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QUADRAT DTP: Environment, Diet and Oral Health in Early Historic Ireland and Scotland

Project Description

The environment in general, and climate in particular, are at times a catalyst for human resilience and adaptation. Notwithstanding, environmental and climatic variability can also have catastrophic effects for human health. In this PhD project, we test the hypothesis that human health tracks environmental and climatic variability. This project is osteologically driven and is primarily founded on a wealth of archaeological, human skeletal and dental series curated at the University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast. This project targets the role of the environment with respect to human health through consideration of past societies’ responses and adaptations to the impact of differential environmental conditions. Environmental (including climate) volatility is a vexed issue in the modern world, thus the implications of sea level rises, loss of habitable and arable land and the flow on effects of food and border security, with associated population packing, are of clear public interest. But to what degree, and in what manner, did environment variability, and volatility, influence human mobility, population stability, health, disease loads and behaviour in the past? In particular, what role did it play in the development of early historic communities in Scotland and Ireland?

Environment, both natural and human engineered, is the single most significant moderation of human health both now and in the past. A knowledge of the effects of environmental conditions, and change, on the health of early historic communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland has the potential to inform critical components of modern human health in the region. One aspect of human health that is particularly sensitive to a region’s underlying geochemistry, topography, climate (including volatility and change) and human manipulated landscape (e.g. urban v. rural settings) is oral health.

This project aims to examine the interplay between a range of environmental variables (including broadly defined geochemical landscapes, topography and geography, e.g. plains v uplands, and rural v urban settings), which combine to influence subsistence patterns and thus diet, which in turn inform both the demographic characteristics of communities and their oral health. Core oral health variables targeted will include dental caries, antemortem tooth loss, periodontal disease, periapical abscesses and alveolar defects (Kinaston et al. 2019).

In terms of research training, the University of Aberdeen is home to Scotland’s most prestigious geosciences school, with the expertise and capacity to both train and support the student in their palaeoenvironmental reconstructions and modelling. Aberdeen and Queens have extensive experience and considerable internationally recognised expertise in researching health in ancient populations, providing the best possible training in this area. Moreover, given recent research suggesting a link between oral health outcomes and fertility rates (associated with population growth and decline), a substantive component of this project will involve modelling historic demographic patterns, supported by researchers from the Centre for Palaeodemography and Paleoepidemiology (CPP 2019).


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 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.


CPP 2019.

Kinaston, R., Willis, A., Miszkiewicz, J.J., Tromp, M. and Oxenham, M.F., 2019. The Dentition: Development, Disturbances, Disease, Diet, and Chemistry. In Ortner's Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains (pp. 749-797). Academic Press.

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)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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