Current PhD research projects
Some of the students currently undertaking their PhD with us tell us about their research
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You can read about other students and their work on our PhD students pages.
Supervised by: Hugh Willmott, Charlotte Newman (English Heritage)
My PhD, The Evolution of Audley End, is a collaborative doctoral partnership with English Heritage about Audley End, a mostly seventeenth century country house situated outside Saffron Walden in Essex. Audley End transitioned from a Benedictine monastery to an early modern mansion, linked to the secularisation of monastic space in the post-Reformation period and the changing fortunes of its owners as they navigated Tudor and Jacobean society. This project explores the changing nature of Audley End through the analysis of its material culture, structural remains, and historical sources to draw out patterns and changes in the lives of successive occupants and those who worked for them. The primary source of information for this research is an archaeological archive created after excavations in the 1980s which has yet to be published. It aims to demonstrate the potential of archaeology to inform country house scholarship and to aid the creation of associated heritage interpretation at Audley End House.
I chose to study at Sheffield because I was given the chance to complete a funded AHRC CDP placement with English Heritage, which means that I get to work with some of the best archaeological curators and academics in Britain. I am exploring the medieval and early modern material culture of an internationally important country house that was once owned by the Howard family and by Charles II, and hope to influence future heritage practice around the research and public outreach of archaeological archives.
"This PhD project investigates the technological processes and socio-cultural developments that took place during the Aegean Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) at the island settlement of Heraion on Samos, Greece from the perspective of an integrated ceramic analysis. A series of different methods will be employed, including contextual, typological/macroscopic, petrographic, and microstructural analysis.
The Heraion constitutes the largest proto-urban settlement in the eastern Aegean and, despite its strategic geographical position between the central Aegean and Asia Minor, it has been generally neglected within scholarship. Recent excavations (2009-2013) at this important site provided the opportunity to study unpublished pottery from domestic contexts of the 3rd millennium BC, which is characterised as a period of increasing differentiation, intensified interaction, and technological innovation.
Following an agency-centred theoretical approach, which sees technology as situated practice and change as the interplay between internal processes and external stimuli, my PhD aims to track changes in the ceramic production system over time, to examine the provenance of possible imports and the inter-site circulation of the pottery, and in extension to illuminate aspects of the social and economic organisation of the settlement."
"For my PhD, I am working on a project entitled "The origins and evolution of pig domestication in Italy: a regional and diachronic study".
The main aim of this project is to contribute to the understanding of the origins of pig domestication in prehistoric Italy and to address a vacuum in the research of this essential aspect of the development of past human societies.
To date the subject of pig husbandry in Europe has mainly been limited to archaeological studies at small geographical and temporal scales, thus masking the inherent complexities of the process. In Italy, only recently studies on pig domestication on a wider regional and chronological context, based on large amounts of data, have been attempted. So far previous archaeological and genetic research on Italian prehistoric sites suggests that the domestication of the pig has likely involved a mixture of introduced and local domestication, but there are many more areas that are in need of greater clarification and to which this project will contribute."
Supervised by: Umberto Albarella
"I am a zooarchaeologist currently undertaking a doctoral research project concerning the changes in livestock and landscape between the late medieval and early post medieval periods.
The project is collaborative with Historic England, and will investigate the effects of changing husbandry and landscape enclosure on domestic livestock in Britain from the 13th century AD to modern times. It will particularly aim to identify the dynamics behind this change, and conclusively identify the association between landscape enclosure and livestock characteristics. This will involve the analysis of suitable animal bone assemblages from these periods across Britain, complimented Conor contemporaneous historical and landscape data, to provide a more complete interpretation of the causes of late medieval livestock improvement."
"The title of my PhD is 'Handmade Burnished Ware at Tiryns: Pots, People and Technological Practice in Late Mycenaean Greece.'
