PhD Fellowship in Archaeobotany with a Focus on Central Asia 2019, Germany

Publish Date: Sep 30, 2019

Deadline: Oct 28, 2019

PhD position in archaeobotany with a focus on Central Asia

The Department of Archaeology is offering a 3-year funded PhD position in archaeobotany with a focus on Central Asia. Candidates are sought who can propose innovative research projects associated with plant domestication in mountainous Central Asia. This proposal should contribute to two or more the four main themes of the Department of Archaeology: Biological and Cultural Diversity, the Anthropocene, Climate and Society, and Globalisation. The applicant should also consider ongoing research in the department and seek to propose a project that complements and expands upon it. 

Some of the most heavily investigated research topics in the sciences relate to the origins of agriculture. Over the past century and a half, scholars from across several fields of science have dedicated their careers to the questions of when, where, how, and why plants and animals were first domesticated. Nonetheless, the vast majority of research in this field focuses on a handful of crops, notably the large-seeded annual grass crops (cereals) and certain legumes. The domestication of perennials, especially arboreal crops, has received little attention despite their importance in modern world economies. These crops share similarities in the process of domestication; however, it is clear that may other plants followed very different paths towards domestication. The past five years have seen a revolution in domestication studies, which largely revolved around the rejection of Neolithic Revolution models in favor of protracted models. As new methods are introduced and old methods are applied in new geographic areas, scholars are dramatically revising our understanding of the timing and spread of domestication processes.

Historical and preliminary archaeobotanical data suggest that the origins of many of the most familiar fruits and nuts around the world today originated, at least in part, in the mountain foothills of Central Asia. This conclusion is further supported by ecological studies of the distribution ranges for the wild progenitors of these arboreal crops. However, Inner Asia is one of the least studied areas of the ancient world, archaeobotancially. The lack of archaeobotany is even more problematic, seeing that these mountain foothills fostered the spread of technology across ancient trade routes. The Silk Road was the largest commerce network of the ancient world; it linked the disparate ends of the vast Eurasian supercontinent and in doing so connected the imperial centers of East and southwest Asia. In addition to a wide variety of goods and ideas, the spread of specific crops and crop varieties through the mountain valleys of Central Asia directly altered farming systems across Europe and Asia. Archaeobotanically tracing the path that plants followed on their long journey across Central Asia, helps us understand how these foods ultimately reached our dinner plates today.

Being at the MPI SHH would give the student access to ongoing arboreal domestication research. The student would have the unique opportunity to study the domestication of trees from a global perspective. The successful applicant will work in concert with their supervisors and diverse site and laboratory teams to undertake comprehensive archaeological and archaeological scientific research at current and future field sites of the Department of Archaeology, or other sites, museums or materials of interest. An existing publication record is advantageous but not necessary for entry into the programme. Experience of communicating science to the public through presentations, blogs, and other media is also advantageous.

Your qualifications


  • Have or be about to obtain a Masters degree or qualification equivalent in Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, Archaeological Science, Biomolecular Archaeology, Biology, Chemistry or a closely related field.
  • A strong record of examination at undergraduate and Masters level.
  • Training and experience in either archaeobotany or Central Asian archaeology.
  • Practical experience with proposed field and/or laboratory techniques.
  • Effective time management skills and ability to efficiently coordinate research analyses through to publication.
  • Candidates are expected to be enthusiastic about learning and exploring interdisciplinary research topics. They must also be willing to work as part of a research team and help build up and develop the Department of Archaeology’s research programme and thematic aims.
  • We are looking for individuals who are fascinated by archaeology and archaeological science, passionate about research, and keen to be part of a young, growing, and dynamic interdisciplinary Department.


  • Experience of fieldwork or laboratory research focused on Central Asia.
  • Experience working in cultural resource management (contract archaeology) or in academic excavation and scientific research settings.

We offer

  • Intellectual, technical and resource support for the development of world-leading research.
  • The opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team of PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and scientific staff.
  • Access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment.
  • Access to the institute’s exciting interdisciplinary environment, including enrollment in its new interdisciplinary International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) run between the Institute and Friedrich Schiller Universität, Jena. This will provide additional student support and training.
  • An excellent, friendly research environment.
  • An English language working environment.
  • Full funding for top applicants (3 years)

The Max Planck Society is committed to employing more individuals with disabilities and especially encourages them to apply. The Max Planck Society also seeks to increase the number of women in the sciences and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

For more information click "LINK TO ORIGINAL" below.

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