Hello! My name is Sarah, and I am looking forward to starting a PhD in Archaeology at Queen’s University Belfast in October 2020. I have just graduated with a Master’s in Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, and I am looking forward to using an interdisciplinary approach during my PhD which will investigate the timing and causes of nitrogen cycle changes in Bronze Age Ireland.

Nitrogen is a very important element, necessary for the survival of all living organisms. It is abundant in the atmosphere as N2 gas but is inaccessible to animals and plants in this form, hence nitrogen is a common limiting nutrient in Nature. However, Nitrogen can be made available by transformation into ammonia via microbial or human processes. By analysing δ15N ratios and palynological data from Bronze Age peat bogs and settlement sediment site sequences, I will determine whether nitrogen cycle changes were caused by environmental and/or human factors.

This project is very personal to me because it uses science in order to advance our knowledge of past cultures.

When I was a young child, I developed a passion for archaeology through the reading of Greek and Egyptian mythologies and visiting the Louvre in Paris, my home city. Growing up, I realised I had more of a scientific mindset and, after learning how chemistry could be used to gain knowledge in archaeology, notably via radiocarbon and stable isotope analyses, I decided to pursue a degree in chemistry.

At the University of Aberdeen, I developed a keen interest in analytical and environmental chemistry. This interest is another reason why I feel so passionate about my research project: if we can understand how humans affected their environment in the past, it deepens our understanding of how they are currently affecting it!

I have had past experience using chemistry in an archaeological setting aiming to gain a better understanding and develop a practical knowledge of the use of stable isotopes in an archaeological setting. I participated in a three-month internship at the Organic Geochemistry Unit in the University of Bristol a year ago. There, I learned how lipids from archaeological potteries can be used to determine past diets. I gained valuable experimental and theoretical knowledge and my will to pursue a PhD in archaeology was reinforced.

I was then able to base my masters project on the use of amino acids for radiocarbon dating at the University of Oxford. The experience gained in radiocarbon dating during this placement will be very useful during my PhD as 14C dating will be necessary to isolate Bronze Age layers in some sediment sequences which I will analyse. During this PhD, I hope to gain more knowledge about how to use chemistry in an archaeological setting, but also to uncover more about whether I want to pursue a career in Academia in this field that I feel so passionate about.