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Doctoral fellowship on the origin of cognitive tools for quantification (M/W)

This offer is available in the following languages:
Français - Anglais

Date Limite Candidature : lundi 3 mai 2021

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General information

Reference : UMR5199-FRADER-002
Workplace : PESSAC
Date of publication : Monday, March 22, 2021
Scientific Responsible name : Francesco d'Errico
Type of Contract : PhD Student contract / Thesis offer
Contract Period : 36 months
Start date of the thesis : 1 September 2021
Proportion of work : Full time
Remuneration : 2 135,00 € gross monthly

Description of the thesis topic

Numbers are omnipresent in our modern, globalised world and play a fundamental role in its functioning. Quantification - that is, the ability to represent, think about, and symbolically express facts related to quantities - is a universal phenomenon that occurs to some degree in all cultures and languages. While words for quantification are learned as part of natural language, even without writing or schooling, the acquisition of numbers requires teaching (often through apprenticeship or institutional schooling). Mastery of a numerical system paves the way for numerical knowledge, i.e. the uniquely human ability to evaluate, store and transmit discrete quantities accurately. This raises a fascinating question about the emergence of the phenomenon: if our ability to count is an essential cognitive tool, how could such a tool have been invented in the first place? In other words: When, where, how and why did humans make the transition from natural quantifiers to exact symbolic quantification with numbers? Reconstructing the evolution of cognitive tools of quantification as products of cultural practices and their cognitive implications is the main objective of the ERC Synergy QUANTA project. Highly interdisciplinary, this project will involve senior researchers, post-docs and PhD students from four research institutions (CNRS-Université de Bordeaux, University of Bergen, University of California San Diego, and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).
The PhD student in Bordeaux will contribute to this global effort by conducting research on the oldest known quantification systems, dated to the Upper Paleolithic and possibly the Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age. The research will include taphonomic and technological analysis of Palaeolithic and ethnographic objects made of bone, ivory, antler and stone, the creation of experimental protocols to guide the interpretation of archaeological finds, the morphometric study of archaeological and experimental sets of marks according to the principles of Weber-Fechner law, the application of multivariate statistical analyses from data derived from geometric morphometry, and the microscopic analysis of archaeological and experimental objects using optical, confocal and scanning electron microscopes. The results will be analysed in the light of theoretical models and scenarios on the evolution of means of quantification and conceptual grids developed by cognitive scientists to characterise the performance of cognitive quantification tools.
The successful candidate will have an MA or MSc in prehistory, archaeology, paleoanthropology or cognitive science. He/she will ideally have expertise in European and African Palaeolithic, bone taphonomy, technological analysis of archaeological bone objects and a strong interest in the evolution of human cognition.

Work Context

The PhD student will work in Bordeaux under the supervision of Francesco d'Errico (CNRS UMR 5199 PACEA, University of Bordeaux) and Andrea Bender (University of Bergen) in collaboration with other members of the QUANTA team in Bordeaux.

Constraints and risks

The candidate will be motivated to travel in Europe and Africa, be willing to do internships in the other host institutions involved in QUANTA, and be fluent in written and spoken English, and preferably also in French.

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