PhD position on Olduvai Gorge

The Department of Archaeology of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History is offering one 3-year funded PhD position centering on Olduvai Gorge. The candidate will conduct studies on Early Stone Age technology in close coordination and integration with an interdisciplinary research group. She/he should have a strong interest in, and ideally experience in, Human Evolutionary Studies, Palaeolithic Archaeology, and Lithic Technology. For more information on the Department of Archaeology, and on the research being conducted at Olduvai please visit our webpages:

Olduvai Gorge represents one of the main cradles of humankind. Located in northern Tanzania, on the western flank of the Gregory Rift, the gorge is famous for its many human fossils and an archaeological record with well-defined and dated sedimentological strata spanning many evolutionary and technological transitions. Yet, little is known about the function of stone tools and how they were used by hominins through time as environments changed. As part of a joint agreement between the Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and the University of Calgary (Prof. Julio Mercader), archaeologists, palaeoanthropologists, environmental scientists, geoscientists, and biologically-oriented scientists have come together in order to assess climate change and shifts in stone tool technologies, food processing and hominin diets. Combined analysis of environmental proxies and palaeodietary information, together with detailed study of stone tool technology, will provide new insights into hominin adaptations through time. In spite of many years of research at Olduvai examining the interaction between environmental change and human responses, few projects have placed emphasis on the interface between stone tools, diet and landscape utilization. The lack of detailed stone tool technological studies hinders an assessment of early human behaviours on-site and between sites. Moreover, without this baseline, we cannot contextualize the ancient environmental and dietary information that pertain to key transitions in human evolution, including the transition to our own genus, the genus Homo, and the connected transitions from the Oldowan to the Acheulean.

This project has three inter-related components important for assessment of evolutionary developments at Olduvai:

1) Technological and typological analysis of stone tool assemblages from Beds I, II and III;

2) Metric and 3D morphometric studies to establish stone tool manufacture and reutilization of lithic artefacts across the landscape and over time as a measure of mobility and changing strategies in landscape exploitation.

3) Integration of the lithic data sets with information being derived from other data sets, primarily those on lithic sources, faunal exploitation patterns, and environmental change.

The PhD project will provide new insights into human behaviours and settlement and subsistence patterns at Olduvai, and will contribute new information relevant to human evolutionary history.

The successful student will work under the supervision of the project’s Principal Investigators Professor Michael Petraglia ( and Professor Julio Mercader ( She/he will be expected to spend a considerable amount of time analyzing lithic artefacts from several archaeological sites in Olduvai Gorge. The candidate must be willing to spend June and July, 2019, at Olduvai, working alongside the interdisciplinary team. The PhD student will be based at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany.

Applicants will be expected to demonstrate significant experience and competence in working alongside interdisciplinary teams. They will be expected to disseminate the results of their study at international conferences across the world and publish them in peer-reviewed journals and books/chapters.

Your qualifications


Have, or be about to obtain, a Masters degree or equivalent qualification in Palaeolithic or Prehistoric Archaeology or a closely-related field.
A strong record of examination at undergraduate and masters level.
Willingness to travel from Europe to Africa and Canada to spend considerable amount of time in Tanzania and Olduvai Gorge working with an international and interdisciplinary research team.
Fluency in English (speaking, reading and writing).
Effective time management skills and ability to efficiently coordinate research analyses through to publication.
We are looking for individuals who are fascinated by prehistoric (especially Palaeolithic) archaeology and archaeological science, are familiar with latest developments in the field of human evolution, and keen to be part of a growing and dynamic interdisciplinary project.
Candidates are expected to be enthusiastic about learning and exploring interdisciplinary research topics. They must also be willing to work as part of a research team and help build up and develop the Department of Archaeology’s research programme and thematic aims, together with our key partners at the University of Calgary.

Knowledge of the Pliocene and Pleistocene archaeological record of Africa.
Fieldwork experience at African Palaeolithic sites.
Familiarity with archaeological and archaeological science methodologies, such as zooarchaeology, environmental science, geochemistry (lithic sourcing), stable isotopes, and/or chronometric dating.
We offer

Intellectual, technical and resource support for the development of world-leading research.
The opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team of PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and scientific staff.
Access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment.
Access to the institute’s exciting interdisciplinary environment, including enrollment in its new interdisciplinary International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) run between the Institute and Friedrich Schiller Universität, Jena. This will provide additional student support and training.
An excellent, friendly research environment.
An English language working environment.
Full funding for top applicants (3 years)
The Max Planck Society is committed to employing more handicapped individuals and especially encourages them to apply. The Max Planck Society also seeks to increase the number of women in the sciences and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

To apply:

We will accept applications from interested candidates until March 1, 2019, or until the position is filled.

Please send us:

A cover letter expressing your interest in the project’s objectives and outlining your experience. Successful candidates will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the broader relevance of the research, and the ability to think creatively and critically.
A research proposal (2 pages maximum, not including references and figures) that demonstrates your ability to design and plan a project in the selected research area. Successful candidates will be able to demonstrate competence in the subject area, an understanding of the broader relevance of their research, and the ability to think creatively and critically in designing a project. The proposal is designed to allow assessment of an applicant’s research and writing skills and may or may not form the basis of the final project, which will be decided in concert with the successful applicant’s supervisors.
Your CV.
A piece of written (published or unpublished) work in English (no more than 5 pages).
Your undergraduate and master’s transcripts.
Names and contact details of 2 referees – Please note that when submitting your documents in our application portal you’ll be asked for the contact information of your referees. Your referees will receive an email containing a link where they can upload their letter of recommendation. Please note that the deadline for submission of these letters is the same as the one for the applications.
Submissions will only be accepted if they are sent through the online application and are received in full by the application deadline.

For more information about the project please contact Professor Michael Petraglia ( or Professor Julio Mercader (
For more information about the application procedure please contact Jenny Broemel (