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Bridging Europe: A Quaternary Timescale For The Expansion And Evolution of Humans

Department of Chemistry

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Dr K Penkman No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
York United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Climate Science Geochemistry Geography Palaeontology

About the Project

Timing is everything: accurate dating of the geological record is essential to an understanding of our planet’s history, but beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating (~50,000 years) material becomes difficult to date. During the Quaternary (the last 2.6 million years) we have had dramatic global climate change, and Europe would have seen periodic ice sheet expansion and contraction, impacting on plant and animal communities, likely driving technological adaptations and the evolution and migration of human populations. Setting the archaeological record at the centre of this chronology, the ERC-funded EQuaTe project ( is using recent advances in two dating techniques: amino acid geochronology (at York) and thermoluminescence dating of biogenic calcite (at Aberystwyth). This multidisciplinary and international team will apply these two techniques on commonly-occuring fossils to establish a dating framework for the European Palaeolithic, a European Quaternary Timescale, EQuaTe. This will provide the foundations for a pan-European integration of this record, providing insights into the dynamics of human populations, and their response to changes in climate. This rich palaeoenvironmental record is also vital for testing the usefulness of climate models to predict future climate change.

By focusing on a range of different biominerals (mollusc opercula, shells and plates, ostracods, foraminifera, tooth enamel etc.), this PhD will exploit recent dating advances to develop a chronology for Europe. The PhD student will be based at the University of York, primarily working on amino acid geochronology and with a focus on the impacts of regional temperatures on the relevant reactions. They will integrate the amino acid geochronology with the TL chronology, and develop the interpretations of the ages in relation to the archaeology.

The project (based in the NERC-recognised amino acid facility at the University of York) offers an enviable range of multidisciplinary training; the student will gain hands-on expertise in state-of-the-art techniques for analytical method development, as well as experience of fieldwork and sampling approaches. Depending on existing expertise, the successful applicant will receive training in chromatography (and other analytical techniques such as mass spectrometry, microscopy, spectroscopy & X-ray diffraction), dating methods, palaeoclimate and Palaeolithic archaeology. The student will join a vibrant research grouping with expertise in geochemistry, analytical chemistry, geochronology Palaeolithic archaeology, Quaternary science, palaeoenvironment and climate change. The preparative and analytical skills developed will be a great strength in any field of chemistry, but due to the inter-disciplinary nature of this research, the Chemistry- based student will benefit from additional training in palaeoenvironmental techniques. The student will be fully supported by the project team in archaeological, geological and geochemical aspects of the project.

All Chemistry PhD students follow our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills. All research students take the core training package which provides both a grounding in the skills required for their research, and transferable skills to enhance employability opportunities following graduation. Core training is progressive and takes place at appropriate points throughout a student's higher degree programme, with the majority of training taking place in Year 1. In conjunction with the Core training, students (in consultation with their supervisor), select training related to the area of their research, which can include material offered by other departments at the University of York.

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry, Earth/Environmental Sciences, Biomolecular Archaeology or a closely-related subject. Students from certain countries may also require a Master's degree.  Please check the entry requirements for your country:

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

This PhD is expected to start on 1 October 2021, however an earlier start date is possible if the candidate is available.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the European Research Council. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3 years. The funding includes:
 Tax-free annual “UKRI level” stipend (£15,285 full time for 2020/21)
 UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
 Research support and training charges
International candidates (including from the EU) will be considered. From 1 August 2021, EU students will be charged fees at the overseas rate. If a student was appointed where overseas fees were charged, the fee difference would need to be covered from other sources. Overseas tuition fees for 2021 entry are £22,250.
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