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QUADRAT DTP: Pastoral Peripheries: Human-animal relationships and pastoral economies on the agricultural fringe of Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Northern Europe

   School of Geosciences

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  Dr Charlotta Hillerdal, Dr P Gleeson, Prof Kate Britton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Farming in Europe originated in the Levant around 12,000 years ago, reaching Europe several millennia later. Northern climates and environments, thin soils, and limited growing seasons represent significant challenges, and in the past required unique adaptations (e.g., soil improvement; over-wintering animals in byres; sea-weed foddering; silvopasture; agroforestry; etc). The study of agricultural and animal husbandry practices, and animal-human-environmental interactions, in archaeology provides important evidence for past economic, social and cultural practices. However, an understanding past practices, developed in northern ecologies through human-animal-environment interdependency and adaptation, can also contribute important new perspectives on current debates surrounding contemporary shifts towards ecologically-sustainable agriculture and food systems.  

The aim of this project is to shed new light on the importance of pastoralism at the periphery of Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe, and to explore impact of animal husbandry and management practices on wider society. The northern fringes of Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe have traditionally been perceived as isolated and peripheral with little impact on the developments we see elsewhere in Europe at this time. Recently, the importance of the extreme north is starting to be revaluated in European archaeology (e.g., Hillerdal and Ilves 2020). However, much focus has been on these areas as centres for the extraction and export of raw materials, such as Iron and tar, and little emphasis has been placed on the practices or products of northern agriculture and pastoralism. Understanding pastoralism on the periphery is critical to recentring these areas as ‘productive’ rather than ‘extractive’. The selection of certain characteristics and economic benefits in northern breeds of cattle and sheep through animal husbandry, for example, may have led to important pastoral contributions to Late Iron Age and Early Medieval economies, such as dairy products and textiles. The reconsideration of past pastoral practices is also key to understanding human-animal-environmental relationships in the north. Foddering and over-wintering animals, for example, represented specific economic and practical challenges, but also reflects (and interacts with) the reciprocal dependencies between humans, animals, and environments in the north. Untangling the long-term pastoral traditions and practice of embedded ecological knowledge representative for these will provide new insights into the Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Northern Society, and the results from this research also has the potential to inform current practices in demands for more sustainable agriculture and forestry. 

Focused on a series of case studies drawn from the archaeology of the peripheral north, the project will combine traditional archaeological methods with scientific analyses. Approaches could include, but are not restricted to, zooarchaeology, stable isotope analysis, materials analysis (include micro- analysis, and use-wear), GIS approaches or modelling, depending on the skill-base and experience of applicants. We encourage applicants with a practical knowledgebase and/or interest in an experimental archaeology approach.  

Candidate Background: The successful applicant should be familiar with, and preferably have experience working with, Iron Age and Early Medieval archaeology and/or environmental archaeology/or the application of palaeoecological approaches to archaeological sites. Specialisms could include, but are not limited to, use-wear analysis, zooarchaeology, palynology, archaeological and paleoenvironmental chemistry, ecological modelling ad GIS approaches. Practice-based knowledge related to land management and conservation, agriculture or animal husbandry, or manufacture of agricultural products would be 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:


1. Hillerdal, C., and Ilves, K. (eds) 2020. Re-imagining Periphery. Archaeology and Text in Northern Europe from Iron Age to Viking and Early Medieval Periods. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
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