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QUADRAT DTP: Medical Geology: The Impact of the Natural Environment on Health in Past Populations from Ireland and Scotland

Project Description

The natural environment is inextricably connected with human health. The composition of underlying rocks and minerals have an impact on the air humans breathe, the water they drink, and the food consumed. Medical geologists therefore aim to identify geochemical anomalies in soils, sediments, and water that may have a negative impact on human and animal health. The Tellus and Tellus Border projects have generated a wealth of detailed geochemical information on Northern Ireland and six counties along its border. Demonstrating a strong connection between the composition of stream sediment and soil geochemistry with the underlying bedrock (Young et al. 2016), aspects of this data have been compared to the geology of Scotland, which is closely connected with that of the north of Ireland (Breward et al. 2011). The impact of the underlying geology in the north of Ireland on aspects of modern health has also been explored (e.g. McKinley et al. 2013).

Bioarchaeologists have long been aware of the environment’s key role with respect to physiological stress and resilience. Serious negative consequences on past populations include: a decreased level of health, a reduced ability to undertake work, a suppressed reproductive capacity, and general socio-cultural disruption. The main health indicators sensitive to environmental change include stress lesions (cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis, linear enamel hypoplasia), stature and demographic parameters related to fertility, growth and maternal mortality. This project will examine these aspects of selected Medieval skeletal populations from the north of Ireland and Scotland with reference to the underlying geology to investigate whether differing patterns of health status might be related.

The project will be supervised by human skeletal biologists and osteoarchaeologists based in Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Aberdeen who, collectively, have internationally recognised expertise and research excellence in researching human health from skeletal remains. It will apply newly developed techniques for the palaeodemographic aspects and recording of linear enamel hypoplasia; training in these methods will be provided in Aberdeen. The medical geology components will be supported by Geoscience colleagues in Queen’s University Belfast who were involved in the Tellus project, with the expertise and capacity to both train and support the student in their geological interpretations of targeted sites in Scotland and Ireland. The PhD advisory team in Belfast and Aberdeen have direct access to over 3,000 human skeletons spanning the entirety of the Medieval period; comprising the data set for the project.


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.


Breward, N., Stone, P., Flight, D. and Anderson, T. B. 2011. Regional geochemical comparisons from the Lower Palaeozoic, Souther Uplands-Down-Longford terrane in Northern Ireland and Scotland. SJG 47, 33-43.

McKinley, J. M., Ofterdinger, U., Young, M., Barsby, A. and Gavin, A. 2013. Investigating local relationships between trace elements in soil and cancer data. SS 5, 25-41.

Young, M. E., Knights, K. V., Smyth, D., Glennon, M. M., Scanlon, R. P. and Gallagher, V. 2016. The Tellus geochemical surveys, results and applications, pp. 33-52 in Young, M. E. (ed.), Unearthed: Impacts of the Tellus Surveys of the North of Ireland. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.

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)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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