Geophytes and human origins (BAHO): exploring the nutritional status of geophytes
Are you interested in working in a multi-disciplinary team to uncover one of the
intriguing stories of modern human evolution? Do you have an interest in bulbs and
an ability to work both in the field and in a lab setting? We are looking for a suitable
PhD candidate to register at Stellenbosch University (either in Food Science or in
Title of Project: Geophytes and human origins (BAHO1): exploring the nutritional status of geophytes
as a food source for early modern humans in the Cape
Funding: R60 000 pa for 3 years, plus project running expenses
Supervisors: Profs Corli Witthuhn (SU), Karen J Esler (SU) & Richard Cowling (NNMU) [in
collaboration with Dr Curtis Marean, Arizona State University, USA]
The Cape of South Africa has an extraordinarily rich archaeological record for the origins of modern
humans. Paleoanthropologists have argued that the Cape may have been a refuge location for early
modern humans during harsh glacial climate cycles, largely due to the rich shellfish communities on its
shores and its extremely diverse and locally abundant geophyte flora (corms, bulbs, rhizomes and
tubers). While this seems plausible, there is virtually no scientific data on the character of these
geophytes as a human food resource. In South Africa, a multi-disciplinary team has been assembled
to redress that knowledge gap, and NRF funding has been obtained to support a PhD student
interested in pursuing this question. We are particularly interested in answers to the following
• What is the status of local knowledge regarding the use of geophytes as foodstuffs?
• What is the nutritional status (in terms of fibre, carbohydrate, toxins, fructans etc.) of geophyte
species and how does this differ in relation to lineage, vegetation type, microhabitat and
season. We will evaluate this nutritional status for both cooked and raw samples of the bulbs.
This will lead to evidence-based assessments of the likely contribution of geophytes as a source of
nutrition for hunter-gatherer people in the Cape.
Read more: Marean, C. 2010. When the sea saved humanity. Scientific American. August 2010, pp.
Suitable MSc background (wide ranging); ability to adapt to a laboratory situation; creative thinker with
good communication skills. If you are our preferred candidate, you will need to comply with
Stellenbosch University registration procedures, starting January 2011.
Please submit your CV (with contact details of 2 referees), academic transcripts and cover letter by 31
October 2010 to:
Prof Karen Esler
Department of Conservation Ecology & Entomology
Faculty of AgriSciences
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag x1
Tel: +27 21 808 4005; firstname.lastname@example.org
1 The BAHO project is a collaboration between Dr Curtis Marean (Arizona State University, USA);
Prof Richard Cowling (NNMU, South Africa), Prof Karen Esler (SU) and Prof Corli Witthuhn (SU). This
project will be funded from a grant awarded to Prof Richard Cowling under the NRF’s “Competitive
Programme for Rated Researchers”.
2 NRF Terms and conditions apply.
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