Archaeology Courses Postgraduate

Funded PhD Opportunity at The Archaeology Institute


Seaweed as food and fodder in the North Atlantic Islands:past, present and future opportunities.

Funding is available for a studentship based at The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute to start on 1st October 2016.

Seaweed has been used as a food for animals and humans for thousands of years in coastal regions (Balasse et al. 2009; Mainland et al. 2016; Jones et al. 2012) and today is increasingly being recognised for its nutritional value and other health giving properties, with commercial production underway across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. An emphasis on the long tradition of seaweed-eating in the coastal regions of Scotland is often a key feature of the marketing associated with such products. Yet, there has been comparatively little underpinning academic research regarding the history and diversity of seaweed consumption and agricultural use through time.

This PhD will take as its focus the use of seaweed as a food resource for humans and livestock in the Scottish Islands, aiming to create a better understanding of both the historic use of seaweed in the agricultural landscape of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and its modern day potential as a fodder resource/supplement. It will use an inter-disciplinary approach drawing on historical, ethnobotanical, ethnozoological and archaeological evidence for seaweed consumption (dental calculus and tooth wear analysis, macrobotanical analysis) together with cutting-edge analytical methodologies for palaeodietary analysis using trace/rare elements and stable isotopes (ICP-OES, ICP-MS, MC-ICP-MS, LA-ICP-MS). Analysis will be undertaken on both modern and archaeological samples from the region with the former including seaweeds and samples from seaweed-eating sheep and cattle populations in Orkney (eg Hansen et al. 2003). Key aspects to be addressed are:

• The diversity of seaweed use as a food/fodder in the region in the recent past: which seaweed species have been used, why – i.e., lack of other resources, perceived nutritional value, and what for – i.e., as a dietary supplement, medicine, etc.

• The modern nutritional value (trace element content, vitamin levels) of seaweeds identified in the historic record

• The application of novel suites of trace/rare elements and/or, “non-traditional” isotopic signatures to confirm seaweed consumption in archaeological samples

• Chronological and spatial variation in the use of seaweed as fodder in the Scottish islands

The PhD will be co-supervised by Dr. Ingrid Mainland and Dr. Mark Taggart at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Prof Joerg Feldmann (University of Aberdeen) and Dr. Philippa Ascough (University of Glasgow). This PhD will be undertaken in collaboration with Devenish Nutrition.

The candidate will be expected to have a relevant qualification in Archaeological Science or a closely related discipline. Candidates with qualifications in other sciences (e.g., Biology, Analytical Chemistry) may also be considered providing they can demonstrate a keen interest in archaeology. The expectation is that the student will be based at the Archaeology Institute, Orkney College Campus in Kirkwall but will spend time at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso and at the laboratories of the collaborating partners in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

For more information and details of how to apply go to