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QUADRAT DTP: Human-Animal-Environmental Interactions at Late Medieval Religious Foundations in Ulster

   School of Natural and Built Environment

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  Prof Eileen Murphy, Prof Kate Britton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The aim of the project is to apply a multi-proxy approach that combines zooarchaeological and multi-isotope analytical techniques, to provide a more nuanced understanding of the human-animal-environment interactions that enabled key religious houses to function in Late Medieval Ulster.

The Church in Medieval Ireland underwent a period of reorganisation in the 12th century, with the introduction of a diocesan structure across the island and new reformed religious orders such as the Cistercians at Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth, in 1142. This reform process received amplification in the last decades of the century with the arrival of Anglo-Norman adventurers in the east and south of Ireland in the years after 1169 and a range of new orders became established with cloister-based complexes becoming the primary form of monasticism across the island. Five of the main monastic orders present in Late Medieval Ireland will be included in the project and selected sites will include St. Mary’s, Devenish Island, Co. Fermanagh (Augustinian); Cathedral Hill, Downpatrick, Co. Down (Benedictine); Newry Abbey, Co. Down (Cistercian); Bishopsgate Priory, Coleraine, Co. L’Derry (Dominican) and Massereene Friary, Co. Antrim (Franciscan).

Substantial zooarchaeological assemblages from these sites are curated within the Historic Environment Division, Department of Communities, but many have either never been analysed or were studied during the 1950s when techniques were only developing. Understanding of human-animal-environment interactions is often forgotten in archaeological narratives for this reason but yet would have been crucial for ensuring the survival and sustainability of these communities. The local environment of each of these establishments would have provided the resources necessary for survival but is also directly connected to the main stressors faced by a population and by extension their animals.

Zooarchaeological analysis will enable the profile of animals exploited at each foundation to be determined in relation to composition of the main domestic herds which will have been directly related to the associated environment. Analysis of sex and age ratios will ascertain how the animals were being utilised and whether the focus of livestock farming practices was for meat, milk and/or additional secondary products. Investigation of animal palaeopathology will provide further information on human-animal interactions and potential environmental stressors. The study of Strontium, Oxygen, Sulphur, Carbon and Nitrogen isotopes from the faunal assemblages will enable an investigation of livestock mobility in addition to assessment of the husbandry methods used at the different foundations.

The project will enrich archaeological narratives by bringing understanding of human-animal-environment interactions at these high-profile archaeological sites to the fore. It will also feed into current debates concerning the impact of livestock husbandry on the environment and climate in addition to sustainable farming practices.

Candidate Background: The successful candidate should have: (i) Practical experience of zooarchaeological analysis on mammal bones; (ii) knowledge of Irish Medieval archaeology; (iii) understanding of isotopic analysis. Practical experience of processing samples for isotopic analysis and experience of undertaking isotopic analysis on zooarchaeological material is desirable, but not essential.

More project details are available here:

How to apply: 

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and overseas candidates. Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Fees (home rate tuition fees and/or fee waiver for overseas fees, where applicable)
• Research and training costs
For further information before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:

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