Radiocarbon dating of single tree-rings – annual precision records of environmental change
Applications are now CLOSED
Radiocarbon dating enables researchers to place past archaeological and environmental events on a calendar scale, back to c. 55 thousand years ago, and is thus a key approach for many archaeological and palaeoecological studies. Past changes in atmospheric radiocarbon concentrations require the construction of calibration curves, which are built by radiocarbon dating organic material of otherwise known calendar age, such as tree-rings which can be dendro-dated to exact calendar years. Over the past decades, many such records have been built, but owing to dating limitations most tree-ring radiocarbon data so far are based on wood blocks of around 10 years. Only with recent developments has it become feasible to radiocarbon-date single-year wood, and this is causing a revolution in radiocarbon dating. The approach has been used to identify past cosmic-ray events (1). Recent applications include revealing the presence of Vikings in AD 1021 in the Americas (2) and the dating of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 2000 years to exactly AD 946 (3). This project will produce single-year radiocarbon dates on precisely dendro-dated wood in order to strategically fill some of the many remaining gaps where no single-year data are yet available, or where existing datasets show disagreement or scatter. The project will enable the student to study a range of archaeological, palaeoecological and climatological periods at yearly precision, as well as to contribute to future updates of world-wide used radiocarbon calibration curves.
This project requires a student who has a background and interest in archaeology and/or palaeoecology, and has a strong background in laboratory work. The student will have access to a wide range of precisely dendro-dated wood back to c. 7500 cal BP, as well as to a state-of-the-art MiCADAS radiocarbon accelerator mass spectrometer, and will receive training in these techniques as well as in Bayesian chronology-building. The project will be shaped by the student’s interest and by the data outcomes. For example, although so far single-year studies have found evidence several cosmic spikes during the Holocene (1, 4-6), most of the data are not yet of annual nature so more similar events are likely to be found. Even if no such spikes are found, the yearly data will enable much more precise radiocarbon calibration during key climate and archaeological periods in Ireland and elsewhere, such as around the 4.2 kcal BP or the younger part of the Hallstatt Plateau.
1 Miyake et al. 2012 (Nature 486: 240–242), 2 Kuitems et al. 2021 (Nature 601: 388-391), 3 Hakozaki et al. 2018 (Radiocarbon 60: 261-8), 4 Jull et al. 2018 (Radiocarbon 60: 1237-48), 5 Miyake et al. 2017 (Radiocarbon 59: 315-20), 6 Miyake et al. 2021 (Geophysical Research Letters: e2021GL093419)
Applicants should use the ‘Research Proposal’ section of their application to provide a 1000-word (maximum) proposal outlining:
Proposed research question(s) aims and objectives
The broader context of the research and its relevance to Earth/Environmental Sciences
A theoretical approach
A methodological plan to the work
Options for analysis of the data gathered
Applications are welcome from candidates holding a first class or second class honours (upper) degree.
The start date for this DfE studentship will be 1 October 2022.
Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 'Archaeology' at Queen's University Belfast, School of Natural and Built Environment.
State name of lead supervisor on application form (Dr Maarten Blaauw).
Include your Research Proposal (see above for research proposal guidance)
State the intended SOURCE OF FUNDING on your application as 'DfE'
To apply, visit https://dap.qub.ac.uk/portal/user/u_login.php (link to the QUB Direct Application Portal)
This DfE funded studentship is open to UK candidates. The value of an award includes the cost of approved fees as well as maintenance support (stipend). As an indicator, the level for 2021/2022 was £15,609.
Archaeology & Palaeoecology overview
By joining Archaeology & Palaeoecology you will become part of a dynamic group of researchers in one of two interdisciplinary Research Cells: PLANET for more environmentally-related projects, and PAST for more humanities-related Archaeology projects.
Projects involving Palaeoecology or Scientific Archaeology (PLANET and PAST Research Cells) focus on themes such as long-term changes and resilience in ecosystems, humans, environments and climate, using approaches such as pollen analysis, tephra dating, dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating. Much of our research spans several disciplines – for example projects on the palaeoecology and restoration of bogs.
Research in the PAST Research Cell explores the material manifestations of culture through time and space. We combine innovative scientific methods with theoretically-informed analyses to understand past human experience, bringing together the humanities and the sciences.
The combination of environmental archaeology, and especially bio-archaeology, with more traditional approaches to the past, helps to differentiate Queen's from most other Archaeology departments and is seen as both a strength and stimulus to future developments.
Archaeology & Palaeoecology Highlights
- Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen’s have a long-standing record of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the relationship between past humans and their environment. Our alumni are going on to successful careers in academia and beyond.
- The University’s Graduate School provides postgraduate students with a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary hub to support their personal and professional development.
- QUB’s Researcher Plus scheme provides PhD and MPhil students with an opportunity to develop skills which are transferable beyond their research degrees, and the Researcher Plus award provides them with official recognition for the skills acquired in addition to their research.
- Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen’s have an established track record of attracting funding for student-led PhD studentships from the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and run by Queen’s University Belfast jointly with the Universities of Durham and Newcastle.
- Funding for student-led PhD studentships specifically in Palaeoecology and Geoarchaeology is also available from the QUADRAT Doctoral Training Partnership, run jointly by Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Aberdeen.
World Class Facilities
- The School boasts the internationally renowned 14CHRONO Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology that together with our Dendrochronology Laboratory, Stable Isotope Facility, Archaeomaterials Laboratory and other in-house laboratory facilities helps us understand past societal and environmental issues.
- The Centre for Community Archaeology (CCA) bolsters the School’s capacity for conducting innovative field research, using the latest technology in geophysical prospection, remote sensing and 3D modelling of archaeological sites and artefacts.
- The School’s Centre for Geographic Information Science and Geomatics provides cutting-edge infrastructure for research projects involving elements of geospatial analysis.
- The Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis, likewise situated within the School, lends crucial technical support to research projects across the digital humanities and beyond.
- The University's Core Technology Units (CTUs) provide researchers and graduate students in Archaeology & Palaeoecology with high-quality training in advanced laboratory techniques and access to state-of-the-art equipment for mass spectrometry, scanning electron microscopy, palaeogenomics and advanced imaging. The Advanced Informatics unit helps us to maintain a comprehensive and systematic data management framework for our research data.
- The University’s McClay Library holds one of the most comprehensive collections of resources on Irish, British, European and World Archaeology in Ireland and the UK, and provides state-of-the-art study facilities.
Internationally Renowned Experts
- Undertaking a research degree with Archaeology & Palaeoecology at Queen’s, you will work with and be supervised by world-leading experts in their respective fields.
Archaeology at Queens is in the Top 150 in the World QS Rankings (2022).
- As a Russell Group university and ranked in the UK top 10 (Complete University Guide 2022), Queen’s is one of the best places in the UK to study Archaeology.
- Office accommodation with access to computing facilities and support to attend conferences for full-time PhD students.
Both the PLANET and PAST Research Cells are strongly interdisciplinary and incorporate researchers from other subject areas across the School (e.g. Human and Physical Geography, Planning, Architecture), working closely together to develop research that takes into consideration both the social and environmental context of human society. Integrated within C&S is the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, a financially self-supporting excavation unit with an exceptional record of publication and a high media profile, reflecting a strong commitment to community engagement.
Both clusters conduct research in Ireland, Great Britain and abroad, in particular the Mediterranean region, territories of the former Soviet Union, the North Atlantic, West Africa and the Americas, where both staff and research students undertake collaborative projects.
Research students maintain their own research seminar series alongside the fortnightly seminars organised by the two research clusters, which routinely bring outstanding scholars from abroad as well as Great Britain and Ireland.
Being based in the purpose-built Archaeology & Palaeoecology Centre, jointly with the 14CHRONO Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology, expands our research facilities and has allowed us to extend our research agenda. Our facilities include an AMS 14C dating facility, an NEC accelerator mass spectrometer, cold storage for biological materials, drawing office, laboratories for post-excavation, human bone analysis, palynology, plant, snail and insect macrofossils, dendrochronology and animal bone analysis.
Thematically, we have identified eight areas of particular specialist interest and especially welcome applications from potential PhD students interested in these areas, though projects are not limited to these themes:
• Development of agriculture and the cultural landscape in Europe, Eurasia and its associated economic, chronological and environmental backdrop
• Organisation of domestic and ritual space (including landscapes) from prehistory through the post-medieval period in the North Atlantic region
• Religion, society and material culture in the ancient Mediterranean
• Settlement and economy of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval Ireland; connections with the New World
• Social and bio-archaeological approaches to death, involving the study of mortuary data from Ireland across Eurasia
• Populations and palaeodiet from Ireland to Eurasia
• Refinement of chronologies from selected regions of the world, using the facilities of the 14CHRONO labs
• The causes, timing and impacts of past climate change
Current postgraduates come from Ireland, Great Britain, the USA, France, Italy, Cyprus and the Netherlands.
Many of our PhD alumni have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others go on to play leading roles in educational practice, the public sector or within NGO’s. For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on askEPS@qub.ac.uk. Our advisors – in consultation with the School – will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.
People teaching you
Dr Colm Donnelly
Senior Research Fellow
Natural & Built Environment
Medieval and post-medieval archaeology, geophysics and remote sensing, community archaeology.
Dr Dirk Brandherm
Natural & Built Environment
Later prehistoric archaeology of Europe and the Mediterranean, artefact studies, social archaeology, archaeometry of inorganic materials.
Dr Maarten Blaauw
Natural & Built Environment
Palaeoecology, chronology-building, other numerical approaches.
Dr Patrick Gleeson
Natural & Built Environment
Medieval archaeology, funerary and ritual practice, landscape archaeology, geophysics and remote sensing.
