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Marie Curie Researcher: ChemArch: Tracking cereal processing in Neolithic pottery (York/Barcelona) - ESR7

Department of Chemistry

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Dr K Penkman , Prof J E Thomas-Oates No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
York United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Analytical Chemistry Archaeological Science Archaeology Data Analysis Environmental Chemistry Geochemistry

About the Project

Cereals were the backbone of Neolithic agriculture in Europe, but their relative contribution to regional culinary practices is a matter of debate. Ceramic vessels are the most widely available cultural archives for addressing the importance of cereals in early food production systems. However one of the challenges in identifying cereal remains in ceramic artefacts lies in their relatively low content of chemically-stable lipid compounds. We have recently demonstrated that alkylresorcinols, a class of lipids typically associated with cereal grains, can survive in archaeological residues from cold climates (Alps) and possibly also in anaerobic conditions (waterlogged environments). These discoveries provide the impetus for exploring the presence of alkylresorcinols in ceramic artefacts from conventional archaeological contexts, including caves and open air sites. The aims of this project are to 1) experimentally model the degradation of alkylresorcinols in ceramic artefacts during cooking and in burial environments; 2) investigate the survival of these compounds in distinct archaeological contexts dated from the Neolithic (cave and open air) in the NE Iberian Peninsula; and 3) explore the implications for the spread and use of cereal grains in prehistoric southern Europe and Mediterranean region.

The PhD project will be based at the University of York (UK) for 2 years, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain) for 1 year. The supervisory team is André Carlo Colonese (Universidad Autonòma de Barcelona), Kirsty Penkman (University of York) and Jane Thomas-Oates (University of York). The successful candidate will work with mass spectrometric approaches (GC, GCMS) (Colonese, UAB), in combination with liquid chromatographic separations at the University of York (Penkman, Thomas-Oates). You will learn how to perform cooking experiments to model the degradation of cereal biomarkers and to integrate biomolecular data within archaeological information to deliver results to a broad audience (public, academics). The student will have the opportunity to be seconded at Archaeological Museum of Catalonia (MAC) with Ramon Buxo to undertake training in curatorial practices and carry out sampling of ceramic artefacts.

This PhD studentship is part of the ChemArch international doctoral training network, which is focused on the chemistry and molecular biology of prehistoric artefacts. The aim of the network is to undertake doctoral training to create the next generation of artefact scientists, and the advanced training will include: training 'on the job' with museums and with industry partners; peer to peer learning; making the most of online collaborative learning tools; training in outreach by professionals; putting your future first with bespoke career planning; and five 'pan-network workshops' in London, Nice, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

Important eligibility criteria:

  • Mobility rule: on 1 September 2021 you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the UK for more than 12 months in the preceding 3 years. Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays are not considered.
  • Further eligibility criteria: To be eligible for this role you must, on 1 September 2021 be in the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of your research career and have not been awarded a doctoral
  • Qualifications: Please note that in order to register for a doctorate at the second university you must fulfil their eligibility requirements for a Master’s level qualification Chemistry, heritage science, archaeology, or the biological or environmental sciences. You should also hold a Undergraduate degree in Chemistry (or related relevant subject such as heritage conservation science, archaeological, biological or environmental sciences); minimum 2:1 or equivalent grade. Please check the entry requirements for your country:
  • Applicants who do not have English as their first language will need to meet or exceed the requirements for PhD entry:

Additionally, all Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills.

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:

For more information about the project, application process or funding, see: or click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. 

This PhD will start on 1 September 2021.  

Funding Notes

The project “ChemArch: The organic chemistry and molecular biology of archaeological artefacts” is funded by the European Commission under its Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. The consortium provides 15 funded PhD positions, 5 of which are at York. PhD students on this scheme are employed as Marie Curies Early Stage Researchers and paid a salary for 36 months. The full time salary for this project is £41,570 or £45,470 per annum (depending on family). You must meet the important eligibility criteria (see project description).

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