The archaeology and ecology of nutritional and medicinal plants from pre-agrarian contexts: distribution, functional traits and biochemical properties


This PhD offers a unique opportunity to study an inter-disciplinary problem at the interface between archaeology, ethnography and plant ecology. The successful applicant will join a world-class, inter-disciplinary team and develop an exceptional set of skills and networks to help you take the next step in your career. 

The focus of this project is to investigate the use of plants in recent and ancient non-agricultural communities and explore how plant biochemical spectra and functional traits might have affected the capacity of early human groups to obtain nutritious food and plant-based medications across diverse ecozones. 

The biochemical characteristics (ecological functional traits) that characterise groups of plants are not well known and likely vary as a function of the locally available flora. This PhD project will bring together an international supervisory network, providing exceptional field, laboratory and big-data analyses and networking opportunities for the successful applicant, all in a rapidly emerging and high-impact field to investigate the extent to which capacity to obtain plants with the required nutritional and medicinal properties in pre-agrarian contexts, was limited by variable local ecological contexts.  

This position is part of the UKRI ERC Advanced Grant replacement fund project Powerful Plants:  The Power of Plants as Food, Medicine and Raw Materials Before Agriculture.  This new project will use archaeological evidence supported by experimental archaeology and ethnographic data, to investigate the social, cultural and behavioural roles of the human use of plants before farming.  Plants are essential to our physical, psychological and physiological well-being today as they were in the past. They provide us with energy, nutrients, medicines and raw materials. Yet the role of plants before the emergence of agriculture around 10,000 years ago, is virtually unknown largely due to their low survival rate.




Open to UK and international applicants.

Applicants should normally have a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent international qualification) and should have completed or be completing at the time of application a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline in plant ecology, biology, archaeology, or a related subject. You should have an understanding of, or willingness to learn about the deep human past, and in developing skills in statistical and computational analyses of biological data.  The project is based in Glasgow, but at least one year will be spent in Barcelona.  

Applicants without a Master’s qualification (awarded or pending) are invited to provide information about relevant professional experience, skills and knowledge. 



To apply, please email Prof. Karen Hardy ( by midday on Friday 16th December, 2022 with:

  • a CV
  • covering letter (max. two pages)
  • writing sample (max 3,000 words)
  • scans of qualification certificates/transcripts
  • two written references

Shortlisted candidates will be informed by 13th January 2023 and invited to interview on 30th January. 

If you have any queries, or would like further information, please contact Prof. Karen Hardy (


Funding will cover tuition fees at the home/UK rate, and a stipend at the Research Council rate (£17,668 for 2022-23), full-time for 4 years. The College of Arts will waive the difference between the UK and International fees for this studentship, meaning that all students are eligible to have their tuition fees covered in their entirety.