F., 2012. Terrace reconstruction and long profile projection: a case study from the Solent river system near Southampton, England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123 438–449.
      • Briant, R.M., Keen, D.H., Kilfeather, A.A., Parfitt, S., Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Roe, H.M., Schwenninger, J-L, Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2012. Integrated chronological control on an archaeologically significant Pleistocene river terrace sequence: the Thames-Medway, eastern Essex, England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 123, 87–108. doi:10.1016/j.pgeola.2011.07.008.
      • Roe, H.M., Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Briant, R.M., Wenban-Smith, F.F., 2011. Evolution of the Thames estuary during MIS 9: insights from the Shoeburyness area, Essex.Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 122, 397-418.
      • Bates, M.R., Briant, R.M., Rhodes, E.J., Schwenninger, J-L. & Whittaker, J.E. 2010. A new chronological framework for Middle and Upper Pleistocene landscape evolution in the Sussex/Hampshire Coastal Corridor. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 121, 369-392.
      • Briant, R.M. & Bateman, M.D., 2009. Luminescence dating indicates radiocarbon age under-estimation in Late Pleistocene fluvial deposits from eastern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 24, 916-927. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.1258.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. & Gibbard, P.L. 2008. Limits to resolving catastrophic events in the Quaternary fluvial record: a case study from the Nene valley, Northamptonshire, UK. In: Gallagher, K., Jones, S.J. & Wainwright, J. (eds) Landscape Evolution: Denudation, Climate and Tectonics Over Different Time and Space Scales.Geological Society, London, Special Publications 296, 79-104.
      • Bates, M.R., Bates, C.R. & Briant, R.M. 2007. Bridging the Gap: a terrestrial view of shallow marine sequences and the importance of the transition zone. Journal of Archaeological Science.34, 1537-1551.
      • Gao, C., Boreham, S., Gibbard, P.L., Preece, R.C. & Briant, R.M. 2007. Fluvial response to rapid climate change during the Devensian (Weichselian) Lateglacial in the River Great Ouse, southern England, UK. Sedimentary Geology 202, 193-210.
      • Langford, H.E., Bateman, M.D., Penkman, K.E.H., Boreham, S., Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. and Keen, D.H. 2007. Age-estimate evidence for Middle-Late Pleistocene aggradation of River Nene 1st Terrace deposits at Whittlesey, eastern England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 118, 238-300.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Schwenninger, J-L & Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2006a. A long optically-stimulated luminescence dated Middle to Late Pleistocene fluvial sequence from the western Solent Basin, southern England. Journal of Quaternary Science 21, 507-523.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Wenban-Smith, F.F. & Whittaker, J. 2006b. Re-investigation of interglacial sediments at Stone Point, Lepe Country Park, Hampshire.Quaternary Newsletter 108, 43-51.
      • Briant, R.M., Bateman, M.D., Coope, G.R. & Gibbard, P.L. 2005. Climatic control on Quaternary fluvial sedimentology: a Fenland Basin river in England. Sedimentology 52, 1397-1424.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Preece, R.C. and Gibbard, P.L. 2004a. The Upper Pleistocene deposits at Deeping St James, Lincolnshire: evidence for Early Devensian fluvial sedimentation. Quaternaire 15, 5-15.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Preece, R.C., Keen, D.H., Boreham, S., Griffiths, H.I., Seddon, M.B. and Gibbard, P.L. 2004b. Fluvial response to Late Devensian aridity, Baston, Lincolnshire, England. Journal of Quaternary Science, 19, 479-495.
      • Van Huissteden, J. (Ko), Gibbard, P.L., and Briant, R.M., 2001. Periglacial fluvial systems in northwest Europe during Marine Isotope Stages 4 and 3. Quaternary International, 79,75-88.
      • Briant, R.M., Rose, J., Branch, N.P. and Lee, J.A., 1999. 'Pre-glacial' Quaternary sediments from Trimingham, North Norfolk, England. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk, 49, 15-47.
    • Books
      • Briant, R. M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. 2009. The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guilde, Quaternary Research Association, London
      • Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds) 2004a. Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association
    • Book Chapters
      • Bates, M.R., Bates, C.R., Briant, R.M., Gibbard, P.L., Glaister, C., Jones, S., Meijer, T., Penkman, K.E.H., Schwenninger, J-L., Walker, M.J.C., Wenban-Smith, F.F., Whittaker, J.E., 2017. Chapter 2. The Quaternary evolution of the Lower Medway: new evidence from beneath the floodplain. In: Dawkes, G., 2017. Between Thames and Medway: archaeological excavations on the Hoo peninsula and its environs. p. 9-63. SpoilHeap Monograph 13. SpoilHeap Publications (Archaeology South-East and Surrey County Archaeological Unit)
      • Bates, M.R. and Briant, R.M., 2009. Quaternary sediments of the Sussex/Hampshire Coastal Corridor. In:Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 21-41.
      • Briant, R.M., Wenban-Smith, F.F. and Schwenninger, J-L, 2009b. Solent river gravels at Barton on Sea, Hampshire SZ 230 930. In: Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 161-170.
      • Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Boreham, S., Cameron, N.G., Coope, G.R., Field, M.H., Keen, D.H., Simons, R.M.J., Schwenninger, J-L, Wenban-Smith, F.F. and Whittaker, J.E., 2009c. Gravels and interglacial sediments at Stone Point Site of Special Scientific Interest, Lepe Country Park, Hampshire. In: Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches.Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 171-188.
      • Briant, R.M., and Schwenninger, J-L, 2009. Solent river gravels at Badminston Farm, Hampshire SU 463 019. In:Briant, R.M., Bates, M.R., Hosfield, R.T. and Wenban-Smith, F.F. (2009). The Quaternary of the Solent Basin and West Sussex Raised Beaches. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p. 189-197.
      • Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. 2004b. Post-Anglian Pleistocene deposits of the Peterborough area and the Pleistocene history of the Fen Basin. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.22-35.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R. and Bateman, M.D. 2004c. Pode Hole Quarry, Thorney (TF261033 - TF265033): Early Devensian sands and gravels. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.130-144.
      • Briant, R.M., Coope, G.R., Bateman, M.D. and Griffiths, H.I. 2004d. Eye Quarry (TF273023 - TF240021): Early Devensian sands and gravels. In: Langford, H.E. and Briant, R.M. (eds). Nene Valley. Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, p.116-129.
      • Briant, R.M., Rose, J., Branch, N.P. 2000. Trimingham (TG 277391 - TG274393): Pre-glacial coastal sands, gravels and organic muds. In: Lewis, S.G., Whiteman, C.A., and Preece, R.C. (eds): The Quaternary of Norfolk and Suffolk Field Guide, p. 85-90. Quaternary Research Association, London
    • Other Written Output


    • I have published the longest OSL-dated terrace sequence in Europe (Briant et al., 2006) and undertaken pioneering work in the comparison of OSL and radiocarbon dating on plant macrofossils (Briant and Bateman, 2009).

    Contact details

    + 44 (0)20 3073 8444