Postdoctoral Research Associate in Ancient Human Genomics

Durham, United Kingdom
£33797 - £34804 per annum
30 Apr 2021
End of advertisement period
01 Jun 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience. 

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

The Department of Archaeology has been ranked among the top 4 Archaeology Department in the world according to the QS World University Rankings and has been frequently ranked as one of the bests in the UK (REF2014 and Complete University Guide 2020). The Department is one of the largest Archaeology Departments in the world and has an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching, research and employability of our students. Having recently undergone a £3.2 refurbishment, the Department is one of the most comprehensively equipped departments in the UK. The facilities include internationally renowned scientific research laboratories, including the state-of-the-art ancient DNA laboratories inaugurated in 2016 (https://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/facilities_services/laboratories/221/).

The Role

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Ancient Human Genomics. The successful candidate will join a team of researchers led by Dr. Eva Fernandez-Dominguez at Durham University to work in the Leverhulme Research Project “What’s in a house?: exploring the kinship structure of the world’s first houses” (RPG-2019-362)

The research team will comprise the PI Dr Eva Fernandez Dominguez at Durham University and the Co-I Dr. Jessica Pearson at Liverpool University and two postdoctoral research associates: one based at Durham University and specialised in human ancient DNA (this post) and one based at the University of Liverpool specialised in human bioarchaeology and stable strontium and oxygen isotope analysis. The post-holder will be based in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University and will work closely with Dr. Eva Fernandez-Dominguez and the research team in Liverpool. 

Overview of the Project

Around 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, humans started cultivating cereals and domesticating animals and adopted a sedentary lifestyle. In the archaeological record, this process is recognised by the appearance of the first permanent house structures and an increase in the settlement size. 

This economic change and the resulting human aggregation brought a profound social reorganisation to human groups. This required coping with the stress of living year-round in more cramped spaces in highly populated villages and learning how to regulate the transmission and use of the land. Traditionally, archaeologists and anthropologists have tried to reconstruct the character of these social changes by looking at the architecture of the first houses and archaeological sites and at the funerary customs of these first farming societies. The Neolithic house seems to have played a central role in the social structure of these groups. It provided space for the living, but also for the dead, who were buried under household floors. In some instances, these houses were rebuilt in the exact same position, and a sequence of burials spanning different generations of house occupation have been found in several archaeological sites. Who was living in the house is still a matter of debate, and while some scholars maintain that its composition was mainly based on kin ties others maintain that the house had a more social function, hosting unrelated individuals that cooperated in joint work activities. Changes in house architecture have been related to changes in the composition of its members. For example, the small circular huts found during the Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) (ca. 9,600-8,500 BCE) have been attributed to individual or couples’ residences. On the other hand, the more spacious and often multi-roomed square houses characteristic of the subsequent PPNB period (ca. 8,500-6,400 BCE) are thought to have hosted nuclear or extended families. 

However, not all the burials during these periods are found under house floors. In some archaeological sites, an aggregation of certain skeletal elements such as crania, have been found under the floor of non-domestic structures attributed to “public buildings”. The meaning and significance of these “unusual burials” and their relationship to the house inhabitants is unknown, but a ritual meaning or a “foreign” origin have been speculated as possible reasons for their existence.