Project Description

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

The supervisory team has significant experience working across disciplines and integrating research in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. The research project would be undertaken alongside Dr Jeff Oliver’s current research focus on the hidden histories of the uplands in the Scottish Lowlands. Research would likely entail significant periods of work in the field, in the lab and in the archives. Dr Gill Plunkett would provide palaeoenvironmental methodological specialisms and expertise, particularly in palynology. Dr Kate Britton provides expertise in human palaeoecology and human-animal-environmental relationships in archaeology, as well as expertise in archaeological chemistry.

Essential skills

The successful applicant should be familiar with and (ideally) have training in an area of environmental archaeology and/or the application of palaeoecological approaches to archaeological sites/landscape archaeology. Specialisms could include, but are not limited to, archaeoentomology, zooarchaeology, palynology, soil geochemistry, ecological modelling and GIS approaches.

Desirable skills

Experience with using and integrating historical evidence (or other types of evidence, e.g. folklore, place names, etc.) into archaeological studies would be an advantage.

Photo by Jeff Oliver.


Jeff Oliver

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Jeff Oliver
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Gill Plunkett

Secondary Supervisor:

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

Kate Britton

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Kate Britton
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences


Jones J, and Britton K. 2019 ‘Multi-scale, integrated approaches to understanding the nature and impact of past environmental and climatic change in the archaeological record, and the role of isotope zooarchaeology’, Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 23, 968-972.

Oliver, J. et al. 2016. The Bennachie colony: A nineteenth-century informal community in northeast Scotland. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 20.2: 341-377.


This project will focus on a previously under-researched area in Scottish archaeological and historical studies using novel archaeological science/historical ecology approaches. Although bearing evidence of human activity for centuries, upland areas of the Lowlands were among the last parts of Scotland to become permanently inhabited. Upland colonisations should be understood as part of a larger global process of modern migration and colonisation of new environments. At the same time that large numbers of Scots left for the New World, the internal colonisation of upland areas began in earnest. The bio-cultural entanglements that upland colonisation enabled has yet to be seriously investigated and has the potential to enrich our understanding of biodiversity in these regions today. Given the more limited nature of the historical and archaeological records, scientific and environmental approaches promise to open up new ways of thinking about human ingress into upland areas and the human-animal-plant relationships they entailed. Archaeological, historical and other humanities approaches offer the potential to explore the socio-cultural dimension of these ‘colonial encounters’ as human migrants moved into new marginal environments and , helping us to better understand how colonisation and environmental encounters are mutually constitutive of both human culture and ecological . Archaeological, historical and other approaches in the humanities offer the potential to explore the socio-cultural dimension of these new ‘colonial encounters’, especially how new ecological relationships served to shape the culture and society of the uplands.

Proposed Timetable

Months 1-6
University and QUADRAT inductions; identifying specific methodological specialisms of project in addition to palynology/pollen macro-fossil analysis and initiating training in workflows and laboratory techniques at Aberdeen. The student should also outline a comprehensive review chapter on their methods of choice for reconstructing past biodiversity and ecosystems, and on the current evidence of colonisation of upland areas in the early modern period. Begin selecting study sites and field work and planning and sampling strategy. Attend training courses.
Months 6-12
Training in pollen and plant macro-fossil analysis at QUB and field work/field sampling. Attend training courses.
Months 12-18
This period will be spent generating the bulk of the data/undertaking lab work, leaving plenty of time available for trouble shooting different methods/components. The student will also, during this period, write up the background for each study site, which by this time will have been finalised.
Months 18-24
Finalise data collection and data analysis, begin writing up the results of each study site. Scope for a work placement would also be considered.
Months 24-30
Extended data analysis, synthesis of results. Convert reports for different sites into coherent chapters. Integrate results with previous research. Generate any remaining data required following preliminary analysis.
Months 30-42
Writing and editing.


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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