Dr Ryan Rabett
Natural & Built Environment
Southeast Asian prehistory, palaeolithic archaeology, early human adaptation and dispersal, zooarchaeology.
Dr William Megarry
Natural & Built Environment
Geospatial techniques in archaeology, heritage management, landscape archaeology, archaeology of island cultures.
Prof Gill Plunkett
Natural & Built Environment
Cryptotephra palynology, mid- to late Holocene environmental change, prehistoric Ireland, past human-environment dynamics.
Professor Eileen Murphy
Natural & Built Environment
Bioarchaeology, burial practices, childhood in the past, archaeology of the Irish diaspora, community archaeology.
Learning OutcomesA research degree offers students an opportunity to foster their capacity for independent research and critical thought. It also allows students to explore an area of interest and so understand and solve theoretical and practical problems within the field.
Undertaking a research degree also enhances a student’s written and oral communication skills, and a PhD is almost always a formal requirement for an academic post.
Course structureYou will carry out original research under the guidance of your supervisory team. There is no specific course content as such. This independent research is complemented by postgraduate skills training organised by Queen’s Graduate School, and other internal and external training courses organised through your supervisor.
You will normally register, in the first instance, as an ‘undifferentiated PhD student’ which means that you have satisfied staff that you are capable of undertaking a research degree. The decision as to whether you should undertake an MPhil or a PhD is delayed until you have completed ‘differentiation’.
Differentiation takes place about 9-12 months after registration for full time students and about 18-30 months for part time students: You are normally asked to submit work to a panel of up two academics and this is followed up with a formal meeting with the ‘Differentiation Panel’. The Panel then make a judgement about your capacity to continue with your study. Sometimes students are advised to revise their research objectives or to consider submitting their work for an MPhil qualification rather than a doctoral qualification.
To complete with a doctoral qualification you will be required to submit a thesis of no more than 80,000 words and you will be required to attend a viva voce [oral examination] with an external and internal examiner to defend your thesis.
A PhD programme runs for 3-4 years full-time or 6-8 years part-time. Students can apply for a writing up year should it be required.
The PhD is open to both full and part time candidates and is often a useful preparation for a career within academia or consultancy.
Full time students are often attracted to research degree programmes because they offer an opportunity to pursue in some depth an area of academic interest.
The part time route is a suitable option for those unable to study for a PhD full time. This may be due to family commitments or those already in employment. On the former, studying part time for a PhD can be very accommodating in juggling different responsibilities. On the latter, part time candidates often choose to research an area that is related to their professional responsibilities.
If you meet the Entry Requirements, the next step is to check whether we can supervise research in your chosen area. We only take students to whom we can offer expert research supervision from one of our academic staff. Therefore, your research question needs to engage with the research interests of one of our staff.
Please review the eligibility criteria on the webpages. If you believe that you meet these criteria then follow the steps below:
Select ONE potential supervisor from our list of Academic Staff (https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/OurPeople/AcademicandResearchStaff/) and send an email containing:
a brief CV (1-2 pages maximum)
a concise statement that you are interested in studying for a PhD, stating when you would start, and how you would plan to fund the research
a brief statement of the research question or interest, and how you think the question could be investigated
Our academic staff welcome approaches from prospective students; staff can liaise with applicants to develop a research proposal of mutual interest. The potential supervisor should get back to you within a couple of weeks. They may invite you to meet with them or they may invite you to apply formally.
If you have difficulty identifying or contacting an appropriate supervisor, please contact Catherine Boone (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be happy to help.
For part-time study – the closing date for this option is 31st August each year.
For full-time study (self-funding) – for those full time candidates who do not wish to compete for a studentship or who are not eligible to compete for a studentship the closing date is 31st August each year.
For full-time study and application for a studentship/award; please be aware that awards are only available to full time students. Candidates wishing to apply for studentships available within the School must apply for full-time study at the same time. Available studentships and closing dates are detailed on the School's studentships web page: https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/Study/PostgraduateResearch/ResearchStudentships/
Assessment processes for a research degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.
This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.
The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.
Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.
The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.
For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.
English Language Requirements
For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country. ENGLISH LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required. *Taken within the last 2 years. International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes. For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see: www.qub.ac.uk/EnglishLanguageReqs. If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree. https://www.qub.ac.uk/International/International-students/Your-Country/
International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.
For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see: www.qub.ac.uk/EnglishLanguageReqs.
If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.
|Northern Ireland (NI) 1||£4,712|
|Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2||£4,712|
|England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1||£4,712|
|EU Other 3||£23,850|
1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.
All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Archaeology & Palaeoecology costs
Additional course costs
Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.
Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.
How do I fund my study?1.PhD Opportunities
Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes
We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.3.PhD loans
The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.4.International Scholarships
Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.
Funding and Scholarships
The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.
How to Apply
Find a supervisor
If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.
To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.
You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.