The appearance of Handmade Burnished Ware (HBW) in Mycenaean contexts represents one of the most intriguing topics of Late Bronze Age (LBA) research. First noted at Mycenae, within Postpalatial (LH III C) contexts, HBW was, in terms of fabric, forming and surface treatment, totally alien to the Mycenaean pottery tradition, being handmade and the product of open firing. Research on HBW has since tried to identify its origins and reconstruct its patterns of distribution. Recent recognition that much of HBW was produced locally in the Aegean has led to a suggestion of the presence of a foreign group in Postpalatial Greece, believed to reflect the presence of invaders, slaves, metalworkers, or even mercenaries. Alternatively, HBW has been seen as a reaction to the destructions at the end of the 12th century B.C., a relatively ‘unsophisticated’ pottery technology arising from a return to domestic production. More recent work accepts that its origins should be sought in South Italy, and Italo-Mycenaean interaction has been well documented in ceramics throughout the LBA.
After Kilian’s excavations (1978-1988), the potential of the Tiryns citadel as the most significant site for the study of the HBW became clear. The rich finds from well stratified contexts in the Lower Citadel enabled contextual, stratigraphic and typological studies, with its appearance in LH III B2 and expansion in LH III C Early.
My PhD project aims to investigate the assemblage of Handmade Burnished Ware from Tiryns. Through an integrated analytical approach exploiting thin section petrography, SEM, and incorporate a full study of morphology, decoration and traces of forming, I am also reconstructing the production technology of this ware. Based on a chaîne opératoire approach and an informed social approach to technology, my project aims to address issues of social change and identity in Tiryns immediately after the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system. This important opportunity to investigate both the provenance and technology of this pottery, and to examine its production in the context of previous craft practice in the area, offers the possibility of illuminating processes of social and economic collapse, the mobility of populations and, indeed, technologies."
Laura Baiges Sotos
"My main research interests lie within the field of palaeoanthropology and, more particularly, comparative anatomy of the musculoskeletal system of primates and functional morphology, so how the primate skeleton evolves to perform a set of functions. However, the morphology of an animal and its particular adaptations cannot be understood without consideration of the habitat they occupy. Moreover, the study of their ecology is fundamental and, thus, a main focus of interest for my research (an interest that started growing during my studies of biology, specialising in animal biology and ecology).
Biomechanics is also an important part of my research, as it is necessary to understand functional morphology of a moving animal. Therefore, I would say that my research interests at the moment lie on the field of locomotor ecology and biomechanics within primates (including extant and extinct species).
Having studied palaeoanthropology at a postgraduate level, I have applied ecomorphological studies to the human lineage and, more specifically to the study of locomotion, which is one of the aspects of animal biology that requires direct interaction with the environment.
The title of my PhD is 'Degenerative joint disease (DJD) in non-human primates and its relationship to locomotor adaptation and substrate use'. My project aims to understand the real nature of degenerative joint disease (DJD). Where, how and why they appear in the post-cranial skeleton are some of the questions we seek to answer.
DJD is present across the archaeological record, affecting modern humans and their ancestors, as well as neanderthals. The presence of DJD throughout the human lineage has led to research on the aetiology of the disorder. Acquisition of a bipedal gait and, therefore, an erect posture has been argued to be the main causal factor for DJD within the human lineage. However, DJD is not exclusive to our species despite being defined as a typically human phenomenon and, thus, causes of appearance may vary. Taking a new approach, this study evaluates the influence different locomotor strategies and supports used can have on the prevalence of DJD. Non-human primates are good models for this investigation, given their phylogenetic proximity with humans but, most importantly, for the wide range of locomotor behaviours they perform and the variety of supports they use to move in their habitats.
My research provides a new perspective into the study of DJD, both among human and non-human primates. It is a comparative study of different species of primates, which will produce new information about the appearance of degenerative processes on the weight-bearing joints within the order. Although I principally work on skeletal material and focus on the recording of DJD, I am utilising a holistic approach, integrating ecology, osteology, biomechanics and comparative anatomy."
"My PhD project is entitled ' Developments in the exploitation of animal resources between the Late Roman period and the Early Middle Ages: a comparative study of the evidence from Britain and the lower Rhineland'.
I am investigating the development of animal exploitation during the period of transition between the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages in Britain and in the lower Rhine region (former Roman provinces of Germania Inferior and Belgica, and the bordering areas of Germania Libera).
