Past in present soils: Leveraging development-led archaeological data to generate insights into urban soil development and soil health

Healthy soils are essential to a sustainable future. In today’s rapidly expanding urban contexts, they are fundamental to improving biodiversity, storing water, supporting urban farming, and improving wellbeing. While immediate impacts of today’s human actions on soil health are readily grasped, the ongoing impacts of past human actions are less well understood. This poses significant risks: policymakers, planners, land managers, and communities lack the information needed to plan how to maintain healthy soils over longer periods. In dense urban areas like London, where human activity is concentrated, development-led archaeology can contribute a critical deep-time perspective and substantial data on urban soils, including records of London’s ‘made ground’, which is created by long-term human activity in cities.

This PhD will develop a model which brings together archaeological information on soils with information relevant to soil health. To develop the model, the PhD will compile, interpret, and repurpose a wide array of data, including data on subsurface conditions and ‘buried soil’ preservation produced by development-led archaeology in the City. It will result in new approaches to connecting knowledge about past human interactions with soils to current knowledge about soil health, enabling a more holistic understanding of the processes which influence soil health over different timescales, connecting an archaeological perspective and how we understand our impacts on soil health and development today.

The PhD researcher leading this project will:

1. Assess the information needs of soil health professionals, e.g., environmental protection officers, using qualitative research methods.

2. Establish interoperability of commonly used indicators of soil health, proxy data types, and archaeological soil data using semantic modelling methods.

In collaboration with MOLA’s geomatics and geoarchaeology departments:

3. Using semantic and linked data modelling methods, develop a suite of experimental cross-mappings between geoarchaeological and soil health data.

4. Classify, map and assess the thickness, composition, and micromorphological character of the urban anthropogenic soil mantle in selected areas of London to generate new knowledge about urban soil development and health.

Research questions include:

  • How can insights into soil health and development be created by re-evaluating ‘standard’ descriptions of soil deposits, stratigraphic sequences, and borehole data collected during archaeological excavations and planning?
  • To what extent would the inclusion of archaeological data in Soil Observatories’ (e.g. UKSO/EUSO) frameworks measurably enhance their users’ understanding of soil systems?
  • Are there conditions in areas of London which have resulted in enhanced preservation of Anthropogenic Soils?



  • This studentship is open to all students, UK (home) and International.
  • To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
    • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
    • Have settled status, or
    • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
    • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

Further guidance

  • We want to encourage the widest range of potential candidates for a CDP studentship and are committed to welcoming individuals from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area.

  • Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification or be able to demonstrate equivalent relevant experience in a professional setting. Areas include, but are not limited to, Archaeological Science, Anthropology, Geography, Geosciences, Environmental Sciences, or Information Studies.

  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate an interest in the archaeology sector and potential and enthusiasm for developing skills more widely in related areas.

As a collaborative award, students will be expected to spend time at both the University and MOLA.

All applicants must meet the AHRC's academic criteria

For informal enquiries please contact the primary supervisor Rachel Opitz (


Application is by covering letter, CV and online application form, and should be made through the University of Glasgow online application system. Note that a research proposal is not required though some discussion of your interest in the project is encouraged in the covering letter.

Further information


AHRC CDP doctoral training grants fund full-time studentships for 45 months (or part-time equivalent). The studentship has the possibility of being extended for an additional 3 months to provide professional development opportunities, or up to 3 months of funding may be used to pay for the costs the student might incur in taking up professional development opportunities.

The studentship covers (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (currently £17,668 for 2022-3), (ii) an allowance of £1000/year to enable collaboration with the partner organisation (as they are based in London), (iii) an additional allowance from MOLA of up to £1000/year for expenses incurred in undertaking research, (iv) a CDP maintenance payment of £550/year, and (v) tuition fees at the UK rate.

Further details can be found on the UKRI website.

The project can be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis.

This studentship is open to both Home and International applicants.

All applicants must meet UKRI terms and conditions for funding.

The successful candidate will be eligible to participate in CDP Cohort Development events.

All new CDP students will be expected to attend the CDP Student Launch Event at the British Museum.