research fellowship archaeobotany


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Research Fellowship in Jena in the Archaeobotany of the Silk Road

The Fruits of Eurasia: Domestication and Dispersal (FEDD) project in the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), Jena, Germany, is pleased to announce a new vacancy for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. The researcher will study the spread of cultivated crops along the ancient Silk Road through archaeobotancial investigations and urban centers along the ancient trade routes. The position is for 3 years and will be based in the Archaeobotany Laboratories in Jena, Germany.

The FEDD project is funded by the prestigious European Research Council, and the research agenda is directed by Dr. Robert N. Spengler III. The team of researchers composing FEDD are interested in studying the domestication and dispersal of arboreal crops across Eurasia. They are focusing on archaeological sites in Central Asia, at the heart of the ancient crossroads between East and West Asia. In the foothills of this region, remnant patches of wild fruit and nut forests contain the progenitors for several of the most familiar fruits in our kitchens today. However, we know very little about their early cultivation and domestication. Despite the important role that people in this part of the world played in directing cultural developments, Central Asia has received limited archaeobotanical attention. Additionally, most of the studies of ancient farming systems have focused on low-investment Bronze Age settlements in the mountains or has sought to trace the path of millets into Europe or wheat into China. The FEDD team plans to target the nodes of the ancient Silk Road to explore what crops were sold in the market bazaars and when the less-studied arboreal crops spread across Eurasia.

Candidate Tasks

The successful candidate will play a central role in the project and its outputs. They will be expected to actively analyze and sort macrobotanical samples in the laboratory in Jena, and independently compile information from historical, archaeological, and agronomic studies to interpret the results. The researcher will work under the supervision of Dr. Spengler, but is expected to have a sufficient skillset to function independently. The candidate will work in a world-class laboratory facility and have access to a range of microscopes, including an SEM and digital Keyence. The candidate will follow appropriate laboratory procedures and is expected to work efficiently as part of a research team. The candidate is also expected to help coordinate work-study students and graduate students, who are associated with the same project.

The majority of the research expectations will be laboratory based; however, there is potential for hands-on field research in Central Asia. This would include sample collection and the establishment of new research projects from the ground up. Researchers on the FEDD project plan to study archaeobotancial remains along the core corridors of the Silk Road, specifically focusing on the northern foothill zones. This massive swath of land has largely remained a black box to archaeobotanical studies and the post-doctoral researcher would have a unique opportunity to work with some of the least understood assemblages in the Old World. The successful candidate would benefit from the academic atmosphere of the Max Planck Institute and the research experience of senior members of the FEDD project.

Candidate Qualifications

It is essential that the applicant has considerable experience working with archaeobotanical samples and is familiar with Eurasian domesticated plants. The applicant will not only work independently, but will be expected to assist and coordinate other, younger, scholars in the lab. The applicant is not expected to be familiar with the wild flora of Inner Asia or the archaeology of this part of the world; although, these would be ideal additional qualifications. Other beneficial qualifications include, experience operation a SEM microscope, a MicroCT, and experience working with pollen and/or wood charcoal. The ideal applicant has worked on archaeological plant remains from either East Asia or Europe, but the geographic focus of the candidate’s previous research is open. Other prerequisites include evidence of strong oral and written communication skills, including an outstanding publication record, commensurate with career stage. Willingness to work as part of a team, a strong work ethic, and the ability to complete tasks in a timely and structured fashion are also necessities.


    PhD in Anthropology, Archaeology, Plant Biology, or Ecology, scholars with previous experience in the agronomic sciences or evolutionary ecology will be considered
    Familiarity with plant taxonomy and morphological studies. Previous experience does not have to be limited to archaeobotanical investigations, and scholars with paleontological or plant systematics backgrounds will be considered
    A strong publications record and demonstration of research competence


    Experience with archaeobotanical studies of Eurasia
    Experience with palynology and/or wood charcoal identification
    Interest in conducting field research in Central Asia
    Archaeological experience in Central Asia and knowledge of the history of archaeology in this region
    A strong plant taxonomy background, preferably with familiarity of the Inner Asian flora
    Russian fluency or competence

The position offers a unique opportunity to develop cutting edge research in the city of Jena that is renowned for its position at the intersection of Biogeochemical, Ecological, and Archaeological research. The Max Planck Society and the European Research Council both promote these multidisciplinary connections and this position offers the candidate the possibility of making the most of such networks and become a leader in novel approaches to the utilization of archaeological datasets.

The start date is flexible, but not before January 1, 2020. Renumeration will follow the public service pay scale (TVöD), according to the candidate’s qualifications and experience. In addition, social benefits are offered as per the regulations of the German Civil Service.

The Max Planck Society is committed to employing individuals with disabilities and especially encourages them to apply. The Max Planck Society also seeks to increase the number of women in areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

How to apply

Please submit your application (which should include a cover letter specifying qualifications and reasons for your interest in the post, and well as a CV, including all the applicant’s publications and any relevant merits) by November 30, 2019.

Please note that when submitting your document in our application portal you are offered the possibility to state contact information of 3 referees. This is not necessary for this position so you can forgo this step.

Please submit your application as a single pdf file in English using the following link:

Contact for more information:

Robert N Spengler III

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