Neolithic Ness of Brodgar Post-excavation Postgraduate

‘Burning issues’ – funded MRes studentship available looking at Ness of Brodgar burnt animal bone

The UHI Archaeology Institute has a funded Masters by Research (MRes) studentship available, looking at the burnt bone assemblages from the Ness of Brodgar Neolithic complex.
Trench P at the Ness of Brodgar. (Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

The UHI Archaeology Institute has a funded Masters by Research (MRes) studentship available, looking at the burnt animal bone assemblage from the Ness of Brodgar Neolithic complex in Orkney.

Burning issues: the significance of burnt and cremated faunal assemblages in Neolithic Orkney aims to explore human-animal interactions in the Neolithic through consideration of a hitherto under-explored aspect of British Neolithic faunal assemblages – the taphonomy and zooarchaeology of burnt and cremated animal bone.

The research focuses on Neolithic Orkney, with the objective of characterising the extensive burnt bones assemblages from the Ness of Brodgar through a combination of traditional and innovative methodological approaches for taxonomic identification of burnt bone and a fine-grained analysis of depositional practice.

Excavation at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney has revealed a remarkable multi-phase complex of late Neolithic structures dating from circa 3500 – 2300 cal BC.

Structure Eight at the Ness of Brodgar. (Scott Pike)

In its later phases the site is dominated by several large buildings, whose scale, complexity, architectural details, decoration and associated finds assemblage indicate that their function is out with the domestic sphere and is interpreted as a communal ceremonial centre linked to the nearby stone circles at the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

Bone deposit from the Ness of Brodgar
Animal bone deposit from the interior of Structure Twelve at the Ness of Brodgar. (Sigurd Towrie)

Associated with the Ness of Brodgar is a very large assemblage of animal bone, a significant proportion of which is carbonised/calcined, hinting at a scale of burning beyond that which might be expected from the routine burning of domestic waste.

A key question for this MRes will be to explore the taphonomic history of the burnt fraction, including inter alia species spatial variability in deposition and degree of burning by species and element, where possible.

This will entail methodological development (e.g. using bone histology) and experimental archaeology into impacts of heat/fire on bone as well as application of traditional zooarchaeological approaches.

Training will be provided though it is anticipated that applicants will have prior experience in zooarchaeology. The successful student will be supervised by Professor Ingrid Mainland and Nick Card.

Due to the nature of the funding, this MRes will only be available for full-time study and will commence in February 2023. It is expected that students will be based at the UHI Archaeology Institute in Orkney.

The studentship support will cover the full-time 2023-4 fees at home (UK) rates (£4,596) and in additional will provide a stipend of £10,000.

Application process

Please send a letter of application outlining your interest in the studentship to Professor Ingrid Mainland ( and Nick Card ( along with a CV and a 500-word research proposal indicating how you would propose to address the topic.

The closing date for applications is midnight on November 20, 2022. Interviews will be held, via video-conference, in the week beginning December 5.

Environmental archaeology is one of the UHI Archaeology Institute’s research strengths ,with six members of staff covering zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, palynology and geoarchaeology. The successful MRes student would be part of a vibrant research group of staff and students specialising in these areas. They would also be part of the Ness of Brodgar project team, joining an international network of researchers working on different aspects of this site and its material culture.

Research Masters at the University of the Highlands and Islands

A Master’s by Research (MRes) in Archaeology is an intensive one-year (full-time) or two year (part-time) research programme. Under the supervision of academic staff, you will develop your own research focus and undertake original investigation in your chosen area.

MRes degrees lead to the submission of a research thesis (35,000 words) which is examined by viva voce.

For the MRes in archaeology you are also required to undertake a 20-credit taught module in research skills. The research and study experience are similar to a PhD and whilst a research Master’s is a postgraduate qualification in its own right, it can prove to be a good precursor for studying at PhD level, if that is a future goal.

For further details, including fees, click here.