PhD position to study prehistoric human landscape use and cultural change in Arabia

The Max Planck Extreme Events Research Group – spanning the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Ecology, Science of Human History, and Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, led by Dr Huw S. Groucutt – invites talented and highly motivated candidates to apply for a:

Three year fully funded PhD position to study human landscape use and cultural change in Arabia through GIS analyses of prehistoric stone structures.

Project description: Recent research in the Arabian Peninsula has revealed fascinating insights into environmental and cultural change. One significant aspect of the archaeological record of Arabia is the abundance of human-built stone structures. These vary from funerary structures and other ritual monuments to large hunting traps. Little is currently known in detail of the chronology, character and context of these different types of stone structures. This project aims to elucidate these enigmatic structures as a way to explore themes such as whether changes in human societies were gradual or abrupt and how societies adapted to the challenging environments of Arabia. The PhD project will explore the changing landscape positions of stone structures using GIS analyses. As well as describing and analysing particular kinds of stone structures, this project will build a relative chronological framework by exploring the stratigraphic superimposition of different kinds of structures. Methodologies employed may range from traditional GIS methods to the development of more automated detection and mapping using deep learning or machine learning methods, depending on the successful candidate. Given current Covid-19-related uncertainties about fieldwork, this PhD offers an attractive opportunity for an exciting desk-based project. The project has the potential to link with complementary fieldwork by the PI and his colleagues.

Examples of stone structures in Saudi Arabia. The project involves mapping and analysing such structures to gain insights into changes in human societies and landscape use over time.

Candidate requirements: We are looking for a highly motivated candidate with a background in archaeology, GIS, deep learning/machine learning or a related field. A relevant Master's degree involving GIS or deep learning/machine learning is a requirement, as well as an ability to work both individually and in a team. Desirable abilities include a background in programming (e.g. Python).
We are offering a fully funded three-year PhD position. Payment will be based on the tariff contracts for the public service (50% E13). We offer an excellent working environment based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena as part of an interdisciplinary group, with close connections to other institutions in Jena and internationally. We will provide office space and all necessary equipment, as well as technical support.

How to apply: The Max Planck Society is an equal opportunity employer. Therefore, we encourage all qualified applicants, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, creed or disability, to apply for this position. Please send your application as a single pdf in English including a letter of motivation and research interests, CV, relevant degree certificates and the contact details for two referees (who will be contacted to provide references in the first week of December if the candidate is longlisted) to Dr. Huw Groucutt (to whom any queries on this position should also be addressed).

The deadline for applications is December 1, 2020. Remote interviews will be held in December. The position can begin between January and April 2021.

Further reading:

The following papers offer some background information on the topic, from broad evaluations of human-environment interactions across the Holocene to our recent paper on the Mustatil stone structures of northern Arabia, some of the oldest largest scale-structures in the world. These studies highlight the potential for large-scale studies of the stone structures of Arabia.

Groucutt, H.S., et al. (2020). Monumental landscapes of the Holocene humid period in Northern Arabia: The Mustatil phenomenon. The Holocene 30, 1767-1779.

Kennedy, D. (2015). The “Works of the Old Men” in Arabia”: remote sensing in interior Arabia. Journal of Archaeological Science 2011, 3185-3203.

Kennedy, D., et al. (2015). Kites in Saudi Arabia. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 26, 177-195.

McCorrison, J., et al. (2011). Gazetteer of small-scale monuments in prehistoric Hadramawt, Yemen: a radiocarbon chronology from the RASA-AHSD Project research 1996-2008. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 22, 1-22.

Petraglia, M.D., et al. (2020). Human responses to climate and ecosystem change in ancient Arabia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 117, 8263-8270.