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QUADRAT DTP: Climate Change in the Medieval Northern World and its impact on Respiratory Health

Project Description

A wealth of research using (Greenlandic) ice sheet cores, dendrochronology and dinoflagellate cysts have identified a period of profound climate change in medieval Europe: The Little Ice Age, which followed a time of elevated temperatures: The Medieval Warm Period. What is unclear is the effects this period of marked climate volatility (not dissimilar to the more global changes occurring today) had on communities living before, during and after both the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. Moreover, we have a limited understanding (Pfister and Brázdil 2006) of the regional effects of climate volatility: did it differentially affect coastal communities or inland populations for instance?

This project provides an opportunity for extensive research led training in both (1) identifying key geographic regions of Ireland and Scotland that had both significant populations and variable climatic change susceptibilities, and (2) assessing and analysing human biological responses and resilience to such climate volatility, for the most part assessing the human osteomeatal complex, paranasal sinuses, and mastoid for signs of pathology (e.g. mastoiditis, periostitis of the maxillary sinus floor, morphological changes to the septum, concha bullosa and cribriform plate anomalies) in addition to the ribs for signs of lower respiratory tract disease (e.g. periostitis). This work will be carried out both macroscopically and with the aid of endoscopy and CT scanning when assessing cranial structures. A growing literature on respiratory health in the past, as assayed through osteoarchaeological and palaeopathological approaches will be drawn on for contextualising this research (e.g. see literature reviewed in Gawlikowska-Sroka et al. 2013).

The project will be supervised by human skeletal biologists and osteoarchaeologists based in the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast who, collectively, have internationally recognised expertise and research excellence in researching human health from skeletal remains. Both the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast have research strengths in past climate change, with the expertise and capacity to both train and support the student in their Medieval period climate change reconstructions and modelling of targeted sites in Scotland and Ireland. Furthermore, the PhD advisory team in Aberdeen and Belfast has direct access to over 3,000 sets of human remains spanning the entirety of the Medieval period, including the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age periods of climate volatility.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Gawlikowska-Sroka, A., Kwiatkowska, B., DÄ…browski, P., Dzięciołowska-Baran, E., Szczurowski, J. and Nowakowski, D., 2013. Respiratory diseases in the late middle ages. Respiratory physiology & neurobiology, 187(1), pp.123-127.

Pfister, C. and Brázdil l, R., 2006. Social vulnerability to climate in the" Little Ice Age": an example from Central Europe in the early 1770s. Climate of the Past, 2(2), pp.115-129.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 13.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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