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QUADRAT DTP: Landscapes of Production: Exploring the Palaeaoenvironmental Context of Stone Tool Quarrying, Manufacture, Use and Deposition on Neolithic Shetland

Project Description

The Landscapes of Production project will explore the palaeoenvironmental context of felsite tool quarrying in Neolithic Shetland. Shetland is the northernmost part of Europe where agriculture was practised during the Neolithic, and shortly after arriving on Shetland in the early 4th millennia BC, people began to quarry and manufacture polished stone tools on an impressive scale (Cooney et al 2019). The preservation of these quarries is unprecedented, yet we know little about wider Early Neolithic society. The project will address this gap by using geospatial and palaeaoenvironmental analysis to explore the environmental context of these artefacts, including important questions surrounding the function of tools, and the rate and timing of deforestation during the Neolithic period.

The project will have three work packages:

1) Data Collation and synthesis: This step will involve the collation of existing archaeological and palaeoecological data into a geospatial database, and comparing these to similar datasets on Orkney and The Western Isles. The geospatial component will form the data management backbone of the project

2) Data collection and fieldwork: Palaeoenvironmental data for Shetland focuses largely on Mainland. The small number of cores from elsewhere on the island suggest differing patterns of deforestation and landscape change in Prehistory (Edwards et al. 2005). Given the incredibly rich prehistoric archaeological record on Shetland, there are still relatively few detailed palaeoenvironmental studies of vegetation and landscape change. This step will involve the collection of cores at two contemporary Neolithic sites associate with felsite tools at Modesty (settlement) and on Ronas Hill (quarry). Pollen analysis and associated proxies (e.g. microscopic charcoal, non-pollen palynomorphs, and sediment geochemistry) will be combined with 14C dating to produce new high-resolution records of vegetation and landscape change for these areas, with specific focus on the Neolithic period.

3) Data management and analysis: This step will use data on archaeology and palaeoecology collected in step 1 and new palaeoecological data collected in step 2, to explore ways to model this relationship in past landscapes, using spatial statistics and land-use modelling approaches. It will then identify significant relationships between landscape change and archaeological activity.

Research training

Applicants will be expected to have some background in palaeoecology and/ or archaeology. The project will include training in necessary skills including geospatial data management, spatial, analysis, fieldwork and palaeaoenvironmental techniques. There is also an opportunity to work with Geopark Shetland on heritage mapping and communication.


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 ‘Visit Website’ 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.



Cooney, G., Megarry, W., Markham, M., Gilhooly, B., O’Neill, B., Gaffrey, J., Sands, R., Nyland, A., Ballin, T B, Murray, J. and Sheridan, J A. (2019) Tangled up in blue: the role of riebeckite felsite in Neolithic Shetland. In: Mining and quarrying in Neolithic Europe: A social perspective. Neolithic Studies Group Seminar Papers (16). Oxbow, Oxford, pp. 49-65.

Edwards, K, Whittington, G, Robinson, M. and Richter, D. 2005. Palaeo environments, the archaeological record and cereal pollen detection at Clickimin, Shetland, Scotland, Journal of Archaeological Science, 32; 12, 1741-1756

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.80

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

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