The chronological time scale underpins our understanding of the past, but beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating (~50,000 years), archaeological and geological sites become more difficult to date. Amino acid geochronology has the potential to date the whole of the Quaternary (the last two million years), a crucial period for geological understanding with impacts on both climate change and human evolution. The combination of a closed-system approach (Penkman et al., 2008) with advances in chromatography provides an extremely powerful dating tool (e.g. Parfitt et al., 2005).
However, in order to fully exploit the extent of protein degradation for both geochronology and palaeothermometry, we need to better understand the breakdown mechanisms. This PhD project aims to use the recent advances and expertise at York in proteomics and racemization to gain an unprecedented insight into the kinetics of protein degradation in a natural closed system. The project is ideally placed to take advantage of state-of-the-art equipment (including dedicated RP-HPLCs in the NERC-recognised facility, a wide range of mass spectrometers, as well as bioinformatic resources) and expertise in the closely collaborating departments of Chemistry, Archaeology and Biology. The PhD student will be trained in a range of laboratory techniques, with a focus on chiral amino acid analysis and soft-ionization mass spectrometry, including use of the new instruments being acquired for the new Yorkshire Forward Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry. This research is strongly inter-disciplinary, and the student will be fully supported by the project team in the archaeological, geological and geochemical background and interpretation, with additional training available through exciting opportunities to go out into the field for sample collection.
Parfitt, S.A., Barendregt, R.W., Breda, M., Candy, I., Collins, M.J., Coope, G.R., Durbidge, P., Field, M.H., Lee, J.R., Lister, A.M., Mutch, R., Penkman, K.E.H., Preece, R.C., Rose, J., Stringer, C.B., Symmons, R., Whittaker, J.E., Wymer, J.J & Stuart, A.J. 2005. The earliest humans in Northern Europe: artefacts from the Cromer Forest-bed Formation at Pakefield, Suffolk, UK. Nature 438, 1008-1012
Penkman, K.E.H., Kaufman, D. S., Maddy, D. & Collins, M.J. 2008. Closed-system behaviour of the intra-crystalline fraction of amino acids in mollusc shells. Quaternary Geochronology 3, 2-25