Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - PALAEO (Palaeoecology, archaeology and evolutionary origins)

The PALAEO project aimed to establish a group of young researchers working in the fields of human palaeoecology and evolution, building on the expertise already in place at the University of York, United Kingdom, and to ensure continuity for that research field at York.

PALAEO was an innovative integration of expertise between the functional morphology and evolution group of the Hull-York Medical School, and the departments of archaeology, biology and chemistry of the University of York. The early stage research training (EST) provided skills and theoretical training in the investigation of ancient environments and the application of established and new techniques to gaining a more nuanced understanding of the evolution of our species. PALAEO fellows were appointed in two groups, namely a cohort of three-year PhD fellows, whose objective was a body of research leading to PhD qualification and publications, and a number of short term fellows who brought their research to York in order to collaborate and gain skills experience. The PhD cohort graduated in the summer of 2010. By the end of the reporting period four of the PhD fellows occupied post-doctoral positions, building on the work that they undertook in PALAEO.

An important objective was to engage all fellows in exchange of ideas and information amongst themselves and with research peers elsewhere. To this end, all fellows were encouraged and facilitated to attend conferences and workshops. Internally, the fellows organised near weekly seminars on palaeoenvironmental and evolutionary topics, with some lectures being provided by internal speakers and others by invited colleagues. The fellows hosted one meeting of the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) vertebrates group and attended other QRA meetings, gaining important contacts and organisational experience. In addition, the fellows attended relevant international conferences.

Another key objective was to provide training in the dissemination of research. The PhD fellows collaborated on the production of a book, titled 'PALAEO: interdisciplinary approaches to reconstructing the past', which was published in 2008, ISBN 978-0-901931-05-4, supported by a training package commissioned from a pioneering education researcher, Dr John Issitt. The text prepared for the book was also a valuable precursor to the text for the fellows' theses, and the experience supported the subsequent preparation of research papers. Fellows were lead authors or contributors to papers in reputable journals, including the Journal of Human Evolution, the Quaternary Science Reviews and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Short term and PhD fellows also attended a range of training modules, some of which were run explicitly for PALAEO in order to offer skills training in laboratory methods such as the application of geometric morphometrics. Others were modules that constituted part of postgraduate courses run at York. The PhD fellows also provided demonstration and teaching support, having attended and passed training courses run by the University's Graduate Training Unit for postgraduates who wished to teach (refer to for more information). Teaching delivered by fellows to archaeology undergraduates was particularly well received, being highly commended in student feedback.

The scientific achievements of the EST were diverse, though two things particularly stood out. Work on proteins contained within the crystal structure of marine shells demonstrated, for the first time, that time dependent changes in the protein chemistry might be used to provide estimations of the age of shell-rich deposits, such as prehistoric shell middens. Developed and ground-truthed largely on United Kingdom material, this technique was extended to material from the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions. In addition, the field of ecomorphology linked environmental characteristics and processes to the detailed morphology of bones and teeth, making it an important integrative study. Three of the PhD fellows and several of the short term fellows worked on the ecomorphology of different species, giving PALAEO prominence in this emerging field.

Reported by

University of York
Heslington -
YO1 5DD York
United Kingdom
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