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PhD in Comparative Cognitive Archaeology

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Claudio Tennie
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Three-year PhD position working on “Tools and Culture among Early Hominins" to work on the 5-year ERC funded project STONECULT.

Background: Cultural adaptations have allowed humans to colonise the planet. While discovering the roots of human culture has been described as one of the most important scientific questions of our time (Science, 2005, anniversary issue), it remains unclear when such forms of culture first arose in our lineage. Previous research has argued that similar social learning mechanisms underlie modern human as well as early hominin technology. But only the latter shows prolonged periods of stasis – suggesting the underlying mechanisms were different. A better model for early hominins might be living non-human great apes. Instead of copying tool making behaviour from others with high fidelity (as modern humans do), ape tools seem to be based on socially mediated individual reinventions (so-called latent solutions; Tennie et al. 2009 Phil Trans B 364: 2405-2415).

The overarching STONECULT project will experimentally test whether early material culture is a manifestation of modern-human-like cultural ability or whether it is best accounted for with the latent solutions model.

The PhD candidate will experimentally test the four genera of non-human great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas) on various tool-use domains to investigate the necessary cognitive mechanisms involved in developing these skills. Access to zoological institutions for data collection has already been guaranteed, and the successful candidate will be expected to spend substantial lengths of time in or near Birmingham, UK, testing at Twycross Zoo (or equivalent locations).

Applicants should be interested in working in an interdisciplinary and dynamic team of international researchers from different academic backgrounds. The successful candidate will work within a large consortium, consisting of several PhD and Postdoctoral researchers. The PhD thesis can be written in English or German.

Starting date will be mid-July 2017 (preferably not much later). The employment (German pay scale E13 TV-L, 50%; 3 years) will be arranged by the administration of the University of Tübingen. Funding includes material costs, a desk space and accommodation and travel expenses to testing institutions and selected conference (note: no tuition fees are charged in Germany).

The University of Tubingen is one of Germany’s eleven universities in the top ‘Excellent’ class, one of Europe’s oldest universities, and currently ranked 89th in the world. The city of Tubingen is an international town with over 28 thousand German and international students, sharing the colourful bustle and typical atmosphere of a young and cosmopolitan students’ town. The Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology is located in the Institute of Pre-and Protohistory of the University of Tübingen and houses diverse collections of archaeological finds, fossil hominid material, ethnographic finds, as well as a wide range of
photographic and written documentation from field projects, all within the city’s castle.
International students, please see https://www.findaphd.com/study-abroad/europe/phd-study- in-germany.aspx for more information on doing a PhD in Germany.


If you are interested in this position, please send your application with the following documentation:

- Cover letter (1-2 pages), detailing why you are a suitable candidate for the project – for example, your qualifications, interests, and relevant experience.
- Curriculum Vitae (including publications, if any) - Copies of most relevant certificates
- Names and addresses of three referees
- Grade transcripts
- A short research proposal (minimum 350 and maximum 500 words; excluding references) consisting of an outline of what you envision the core project to be. Please state
the research question(s), say why it is important and novel (in comparison to what has already been discovered in the area) and how you might tackle it (e.g. outline methodology of test and data analysis).

Please send all in electronic form (one pdf-file including all documents, with the subject line “PhD position testing great ape stone tool skills”), to both Dr. Claudio Tennie: [Email Address Removed] and (in CC, simultaneously) to Elisa Bandini: [Email Address Removed].
Claudio Tennie will invite the top candidates for interview (in person, or via Skype) mid- to end of May 2017. At interview, candidates will first give a 5-10 minute presentation about their proposal. Candidates will be notified within ca. two weeks after the last interview. The PhD start date will then be Mid July 2017 at the earliest.

Deadline for sending applications is 12.00 (midday, German time) 8th May 2017: For further background information, see: http://www.claudiotennie.de/ and for any questions, please contact Elisa Bandini: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes


- Solid background (usually masters) in either archaeology, anthropology, biology, psychology or primatology etc
- An interest and (ideally) an ability to analyse/compare archaeological material culture
- An ability to work independently and efficiently, as well as working as part of a team
- Strong communication skills
- Both oral and – especially important – good written language (English) skills
- Willingness to present results in international, peer-reviewed journals and at conferences (posters as well as talks)


- Experience working with primates and/or running experiments with humans/animals
- Experience working with 3D scans; models of archaeological material culture

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