Doctoral position – Campaign 2022: “Paleoclimatic and socio-environmental dynamics in northwestern Arabia during the Holocene”

Oasis d’AL Ula
Oasis d’AL Ula (© L. Lespez )

For the year 2022, the LabEx DynamiTe offers a co-financed doctoral position

It is part of the work carried out in the  “Environmental changes and societies in the past” Work-Package of the LabEx DynamiTe.

This doctoral position is co-financed by the LabEx DynamiTe and the CNRS Côte d’Azur Delegation, as part of a contrat with the Agence Française pour le développement d’ALULA.

“Paleoclimatic and socio-environmental dynamics in northwestern Arabia during the Holocene: a spatial and soil-sedimentary approach to wetland and dune archives in the AlUla oasis.”

The deadline for the submission of applications is 22 May 2022 (inclusive). The application must be submitted by email at

Recruitment procedure and schedule.

Description of the research proposal

Oases are man-made environments which are adapted responses to hydro-climatic constraints in arid environments. They offer a unique opportunity to understand the interaction between agrarian and social dynamics as well as climate change. Research conducted in northwestern Saudi Arabia reveals the paucity of knowledge in this part of the peninsula, particularly after 3000 B.C., i.e. at the beginning of the Bronze Age (Woor et al., 2022).

Preliminary geoarchaeological investigations conducted in the AlUla oasis reveal the importance of the Holocene sedimentary record (Nehmé et al. 2006). This oasis, located at the foot of the Harrat al-Uwayrid formation which separates the sandy deserts of northern Arabia (Hamra Desert) from the Red Sea, is fed by groundwater contained in the sandstone and basalt formations as well as by intermittent surface runoff that forms the Wadi al Murarah. The oasian dynamics are therefore conditioned by water table fluctuations, wind dynamics and episodic flows.
Archaeological research in the area is now abundant and based on emblematic sites (Late Bronze Age site of Dadān, Nabataean site of Hegra, Islamic period sites including the old city of AlUla). They provide first information on settlement dynamics while revealing the development of agro-pastoral activities since the Neolithic (ca. 5,300 B.C, Dalton et al. 2021) and hydro-agricultural development from the Late Bronze Age onward (Purdue et al. 2022). The question of the relationships between the expansion of the oasis, hydraulic developments, environmental changes and paleoclimatic dynamics is thus crucial to understand the causes of socio-environmental transformations and the adaptations of agricultural societies to these changes.

The PhD project has a double objective and proposes methodological developments.

(1) First, the aim is to define the fluctuations of aeolian and hydrological dynamics and to reconstruct a Holocene paleoclimatic history based on the study of dune archives and temporary functioning wetlands (sebkhas, floodplain). The identification of phases of aeolian and/or hydrological activity is crucial to understand the evolution of the desert and water resources, and measure their long-term impact on the oasis. The study of these archives (sections and cores) and their spatial dynamics (photo-interpretation and remote sensing), supported by radiocarbon and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating, will allow us to identify phases of extension/retraction of the oasis.

(2) High resolution analyses, not yet developed in the north-central peninsula (sedimentology including grain size studies, XRD, CHN and geochemistry including XRF and ICPM-MS), will provide precise information on the evolution of oasian environments and their desert periphery. These marginal environments have been little investigated by paleoenvironmental research, and their study will be linked with the geoarchaeological study conducted in the core area of the oasis. Special attention will be paid to the analysis of paleosoils to identify periods of dunal and palustrine stability favorable to the development of agro-pastoral practices. This will be based on micromorphological observations (agro-pastoral exploitation features and pedoclimatic environments). The sites which will be investigated have already been identified by the team, which is familiar with the planned methods.

Skills and abilities required

  • A Master’s degree in Physical Geography, Environmental Geography, Geosciences or Environmental Archaeology;
  • experience with environmental data collection (fieldwork);
  • initial training in Geographic Information Systems and laboratory analyses;
  • good communication skills and ability to work in an interdisciplinary team;
  • some knowledge of English to be integrated into a multidisciplinary team in a foreign country with international teams and spoken Arabic is a plus.

Complementary information

Beginning of the contract: 09/15/2022
Duration of the contract: 3 years (50% payed by LabEx DynamiTe)
Laboratory of assignment: Laboratoire de Géographie Physique, CNRS-UMR 8591 (2 Rue Henri Dunant, 94320 Thiais)
Monthly remuneration: around 1760 euros
Contact: Laurent LESPEZ ( and Louise PURDUE (

Recruitment procedure and schedule

The application must be submitted by email at It must demonstrate that the candidate fulfils the requirements indicated in the position profile (specified tasks and skills). The application will include:

  • a short file (3 pages maximum, if more the application will be refused) demonstrating that the candidate fulfils the requirements indicated in the position profile from a disciplinary, theoretical and methodological point of view and a 3-years period project schedule;
  • curriculum vitae;
  • transcript of higher education record for first year of masters studies (Master 1) and the first semester of research masters (Master 2);
  • a letter of recommendation from the supervisor of the research master’s thesis;
  • a letter confirming the forthcoming defence of the candidate’s master’s thesis (prior to 31 August 2022).

Reference letters will not be considered. They will not be given to the Panel.

It is recommended for the candidate to establish contact with the thesis supervisor in advance.

The deadline for the submission of applications is 22 May 2022 (inclusive).

The candidate appointed following the evaluation of the applications and interviews (which will be held by videoconference on Monday 4 July or Tuesday 5 July) will be informed of the results of the application process from 6 July 2022.