Student Perspective | Natalie Wilson | PhD

My scholarship has allowed me to work with the Gibraltar National Museum, and has created a lot of additional opportunities, including being able to take part in the Gibraltar History Lecture Series
15th December 2021
Commonwealth Scholar Natalie Wilson, spoke to us about her research focusing on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gibraltar’s Gorham’s Cave.

What has being a Commonwealth student meant to you?

Thanks to the Gibraltar Commonwealth Scholarship I am exactly where I need to be for my research. My scholarship has allowed me to work with the Gibraltar National Museum, and has created a lot of additional opportunities, including being able to take part in the Gibraltar History Lecture Series and being invited to create an introductory zooarchaeology course in collaboration with a UK-based museum.

Why did you choose Gibraltar?

Given that my research centres on Gibraltar’s Gorham’s Cave, it was the logical choice. Studying in Gibraltar means that I have easy access to my research materials and can visit the excavation site.

What was special about doing your PhD here?

Gibraltar is a unique place with an incredible history, fantastic people, and many things to do. As an archaeologist, working in the ‘Neanderthal city’ at the edge of Europe is very special. Outside of work I have had some amazing experiences, including seeing whales and dolphins in the wild, visiting the GOHNS raptor unit to see birds of prey being rehabilitated, and swimming with rare sea creatures whilst snorkelling. I have also become more fluent in Spanish (and the Llanito dialect) since being here. Where else can you do all of that?

What would you say to someone else who might be considering a PhD with us?

It is an experience you will not get elsewhere.

Describe your PhD project and the expected outcome

My PhD project is a longitudinal, zooarchaeological study of large mammal communities in Gibraltar, from the time of the Neanderthals (circa 120,000 to approximately 30,000 years before present), to the time of the Phoenicians in the 8th to 2nd centuries BC. It involves identifying animal bones excavated from Gorham’s Cave over several years of excavations and assessing how the mammals of Gibraltar changed over time in terms of species represented, relative abundance, and in morphology, which might relate to factors such as climate change, habitat loss, or domestication. I expect to see less variety of species over time, and to see differences in the size and shape of animal bones and teeth.

What type of research did it involve and what skills have you learnt along the way?

I have predominantly worked in the Gibraltar National Museum lab, identifying, measuring, and photographing animal bone specimens, but have also been able to visit the Natural History Museum in London to gather information from correspondence regarding early research in Gibraltar and from original excavation reports. I have applied quantitative statistics to my data in order to identify any changes to the fauna as discussed above. I have gained experience working with remains of animals I have not worked with previously, including hyena and rhinoceros, and some small mammal and reptile species. The most important thing I have learnt is the need to be flexible and to stay positive. Many scholars have found that their research does not always go to plan and they have had to make changes from their initial research proposal, and I am no exception.

How has your research impacted on both a local and wider scale?

The people of Gibraltar are understandably very proud of their heritage, so I have had a lot of interest and support from local people. Research in Gibraltar has contributed massively to our understanding of the past and I hope that my research will add to that. We cannot fully understand past humans without considering animals. The analysis of animal remains allows us to reconstruct past climates, to understand human diets, and to understand the effects of human-driven processes such as domestication on species. But studying archaeological animal remains does not just give us an insight into the past, it can also inform conservation science in the present and future.

Do you have any future plans that will follow from this research?

I hope to continue working with archaeological animal bones in future and would love to be able to share my knowledge with others. 

Any new publications? (if applicable)

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Project summary and Gibraltar History Series materials:


  • PhD

    PhD by Research

    Our PhD by research programme is based on independent study, guided by your assigned supervisors and support system. It typically takes a minimum of three years to complete full-time, or a minimum of five years when studied part-time.[...]

    FT 3 to 5 Years/ PT 4 to 8 Years

    No Placement option

    Full/Part Time

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