PhD Program for Investigating the Predictability of Woolly Mammoths Hunting During the European Gravettian 2019, UK

University of Exeter


January 07, 2019


Opportunity Cover Image - PhD Program for Investigating the Predictability of Woolly Mammoths Hunting During the European Gravettian 2019, UK

The predictability and perils of woolly mammoth hunting during the European Gravettian, NERC GW4+ DTP , PhD in Archaeology Ref: 3325

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Alexander Pryor, Department of Archaeology, College of Humanities, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Dr J. Andy Milton, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Plasma Mass Spectrometry laboratory

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

Main Information

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An index-linked stipend for 3.5 years (currently £14,777 p.a. for 2018/19);
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £4,000 for specialist training courses and expenses.

Up to 30 fully-funded studentships will be available across the partnership.


Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Project details

The quest to find food was one of the biggest challenges facing Upper Palaeolithic humans during the last European ice age c.50,000-20,000 years ago. Access to woolly mammoth meat, and critical fat supplies in particular, appear to have played a role in this as their remains are found widely at sites in central and eastern Europe and sometimes in very large quantities[1]. However, hunter-gatherers typically opt for predictability of food supply rather than simply maximising returns, and the status of mammoth as a food staple or food supplement hunted as-and-when depends critically on their dependability as prey[2]. Could hunters have targeted predictable seasonal migration routes that reliably produced huge quantities of food at specific times of the year suggesting a food storage economy, or were mammoth movements less predictable, requiring encounter-based approaches to hunting that are inherently less certain and more risky as a source of food implying they may have provided only the occasional food bonanza? This research will answer this question by reconstructing the seasonal mobility patterns of mammoth preyed upon by Gravettian humans and, in-so-doing, provide a platform for reinterpreting the role of the woolly mammoth in Palaeolithic subsistence.

Project Aims and Methods

This research will investigate the predictability of woolly mammoths as an Upper Palaeolithic food resource by reconstructing the seasonal mobility patterns of mammoth preyed upon by Gravettian humans at sites in central and eastern Europe. The aims are to:

-Use paired strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of woolly mammoth tooth enamel to identify seasonal patterns of change. Samples for isotopic analysis will be prepared in Exeter and analysed at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. Strontium measurements will be made using LA-MC-ICPMS resulting in high resolution data capable of detecting rapid movements[3]. Samples will derive from both museum collections and ongoing archaeological excavations.

-Use existing (and where necessary original) strontium basemap data to reconstruct seasonal mobility of mammoth prey

-Collate existing ecological and isotopic data on woolly mammoth to contextualise the new mobility data collected in this project and broaden knowledge of the behaviour of this extinct species

-Reinterpret the role of the woolly mammoth in Palaeolithic subsistence, drawing on the theoretical literature for optimal foraging strategies, resilience theory, and opportunistic “encounter-based” vs planned “sit-and-wait” hunting strategies in hunter-gatherer societies[4]

-The selected candidate will help shape the project by identifying suitable sites for analysis, taking advantage of the supervisors existing contacts and collaborations in central and eastern Europe.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 

The student will gain access to the mass spectrometry labs at NOC, one of a very small number of UK institutions to have the equipment and technical expertise required for laser ablation strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel. NOC staff will provide extensive hands-on tuition in the operation of this mass spectrometry equipment. Through training, the student will acquire transferable skills in all the analytical aspects of the work including instrument selection, preparation, critically understanding data and trouble-shooting problems when they occur.


The student will be trained in the collection, pre-treatment and isotopic analysis of faunal tooth enamel samples derived from museums and ongoing excavations in central and eastern Europe. This will include extensive tuition from the lead supervisor and a minimum of four weeks at NOC with the co-supervisor for training and data collection purposes. After training the student will be expected to operate parts of the mass spectrometry equipment for long periods with minimal oversight from NOC staff. Training will also be provided in the micro-excavation, documentation and sampling of Palaeolithic archaeology while assisting the supervisor at sites in central and eastern Europe. The successful applicant will be required to take an advanced statistics course (BIOM4025), and acquire further skills through the postgraduate training programs at Exeter.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

Candidate Requirements
The successful candidate will have completed relevant undergraduate and/or masters level modules in Palaeolithic Archaeology and have a good working knowledge of the European Upper Palaeolithic in particular. Some experience of isotopic analysis of archaeological remains is highly desirable but not essential as instruction will be provided from first principles during the course of the PhD.

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.
  • Two References (applicants are recommended to have a third academic referee, if the two academic referees are within the same department/school).

Reference information
You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your two referees email their references to, as we will not make requests for references directly; you must arrange for them to be submitted by 7 January 2019. 

References should be submitted to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2019.  Interviews will be held between 4 and 15 February 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

 Data Sharing

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.

For more information click "LINK TO ORIGINAL" below.

This opportunity has expired. It was originally published here:

Eligible Countries
Host Country
Study Levels
Publish Date
November 06, 2018