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Multi-method development of dental taphonomy in forensic anthropology

   Faculty of Natural Sciences

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  Dr Chris Aris, Dr V G Heaton  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This studentship proposes to develop a new line of research in dental taphonomy, developing and implementing novel methods by combining both outdooor and indoor laboratory techniques to examine dental morphology, development and bacterial invasion. The overarching aim of this part of the project is to identify the patterns of dental diagenesis after burial or submersion, investigating at the macro-, micro-, and nano-scales, considering multiple different burial conditions.

Taphonomy is the study of organic decomposition and fossilisation. In a forensic context, taphonomy enables us to understand how different environments affect the human decomposition process and ultimately allows us to reconstruct what has happened to a body post-mortem. While still a relatively new forensic discipline, current forensic taphonomy research underpins our ability to provide post-mortem intervals, differentiate between natural, scavenging, or deliberate post-mortem movement, and distinguish natural alterations from ante-, peri-, and post-mortem traumas. It is therefore a vital addition to death investigations.

This aims to pioneer a new line of explorative forensic taphonomy research, investigating the reconstruction of post-mortem decomposition in both skeletal and dental tissues using a multi-scale approach. Outdoor facilities at Keele University will be used to generate simulated clandestine graves (terrestrial and aquatic). Cutting-edge analytical and imaging techniques will be used to identify and measure the decomposition and diagenesis of teeth and bone from the macroscale to the nanoscale. These include 3D scanning, biomedical imaging, thin-section histology, microscopy, spectrometry, X-ray fluorescence, and X-ray diffraction.

To submit a formal application please go to and click the Apply button in this studentship.

Please note you do NOT need to submit a research proposal as this is a studentship.

Please state FNS_CAOctober 2022 on your application.

Eligibility Criteria

Essential: Qualification, experience and skills

Upper 2nd or 1st class Bachelors degree in biological anthropology, forensic science, or similar field

Masters level qualification in biological anthropology, forensic science, or similar field OR equivalent experience in the same fields

Experience handling modern and/or archaeological human remains


Experience undertaking research in the areas of biological anthropology, forensic anthropology, and/or taphonomy

Experience communicating research in conference settings

Experience conducting research using animal remains

Experience conducting research on human dentition

Understanding of the ethical practices of handling human and animal remains, and relevant Human Tissue Act guidelines

Attitude and Personality

Ability and willingness to undertake advanced research study at a PhD level

Excellent communication, interpersonal, and organisational skills

Willingness to learn new theoretical and practical science skills and commitment to ongoing personal training

Willingness to conduct research as a part of a research team including other graduate researchers

Willingness to conduct research in outdoor environments and conduct fieldwork involving taphonomy and handling animal and human remains

Willingness to learn to, and work towards, publishing research during PhD studies

Ability to work both independently and as part of a team

Evidence of organizational and time management skills

Skills in planning research work

Funding Notes

3 years tuition fees at home level.
Stipend for 3 years at UKRI rate. Stipend for spring 2023/4 is set in spring.
Source of funding: School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Keele University
UK nationals are eligible for full funding (tuition fees and stipend at Research Council rates). Keele University will also consider covering the cost of additional international tuition fees and therefore non-UK students are also encouraged to apply.
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