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Pacific interests land plum positions in Germany

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 4:21pm

Max-Planck-image
Off overseas to postdoctorate positions ... (left) Dr Rebecca Kinaston — in a photo taken by Sylvan Thomson — and Monica Tromp.

Two Otago Anatomy bioarchaeologists have been accepted for coveted postdoctorate positions at the new Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

Dr Rebecca Kinaston and Monica Tromp — who submitted her Otago PhD thesis in June — both specialise in Pacific archaeology. Dr Kinaston analyses dental and skeletal remains, while Ms Tromp examines hardened dental plaque.

Both researchers are members of Otago’s Biological Anthropology Research Group, from the Otago School of Medical Sciences’ Anatomy Department.

Max Planck

They will be based in Jena at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, a new interdisciplinary research institution exploring the application of novel methods to the study of the past.

It has three research departments — in Archaeology, Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, and Archaeogenetics — along with several independent research groups.

The Institute for the Science of Human History is one of more than 80 research institutions operated by the Max Planck Society to carry out basic research in the life sciences, natural sciences and the social and human sciences.

The institutes are mostly in Germany, but some are in the United States and elsewhere in Europe.

Monica Tromp

Ms Tromp has accepted the position of Postdoctoral Researcher in Dental Calculus Studies — hardened tooth plaque studies — in the Archaeology Department, building on her previous dental calculus research in the Pacific.

The new position lets Ms Tromp extend her existing interests by examining how dental calculus could refine our understanding of human expansion from South East and Island South East Asia into the Pacific.

Dr Rebecca Kinaston

Dr Kinaston applied for one position, but was offered another in the Archaeogenetics Department. Her PhD and postdoctoral research focussed on understanding diet and health in prehistoric communities from the Pacific Islands through stable isotope analysis and macroscopic analyses of human skeletal and dental remains.

“The position offers an amazing opportunity to continue my stable isotope analyses research,” Dr Kinaston says.

Both positions are for two years.

Success

At Otago, Ms Tromp and Dr Kinaston have contributed to research on Pacific diet and health with their PhD supervisor, Anatomy’s Associate Professor Hallie Buckley, who proudly says that “Monica and Rebecca were among 250 people who applied for the eight … (Max Planck) positions offered. Only ten people were interviewed for the eight posts and three of them were members of the Biological Anthropology Research Group from the Anatomy Department. I am immensely proud of all of their achievements.”

Dr Kinaston believes this success is due to the high calibre of research produced by the Group, coupled with the focus the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has on Austronesian expansion — relating to a family of languages spoken from Madagascar in the west to the Pacific islands in the east — which is a specialisation of all three Otago applicants.

Ms Tromp believes being at the new Max Planck institute from its beginnings will be very interesting and an excellent opportunity for her, while also carrying on the collaborations with Max Planck that Dr Kinaston started for the Biological Anthropology Research Group at Otago.

Dr Kinaston says she was invited to do a month’s research at Max Planck for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig with Professor Michael Richards (now at Simon Fraser University), which provided a special opportunity to see how the institute operated and the amazing talent it houses.

The Otago pair’s success also has an added bonus, they have been friends since Ms Tromp moved to Dunedin to do her PhD and have collaborated on several of projects and can now keep working together in their post-doctoral positions.