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Magdalenian People: Inferring Human Behaviour at the End of the Last Ice Age from Molecular and Isotopic Analyses of Skeletal Remains

A Collaborative Doctoral Partnership studentship between the University of York and Natural History Museum

Start date: January 2020


Professor Oliver Craig (University of York, Department of Archaeology)

Professor Ian Barnes (Natural History Museum)

Doctor Sylvia Bello (Natural History Museum)

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship, to be undertaken at the Natural History Museum (London) and the University of York (BioArCh, Department of Archaeology). This studentship, funded by the Calleva Foundation, will be jointly supervised by Professor Ian Barnes and Dr Silvia Bello at the Natural History Museum and Professor Oliver Craig at the University of York. The project is part of the Calleva 3 research programme initiated by Professor Chris Stringer, and is aligned with other NHM ancient human DNA projects being led by Dr Selina Brace. This is a three-year (full-time) project entitled “Magdalenian People: Inferring Human Behaviour at the End of the Last Ice Age from Molecular and Isotopic Analyses of Skeletal Remains, to commence by 1st January 2020. The student will work between the Natural History Museum and the University of York.


Project Overview

Modern burial practices are extremely varied and closely associated with cultural identities. Cannibalism is usually considered to be a form of violence and, in extreme cases, survival in times of crisis, but it is rarely considered as an aspect of funerary rituals in past societies. However, our recent work on Magdalenian (~15,000 years old) human remains from Gough’s Cave (Bello et al., 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017) provides compelling evidence for cannibalism as part of a complex, ritual behaviour during the Upper Palaeolithic. The question remains as to whether this was a phenomenon specific to Britain at that time, or a more widespread practice found throughout the Magdalenian world.

There are at least six Palaeolithic individuals from Gough’s Cave represented in the NHM collection, and they are unusual not only in that they are among the only human remains from this period in the UK, but also because they show clear signs of being systematically butchered and eaten. Work on this assemblage will explore the basis of that behaviour, and investigate the relationships of the Gough’s Cave Magdalenian people with each other and with populations in continental Europe of similar date (about 14-15,000 years ago). The collection contains a range of skeletal elements, including skull-cups, engraved bone, and  heavily modified post-cranial remains. One further aim will be to establish whether these all belong to the same small number of individuals, or include curated remains brought from elsewhere.

A second, comparative group of individuals can be found in the recently identified, butchered human remains from Bruniquel Cave, which were purchased by the British Museum in the mid-1800s. The extent and manner in which these bones have been modified by butchery practices is still unclear, as is their exact date, and their cultural and genetic relationship with the Gough’s Cave individuals.

This project will use facilities and expertise at York and the NHM to conduct ancient DNA, radiocarbon, isotopic and taphonomic analyses in order to address a range of questions about the origin and nature of these exceptional archaeological assemblages.



The full studentship award for students with UK residency* includes fees and a stipend of £17,009 per annum for 3 years. Additional funds are available to support the cost of training, work placements, and other development opportunities. Students with EU residency are eligible for a fees-only studentship award. International applicants are normally not eligible to apply for this studentship. Both partners will provide opportunities for training and career development.

*UK residency means having settled status in the UK that is no restriction on how long you can stay in the UK; and having been “ordinarily resident” in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship - that is, you must have been normally residing in the UK apart from temporary or occasional absences; and not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purposes of full-time education.

The student will work within the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, and in BioArCh, University of York, an interdisciplinary centre involving the Departments of Archaeology, Biology and Chemistry, designed to deliver research and training in bioarchaeology and the study of ancient biomolecules. The student will receive training at the NHM’s ancient DNA lab, in the recovery and analysis of ancient DNA from archaeological specimens, and in analytical visualisation on the museum’s Alicona InfiniteFocus and scanning electron microscope facilities. The student will also be trained to use the BioArCh Light Stable Isotope Facility, with in-house instrumentation for both bulk and single-compound isotope analysis. 



Applicants must have a good first degree (usually a minimum 2:1) or a Masters degree (or other equivalent experience) in biology, genetics, zoology, archaeological science, biological anthropology, or a related biological science discipline. They should be highly motivated individuals with a keen interest in archaeology and/or genetics. The closing date for applications is 12:00 noon (UK time) on 11th October 2019.


How to apply

Application is by covering letter, CV and online application form, and should be made through the University of York online application system and copied to, and

Please read the 'How to apply' tab before submitting your application:


Application Deadline is 11th October 2019 at 23h59min

Interviews will take place in week commencing TBA


Further Enquiries

For informal enquiries, please contact the main supervisors Professor Ian Barnes (, Dr Silvia Bello ( or Professor Oliver Craig (