PhD Candidate on Micromorphology of Southern Africa Pleistocene Rockshelter Deposits

University of Leiden – Human Origins - Faculty of Archaeology

The Section Human Origins of the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University has a vacancy for a
PhD Candidate on Micromorphology of southern Africa Pleistocene rockshelter deposits (1.0 FTE)
Vacancy number 17-541

Project description

We are looking for a PhD-candidate to join the project "Finding resolution for the Middle to Later Stone Age transition in South Africa", sponsored by NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) with a Vidi grant.

The archaeological record of southern Africa is world-renowned and presents evidence spanning early hominins to the putative emergence of modern humans (Dusseldorp et al. 2013). A fundamental transition in this record is from the Middle Stone Age (MSA ~300 ka to ~30 ka) to the Later Stone Age (LSA). The chronology and causes of this transition are poorly understood. The transition takes place during the Late Pleistocene, when major global climatic re-organisations impacted southern African climates and ecologies. This project deals with the crucial question of if and how climatic developments correlated with technological changes and human adaptations (e.g. Ziegler et al. 2013; cf. Chase et al. 2017). Within the project, two rock shelters in eastern South Africa - Shongweni Caves and Umhlatuzana – will be investigated. The project focuses on: 1) changes in lithic technology and adaptation; 2) improved chronological control for this transition; and 3) environmental proxy data in direct stratigraphic/temporal relation to evidence for occupation.

The PhD is responsible for subproject (3), combining detailed analysis of site-formation processes with environmental proxies to derive a robust, multi-proxy occupational context. The successful candidate will focus on the genesis of two sites using micromorphology. This study will develop new insights into the taphonomy of the sites’ deposits and their occupational histories.

Key responsibilities

  • Conducting archaeological fieldwork with the project team.
  • (Micro)stratigraphic sampling of the excavation profiles.
  • Preparing micromorphological slides (periodical travel to Amersfoort required).
  • Conduct micromorphological analysis, determining:
    • Degree of mixing between stratigraphic levels;
    • Occupation intensity;
    • Presence and character of anthropogenic features such as hearths and bedding.
  • Undertake chronological modelling.
  • Conduct bulk sampling and analysis of light stable isotopes (δ13C).
  • Publish the results in peer-reviewed papers that will comprise the PhD-thesis.

Training and skills

The candidate will become highly proficient in micromorphology and will receive training from Prof. Hans Huisman (RCE, University of Groningen). He/she will learn how to sample site profiles, prepare thin sections, use polarization microscopy, and identify micromorphological features (e.g. sediments, deposition phases, ash deposits, sediment mixing). The candidate will join a large collaborative team working closely to “Finding resolution for the Middle to Later Stone Age transition”, providing a wide collaborative network to support the PhD and her/his career. The candidate will gain additional skills and competences concerning: 1) OSL and 14C dating and 2) light stable isotope analysis (e.g. δ13C) in collaboration with Dr Andrew Carr. This varied application of methods in a wider project will provide a unique set of skills.

Selection criteria

  • A completed MA/MSc in Archaeology or Physical Geography/Geology/Geochemistry;
  • Demonstrable affinity with taphonomic and/or palaeoenvironmental research;
  • An excellent command of the English language, both spoken and written;
  • Proficient in academic writing;
  • A team player who can liaise independently with co-supervisors/collaborators across different institutions;
  • Proficiency in micromorphological analysis;
  • Demonstrable affinity with research into Pleistocene Archaeology of South Africa;
  • Knowledge of the key principles underpinning the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments.

Our Faculty

The future of the past begins in Leiden. The Faculty of Archaeology is internationally leading for its research, home to a broad array of specializations, and notable for the strong connection it fosters between teaching and research. Home to over 500 students in the multidisciplinary world of Archaeology, the Faculty and its researchers from all areas of the Archaeological field determine the future of archaeological research. Information about the Faculty of Archaeology can be found at Information on the advanced research qualification and research programmes of the Graduate School of Archaeology can be found on

Terms and conditions

We offer a position for 38 hours per week. The appointment as a PhD student will be for a period of four years (initially for a period of one year with an extension of three years after positive evaluation of progress and skills development) leading to the successful completion of a PhD thesis. The appointment will be under the terms of the CAO (Collective Labour Agreement) of Dutch Universities. The gross monthly salary is set on €2,222 in the first year, increasing to €2,840 gross per month in the final year.

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development, and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. More at


Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


Enquiries regarding the position be made to the project PI, Dr Gerrit Dusseldorp (email:

More vacancies and information via


To apply for this vacancy, please send no later than 31 January 2018 an email to Josephine Say ( Please ensure that you attach the following additional documents quoting the vacancy number:

  • A cover letter stating your motivation for this position;
  • A CV;
  • Research statement, max 350 words detailing your own ideas and aims for the micromorphology study;
  • Your master thesis or other major writing sample;
  • Copies of your academic transcripts;
  • The names and contact addresses of two academic referees.

The selection procedure will take place in February, and selected candidates will be invited for an interview in March. You are kindly requested to be available in this period.

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated.

Further reading

  • Chase, B. et al 2017. The dynamic relationship between temperate and tropical circulation systems across South Africa since the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews 174, 54-62.
  • Carr, A.S. et al. 2016. Mid to Late Quaternary Landscape and Environmental Dynamics in the Middle Stone Age of Southern South Africa. In: Jones, S., Stewart, B.A., (Eds.), Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments, pp. 23-47. Springer.
  • Collins, J. et al. 2017. Investigation of organic matter and biomarkers from Diepkloof Rockshelter: insights into Middle Stone Age site usage and palaeoclimate. Journal of Archaeological Science 85, 51-65.
  • Dusseldorp, G.L. et al. 2013. Pleistocene Homo and the updated Stone Age sequence of South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 109, Art #0042.
  • Lombard, M. et al. 2012. South African and Lesotho Stone Age sequence updated. South African Archaeological Bulletin 67, 123-144.
  • Villa, P et al. 2012. Border Cave and the beginning of the Later Stone Age in South Africa. PNAS 109, 13208–13213.
  • Ziegler, et al 2013. Development of Middle Stone Age innovation linked to rapid climate change. Nature Communications, 4, 1905.

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