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PhD programme to cast new light on European prehistoric sites

Posted on 10 September 2021

The Department of Archaeology has been awarded funding for an innovative international programme of training and research in a rapidly expanding branch of archaeological science.

The project ‘ChemArch: The organic chemistry and molecular biology of archaeological artefacts’ will provide training and support to 15 funded PhDs to study for a double doctorate in a programme using the latest analytical techniques to explore key prehistoric sites across Europe.

Funded by the European Commission under its Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the project includes the University of Copenhagen, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). 

The project will bring together labs with different specialisms, including ancient DNA, paleoproteomics, lipid residue analysis, experimental archaeology and material culture studies. It will be delivered in collaboration with world-leading heritage organisations and museums such as the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP), the British Museum and Historic England. 

Students will analyse archaeological artefacts for organic compounds using the latest biochemical and geochemical methods. The research will provide forensic detail regarding the origin, manufacture and use of iconic and everyday items in the past. It will also explore the relation to past resource exploitation, trade/exchange, the transmission of ideas, technological adaptation and environmental conditions.

Professor Oliver Craig leads the ChemArch project. He said: “The expertise and instrumentation needed to unlock microscale molecular information to address big questions about the role of material culture in past lives, is held by relatively few specialised laboratories. 

"ChemArch aims to equip a new generation of researchers with the interdisciplinary skills in chemistry, molecular biology and archaeology necessary for them to become independent research leaders.”

Find out more about the PhD projects on the ChemArch website.