I am analysing and interpreting diachronic and geographical differences within the changing socio-economic and political contexts. In particular, changes in the outputs and scale of husbandry practices, which I expect to reflect different socio-political conditions and economic strategies. My project aims to provide new information on the process of decline of the Roman world and the onset of early medieval economies.
In order to achieve this, my study will consider local and regional trends in animal exploitation during the Imperial period. Roman husbandry practices are known to have impacted considerably on the way domestic animals were reared in the various provinces of the Empire. On many Roman sites there is increasing evidence for the specialisation of economic activities, including the exploitation of animal resources. In several instances, modifications to the biological characters of domesticates were deliberately sought and pursued; a well-known example from the Roman period is the size increase undergone by some domestic species, with particular regard to cattle and, to a lesser extent, sheep.
The collapse of the Roman political and economic system resulted in a number of modifications to husbandry practices, which entailed a less specialised and smaller-scale management of animal resources typical of self-sufficient, subsistence economies. In contrast with the abundance of zooarchaeological studies focussing on the Iron Age to Roman transition, relatively few investigations have explored the development of animal exploitation during the centuries elapsing between the Late Antiquity and the onset of the Middle Ages.
My research project will contribute to fill such gap, integrating the evidence from British and mainland European sites and thus providing a better understanding of the dynamics which transformed Europe in the post-Roman period."
"My research interests focus on iconography, Late Bronze Age in Crete, Minoan culture, burial customs and social identities. In October 2013 I started my PhD at the University of Sheffield with a thesis entitled 'A contextual study of LM III larnakes: their manufacture, use and decoration'.
The final aim of my research project is to understand if larnakes, burial receptacles usually made of clay used in Crete and mainland Greece at the end of the 3rd and in the 2nd millennium B.C., can be considered a meaningful Minoan category and, if so, what was their social significance. Larnakes constitute one of several different types of coffin adopted for burial purpose in these two areas of the Aegean. Their use is attested in the EM/MM period and during the LMII-LM III/LH III period and they vary in terms of dimension, shape and decoration.
My project focuses on clay larnakes from Crete and dating to the LM III period. I will assess the social significance of larnarkes through the study of their regional and temporal distribution, their iconography (where decoration is still visible) and the contextual association between data on larnakes (presence /absence of decoration; shape-dimension; motives) and on other burial contexts (e.g. type of tomb; coexistence with other burial context; skeletal remains; grave goods). The analysis of the relation between larnakes and other containers will allow to clarify the function of larnakes in terms of social relations and, more generally, how larnakes were used."
Supervised by: Dr Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Dr Charlotte Henderson
"The title of my PhD is "Osteoarthritis in past populations: risk factors and comparative analysis of clinical diagnoses and treatments"
I have always been a fan of history and wanted to travel the world to learn
"My current research is focused on the material evidence for the process of copper production in the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age within the Aegean and Balkans. This involves creating a database of sites with evidence from these periods, categorising and detailing the material present at each site, associated with metal production.
I am also looking into the interpretation and understanding of how the material evidence is reconstructed into the different processes associated with metal production, from the preparation of ore for smelting, the smelting process, consolidating and casting. The methods employed to achieve this include not only typographical categorisation, but analysis and experimental archaeology.
I have already made an impact on this area of research, with my work on the material evidence from the sites of Chrysokamino and Kythnos in the Aegean. My research on this evidence, included a series of experimental trials, in a reconstructed furnace, testing the working parameters of the smelt within the furnace. The metallurgical material produced during these trial smelts, and the ceramics involved within the process, were analysed afterwards. These were then compared to the material from the site, to assess if the conditions achieved and undergone, in the hypothesised method of smelting, compared to that from the site. The evidence showed that the experimental trials underwent the same conditions as the material from the site and caused similar effects on the material, therefore supporting the hypothesis for the reconstruction of the furnace and the method of smelting.
My research has been presented at a number of conferences including; The Historical Metallurgical Research in Progress conference, The Theoretical Archaeology Group conference, and The Aegean Round Table conference, with subsequent publications in process."
