The Power of Plants as Food, Medicine and Raw Materials Before Agriculture” project

  • Start date: as soon as possible
  • Application Deadline: Friday 2 June 2023, midday
  • Interview dates: to be scheduled with candidates for June 2023

Applications are invited for a 4-year funded doctoral studentship offered to start as soon as possible. The successful applicant will work on a project as part of Professor Karen Hardy’s “The Power of Plants as Food, Medicine and Raw Materials Before Agriculture” project.

Research question

Is it possible to identify a difference in ecological plasticity between modern humans and Neanderthals on the basis of their plant use?


The objective of this project will be to recover evidence for the presence of plants from sediments extracted from Palaeolithic and later sites.  By comparing evidence for use of and processing and exploitation of plants this project will evaluate the role that plants played in the plasticity of human and Neanderthal adaptation to various ecologies and will explore potential differences between these human species.

This will involve an extensive programme of experimental research and the creation of modern reference collections for Middle and Epi-Palaeolithic/Mesolithic sites.

Fieldwork and Laboratory

Fieldwork will comprise research in both the field and museums. This PhD may also include the analysis of archaeological sediment samples and experimental modern samples.

Full training will be given on all sampling and laboratory methods used. These methods will include the use of compound microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, Raman microscopes, plus the use of muffle furnaces. This research will also include the use of 3D scanning.

General Information

This position is part of the UKRI ERC Advanced Grant replacement fund project Powerful Plants: The Power of Plants as Food, Medicine and Raw Materials Before Agriculture. The project will use archaeobotanical and ethnobotanical evidence and experimental archaeology to investigate if a difference in ecological plasticity between Modern Humans and Neanderthals.

There is direct archaeological evidence for plant use in the Palaeolithic among humans and Neanderthals, but this can be rather limited to diet and ecology. The narrative surrounding the necessity of plant use for Neanderthal (H. neanderthalensis) and Anatomically Modern Humans (H. sapiens) is comparatively recent, with significant debate over plant use for medicine and raw materials, and in the case of Neanderthals, fire. This research will seek evidence of plant use by Neanderthals and Modern Humans, across various Middle to Upper Palaeolithic sites in West Asia and Europe to identify if the source of hunter-gather ecological plasticity lies in their plant exploitation. The locations are currently being confirmed but are expected to be renowned modern human and Neanderthal sites in Israel and Europe. The research will assess the direct and indirect evidence of food and fibre technology in these locations.

Details of Award

Funding will cover tuition fees at the home/UK rate and at the international rate, and a stipend at the Research Council rate (£17,668 for 2022-23), full-time for 4 years. 

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Karen Hardy (

Supervisory Arrangements

  • Primary supervisor: Professor Karen Hardy
  • Secondary supervisor: to be confirmed


This studentship is open to all students, home/UK and international. 

Applicants should normally have a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent international qualification). 

How to apply

To apply, please email Prof. Karen Hardy ( by midday on Friday 2 June 2023 with:

  • a CV
  • covering letter (max. two pages)
  • writing sample (max 3,000 words)
  • a research proposal
  • scans of qualification certificates/transcripts
  • two written references

You must also complete the University online application form for a place on the PhD programme.

If you have any queries or would like further information please contact Prof. Karen Hardy (

Further information

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