Stone tools and hominin cognition: experimental exploration of the ‘spandrels effect’

PHD Scholarship Opportunity 

Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology at the University of New England (UNE) is offering a unique and exciting opportunity for a motivated PhD candidate to research the evolutionary origins of technology.  The successful applicant must have an interest in the evolution of hominin cognition and/or stone-flaking.  This 3-year position is based in the Stone Tools and Cognition Research Hub at UNE, and the student will have the opportunity to collaborate with leading international scholars as part of the Palaeolithic Social Transmission Network (PaST).

Prior research at UNE, funded by the Australian Research Council, suggested that the physical limitations of fracture mechanics dictates the range of morphologies that will occur when stone is flaked, and that those morphologies—called ‘spandrels’—will occur inevitably regardless of hominin intentions.  The first generation of experiments tested the spandrels hypothesis (, and demonstrated that certain stone tool morphologies can occur without higher-order design intentions.  This has profound implications for interpreting early hominin stone artefact assemblages, and a consortium of leading scientists identified the UNE experimental program as the vanguard of a new research agenda (Tennie et al. 2017, Current Anthropology 56:644-672).  The UNE PhD candidate will design, implement, and interpret the second generation of spandrels experiments.

The successful candidate will be based at the Lithic Analysis Laboratory on the UNE campus in Armidale, New South Wales.  They will have demonstrated research experience in cognitive evolution and/or stone artefact analysis, and a proven ability to work independently and creatively.

Scholarship Information

Value: AU$27,596 (2019 rate) tax exempt and paid in fortnightly instalments and will be indexed annually in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The scholarships are open to domestic candidates. The PhD must be undertaken on a full-time basis.Please see the scholarship terms and conditions for more information.

Applicants must meet UNE’s admission requirements for a PhD program. Please see the entry requirements here. Applicants must submit a candidature application if they wish to apply for a scholarship. For more information on submitting a candidature application please see our web page on how to apply/enrol for candidature.

When to Apply  

Scholarship applications are due by 15 December 2019, and candidates would need to be prepared to start as soon as possible after the closing date.

To Apply or Enquire

To discuss these opportunities and your research proposal concept, please contact A/Prof. Mark Moore with the following documents:

  • A one page statement of your background and interest in the project
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Copy of your academic transcripts

Equity principles underpin all UNE policies and procedures. As a University committed to engaging a diverse workforce, UNE encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to apply.