"My research is looking at the ceramic technological changes in Sicily between the Byzantine and the Islamic period.
I am applying the chaîne opératoire approach to reconstruct the technological choices made by the people living this period of cultural transition in Medieval Sicily.
To achieve this I am reconstructing the different steps of production from the selection of the raw material, through the forming and decoration methods, to the firing techniques. The main technique employed is ceramic petrography, and I am going to use SEM-EDS analysis as well, to clarify the aspects that ceramic petrography cannot cover."
"The title of my PhD is 'The perennial or occasional ‘Nutcracker Man’? Does dietary adaptation explain the derived craniofacial morphology of Paranthropus?'
Conventional explanations of morphological variation focus on adaptive differences, such as those relating to dietary ecology. In this context, the highly derived craniofacial morphology of Paranthropus has long been regarded as a specialist dietary adaptation to aide with the consumption of hard foods, and the striking differences in morphology between Paranthropus and Australopithecus interpreted as a reflection of significant differences in the masticatory requirements of diet. However, evidence from stable carbon isotopes and dental microwear texture analyses challenge this interpretation, suggesting that the species of both hominid genera exploited more similar but varied omnivorous diets. Consequently, other evolutionary scenarios need to be considered to further our understanding of potential mechanisms involved in the evolution of Paranthropus mandibular and masticatory morphology.
My project is a comparative study of extant nonhuman primates, exploring a variety of underlying factors potentially affecting morphology, including diet/ fallback foods, and sexual dimorphism. I am using series of metric and non-metric variables of the dentition and mandible to describe and compare morphological variation among different Catarrhine and Platyrrhine primate species.
To date, I have carried out my research at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent, Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, the Museum of Natural History, Vienna and the Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich with a current sample size totalling 907 extant nonhuman primate specimens. My preliminary analysis indicates that variations in diet and the degree of sexual dimorphism are important factors affecting the masticatory morphology of nonhuman primates. I am now planning to look at the application of these factors in reference to Paranthropus and Australopithecus."
"My research interests are in exploring the production and consumption of pyrotechnology, particularly glass and glazed ceramics. I am interested in using archaeometric approaches to investigate the provenance and trade/exchange of archaeological materials as well as the socio-cultural practice in past societies.
My current research is doing scientific analysis on early Iron Age glass beads from Taiwan. Glass beads were luxury items found in funerary and settlement contexts from the Iron Age, replacing indigenous nephrite which was used for the manufacture of decorative and prestige items throughout the Neolithic. The replacement of one material with another has led archaeologists to suggest that the same eastern trade routes used to export nephrite from Taiwan to other areas in South East Asia in the late Neolithic were used to import glass beads in the early Iron Age.
I use SEM-EDS, EPMA and LA-ICP-MS to investigation the chemical composition of glass beads in order to understand their major, minor and trace elemental information. I will be using this data, combined with the stylistic analysis and the context of each site, in order to obtain a holistic picture in terms of the consumption, production and exchange of glass beads within Taiwan and between Taiwan and the Southeast Asia."
"The title of my PhD is 'Elusive Phoenicians: Perceptions of Phoenician Identity and Material Culture as Reflected in Museum Records and Displays Abstract.'
My research focuses on the material culture of Phoenicia, usually defined as the region in which several Iron Age (c.1200-300 BCE) city-states lay in the central Levantine coast, as well as the colonies established by those city-states in the Mediterranean, referred to as the ‘Punic world’. The project aims to investigate the part played by different historical and modern perceptions of Phoenician culture and identity in the presentation and interpretation of what is and has been regarded as Phoenician material culture in different Mediterranean and European museums. Given the chequered history of perceptions of Phoenicians in different national and intellectual contexts from antiquity until relatively recently, it seems likely that attitudes to what constitutes objects of Phoenician material culture will also have varied from place to place and from time to time.
I am principally interested in the relationships between material culture, heritage, and identity, as well as in perceptions in archaeology. My other research interests include museum studies, accessible archaeology and outreach, theory, and Mediterranean archaeology from the Bronze and Iron Ages.
I have the following qualifications
MA in Artefact Studies, University College London, 2013-2014. Merit