Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

Members of the supervisory team are actively engaged in a variety of fieldwork projects exploring prehistoric upland settlement in Ireland and northern Britain (Knocknashee, Co. Sligo; Navan Fort, Co. Armagh; Brusselstown, Co. Wicklow; Tap o’Noth, Aberdeenshire and Eildon Hill, Scottish Borders), and through these projects the PhD student will have the opportunity to participate in relevant fieldwork activities. The QUADRAT studentship also provides the opportunity to spend time on a work placement outside academia to gain additional skills with a relevant body in either the commercial or public sector.

Essential skills

  • GIS
  • Basic statistics
  • Data visualization

Desirable skills

  • Database management
  • Data modelling
  • Terrestrial surveying

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash.


Dirk Brandherm

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Dirk Brandherm
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

James O'Driscoll

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: James O'Driscoll
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Gill Plunkett

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Gill Plunkett
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Additional Supervisor:

Dr Maarten Blaauw,
School of Natural & Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast.
Lab website
Institutional online profile 


This PhD research will deliver a better understanding of past settlement dynamics in marginal environments and of the impact that environmental changes had on these dynamics. Beyond academic applications, the outcomes from this research will help to refine predictive modelling of past settlement patterns in those environments, which in turn will help better to inform future planning decisions. They will also facilitate a better awareness of the vulnerabilities of present upland settlement in the study area, and as a benefit to present upland communities they will provide time-depth to the sense of place of these communities. By enriching the story of upland settlement in Ireland and northern Britain, the new knowledge generated by this research also holds the potential of strengthening the further development of responsible tourism in the respective regions.

Proposed Supervision

Dr Dirk Brandherm: Much of Dirk’s current research is concerned with exploring the dynamics of societal change in later prehistory, particularly in the Chalcolithic and in the Bronze and Iron Ages of Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Through the use of scientific dating techniques Dirk also work’s on refining the chronologies that inform our understanding of the processes underpinning these dynamics. Since 2016, Dirk has been heading a research project focused on the Bronze Age hill-top site of Knocknashee in Co. Sligo.

Supervisor information Dr James O’Driscoll: James is interested in the application of remote sensing and GIS based techniques in archaeology, with a particular emphasis on prehistoric upland enclosures, Bronze and Iron Age hillforts, their contemporary landscapes and socio-economic setting. He has published widely on the hillforts of Ireland and Northern Britain and various survey and excavation programmes, and has recently worked on a number of well-known projects, such as the Atlas of Hillforts; and Hillforts, Warfare and Society in Bronze Age Ireland project.

Dr Gill Plunkett
Gill is an archaeologist and palaeoecologist with a specific interest in understanding human-environment interactions in the past. As an archaeologist, she has worked on Irish prehistoric and Medieval sites, and has several years experience of wetland archaeology survey and recording. Her palaeoecological expertise includes palynology and plant macrofossil analysis (peatland and archaeobotanical), as well as the application of tephrochronology as both a dating and correlation method and a means of examining volcanic impacts on climate and society.

Dr Maarten Blaauw
Maarten’s background is in palaeoecology, and he is interested in using statistics to answer palaeoecological research questions. He holds particular expertise in radiocarbon calibration, age-depth modelling, and the statistical/ecological interpretation of proxy archives.

Proposed Timetable

Year 1
Literature review. Compilation of database. Identification of archives for obtaining additional dating evidence. Training in lab methods and analysis. Fieldwork.

Year 2
Ongoing literature review and compilation of database. Sampling of archives. Preliminary analysis of chronological data. Work placement.

Year 3
Analysis and modelling of chronological data. Analysis and synthesis of geospatial data. Work placement.

Year 4
Thesis writing.


  • earth-systems


A potential work placement for the student with the Discovery Programme is currently under discussion.

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