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  • Karen Ruebens

ERC Starting Grant awarded!

I am thrilled to announce that my ERC Starting Grant COEXIST has been selected for funding!

The project

In COEXIST, we will analyse large quantities of bone fragments from central and southeast Europe, from Germany down to Greece. Our focus is on the period between 55,000 and 45,000 years ago, a time during which both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were present. Unidentifiable bone remains form a crucial, but often overlooked, resource of behavioural information. With Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) we can now identify what type of animal these bone fragments belonged to, but the main strength of this project is the wider integration of this ZooMS data with cutting-edge methods from zooarchaeology, archaeological science, proteomics and genetics.

By integrating ZooMS, taphonomic and zooarchaeological data we will enhance reconstructions of human subsistence behaviour, including human diet and carcass processing strategies. This will allow to contrast the lifeways of late Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. Further, through direct radiocarbon dating, we aim to establish a new regional chronological framework to better understand when these different types of humans were present. Finally, with ZooMS we can also identify new human remains, and sequencing DNA from new late Neanderthal and new early Homo sapiens fossils is crucial to fully understand the genetic legacy of this coexistence.

For this project I will work closely with Geoff Smith, Frido Welker, Helen Fewlass, Mateja Hajdinjak, Britt Starkovich, Matt Skinner and a series of local collaborators (more on these once the project starts). In 2024 we will be recruiting two PhD students, so stay tuned for further announcements, and don't hesitate to contact me to discuss potential 🦴 collaborations!

My journey

This has been described to me as a career-defining moment, providing me with €1,500,000 to run my own research group over the next 5 years. The path towards this success has not been a straight line. I felt like I was taking a huge leap with this application, having only recently changed fields from stone tool analyses to palaeoproteomics (thanks to the excellent training by Frido Welker and Virginie Sinet-Mathiot). I submitted my application back in October 2022, while I had covid and was isolating with my 3-year old daughter. After submission, I was asked to provide extra paperwork to justify my request for a 51-month extension of my eligibility window, to cover my periods of maternity leave and part-time MSCA working.

My online interview with the ERC panel in June was a positive experience. The panel was very welcoming and genuinely interested in the scope and potential of the project. They asked questions raised by 9 expert reviewers, who were overall very supportive of me as a PI and provided 17 pages of balanced feedback, including some critical notes and useful suggestions. I am super grateful for the strong research admin support I received at Kent, and my network of (ex-)MPI-EVA colleagues, who generously shared their time and previous ERC experiences. Words cannot describe how happy I am to now have been given this opportunity, and I cannot wait to get this exciting project under way.

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