Phd Position In Environmental Dna And Archaeology (1.0 Fte)

Utrecht University


June 28, 2021


PhD position in environmental DNA and Archaeology (1.0 FTE)

Job description

We are seeking a PhD candidate as part of the NWA project ‘Constructing the limes: Employing citizen science to understand borders and border systems from the Roman period until today'. C-Limes is a large interdisciplinary project studying the border of the Roman Empire, and more specifically the so-called Lower German Limes. The project not only investigates how the border functioned in antiquity and its impact on human mobility and the import of goods, but it also studies how the limes has become cultural heritage, influenced our contemporary views on borders and was mobilized in identity politics since the early modern period. The project is unique in its kind due to its strong attention for citizen science and close collaboration with societal partners.

In a work package called ‘Limes People', state-of-the-art methods from archaeological science are employed to study the mobility of people and goods across and beyond the Limes borderscape. Analysis of ancient DNA of pathogens, plants and animals preserved in sediments, and isotopic studies and DNA research of human remains will be used to critically evaluate and map cultural interaction during the Roman period in North-western Europe.

The analysis of DNA from environmental and sedimentary samples (also known as ancient eDNA or sedaDNA) in archaeology has rapidly developed over the past decade. DNA of plants, animals, humans, and bacteria is well-preserved in certain archaeological contexts. New sampling techniques and bioinformatic methods allow us to sequence that DNA. Although the technique is still in development and its full potential unknown, recent studies indicate it could replace and automate many time consuming bioarchaeological techniques (e.g. microbotanic techniques).

This project will develop sampling techniques and sequencing protocols for eDNA in Dutch archaeological contexts. The data produced will be used to reconstruct the introduction and spread of crops, animals, and diseases across the limes borderscape. As such, we attempt to use eDNA data to explain sudden population collapses in the late 2nd and 3rd century, but also the introduction and spread of new food resources.

For the part of this study dealing with geogenetics, we are looking for a candidate with a background in molecular biology and a keen interest in archaeological science to:

  • assist an interdisciplinary team from the Netherlands and Denmark in the development of methodology for the analysis of ancient DNA from environmental and sedimentary samples;
  • optimise sampling and processing protocols for ancient eDNA for application in (Dutch) archaeological fieldwork;
  • conduct eDNA-based research on Roman archaeological contexts in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany to document the spread of pathogens and crop cultivars;
  • compare the eDNA data with the results from traditional bioarchaeological techniques.
  • As the project embraces the open science principles, the candidate will be asked to actively engage with societal partners, contribute to non-academic deliverables (exhibition and TV documentary), and regularly present findings of the project to the public.

    The Researcher will be based at the Heritage and Public History Lab at Utrecht University and the Ecological Genetics Lab at Wageningen Environmental Research. This position will be a close collaboration with the world leading center for Geogenetics in Copenhagen (Prof. Kurt Kjær will be co-promotor). The candidate will perform eDNA analyses in Wageningen, while also conducting training and lab work during regular visits to Copenhagen.


    Your responsibilities will be:

  • conducting the research (literature research, sample collection, wet lab analyses, data analysis, including bioinformatics) and reporting the results through international scientific publications and a dissertation;
  • presenting results at national and international scientific conferences;
  • occasional teaching (max. 10% per year);
  • active participation in the research group of the project and of the department.

  • (almost) finished a Master's degree in (molecular) biology, biotechnology, bioarchaeology, or forensic science;

  • a keen interest in archaeology;
  • (basic) experience with genetic laboratory work, including DNA extraction and sequencing and affinity with working under strict lab conditions (to prevent sample contamination). Experience with bioinformatics is a plus;
  • an excellent academic record;
  • good social and communication skills;
  • an excellent command of English.
  • Offer

    We offer a temporary position (1.0 FTE) for a period of four years. The gross monthly salary ranges between €2,395 in the first year and €3,061 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

    About the organization

    A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

    Additional information

    For more information about this position, please contact: Gertjan Plets (Assistant Professor Heritage and Archaeology), via or Arjen de Groot (eDNA laboratory WUR and co-promotor), via

    Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation and a short writing sample of published work or chapter of e.g. your thesis via the ‘apply' button below.

    The application deadline is 28/06/2021