Dr Jean-Luc Schwenninger

Research Profile

Research Activities
I joined the Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art (RLAHA) in February 2002 as a post-doctoral research assistant and since August 2003, following the departure of Prof E.J. Rhodes, I have assumed responsibility for directing the RLAHA luminescence dating laboratory. I am interested in the application and development of thermoluminescence (TL) and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) for dating archaeological sites, (pre)historic buildings and materials as well as objects of art. I have participated in many projects funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) and I am currently affiliated with several research programmes funded by the European Research Council (ERC). In addition to my teaching and administrative activities within the School of Archaeology, I also provide a commercial luminescence dating service to outside institutions, private individuals and companies. 

Associated Research Projects & grants

  • 2018-2019: OUP John Fell - Extending the age range of luminescence dating to the Early Stone Age.  This is a pilot study supported by the OUP John Fell Fund to explore the possibility of dating Early and Middle Stone Age sites in Africa using recently acquired infrared-radiofluorescence (IR-RF) instrumentation. The project is built on the expertise of Dr Marine Frouin and the award provides one year of funding to collect and analyse samples from a series of Pleistocene sites in Kenya and South Africa. 
  • 2017-2021: OUP John Fell - Medipix4/Timepix4. I am part of a cluster of Oxford departments (Particle Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science & Archaeology) which make up the Oxford membership in the CERN-based ‘Medipix4’ collaboration. This initiative is led by Prof Ian Shipsey and coordinated by Dr Richard Plackett (Department of Physics, Oxford University) with support from the OUP John Fell Fund. By participating in the development of the next generation of radiation imaging detectors we are hoping to take advantage of these novel systems to improve the speed, resolution and sensitivity of detectors used for particle tracking, chemical analysis of materials or (micro)dosimetric analysis of samples for luminescence dating. 
  • 2014-2019 ERC – PalaeoChron. This is a 5-year research project funded by the European Research Council and led by Professor Tom Higham (Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Oxford University), which is investigating the transition from the Middle to Early Upper Palaeolithic across Eurasia through the combination of cutting edge radiocarbon and luminescence dating methods and the analysis of newly excavated material from key Palaeolithic sites. The project provided funding for the appointment of a 4-year post-doctoral research assistant in luminescence dating as well as the purchase of a new state-of-the-art luminescence reader. 
  • 2013-2018: ERC – Palaeodeserts. This is a 5-year European Research Council funded research programme led by Prof Michael Petraglia (Max Planck Institute, Jena) examining environmental change in the Arabian Desert over the last one million years. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers is studying the effect of environmental change on early humans and animals that settled or passed through the Arabian Desert and how their responses determined whether they survived or died out. The project provided funding for a 2-year post-doctoral research assistant in luminescence dating and contributed to some minor equipment upgrades.
  • 2012-2018: ERC – In Africa. This is a 5-year research programme funded by the ERC and led by Prof Marta Mirazon Lahr (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge) to investigate the role of East Africa in the origins of our species and its role in the evolution of human diversity. The project aims at making new discoveries of early human fossils and their environmental context in East Africa, to improve the chronology of the fossil record and to test models of human origins and diversification in Africa. 
  • 2012-2017: ERC - Eurofarm: This is a 5-year project led by Dr Marc Vander Linden (Institute of Archaeology, University College London) aimed at investigating the transmission of farming practices and associated technological innovations in the western Balkans through a combination of new data collection from archaeological excavations and surveys conducted in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro, as well as precise radiometric dating using a combination of radiocarbon and luminescence dating. 
  • 2012-2013: OUP John Fell - Spatially resolved luminescence and analysis of small scale variation in dose rate: a proof of concept.  This is a pilot study funded by the OUP John Fell Fund to explore new avenues of research offered by the possibility of combining spatially-resolved luminescence measurements using a novel EMCCD imaging device with a new (micro)dosimetric technique utilizing thin plastic films developed by Dr N. Falzone at the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology (University of Oxford.  
  • 2009-2014: NERC - Dwarfing of fossil mammals on Mediterranean islands. This project is led by Prof Adrian Lister (Natural History Museum, London) and is focused on the effect of environmental change over the last 800,000 years on the evolution of dwarf mammals on Mediterranean islands. The research includes new excavations in Cyprus, Crete, Sicily and Malta to gather more fossil evidence and will apply state-of-the-art dating techniques including a large number of optically stimulated luminescence dates to provide a more accurate timing for when animals such as dwarf elephants and dwarf deer lived on Mediterranean islands. By matching the fossils with climate data and exploring the link between climate change and evolution we hope our work could help us predict how mammals will respond to current climate change. This hasn't been possible before because of uncertainty over the age of most of the fossils.
  • 2008-2014: NERC - Response of Humans to Abrupt Environmental Transitions. A large scale research consortium funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and involving numerous scientists from several institutions in the UK. The aim of the project is to assess how humans may have responded to rapid environmental changes in the recent past and brings together experts from a number of different academic fields in order to investigate how our ancestors coped with rapid changes in climate during the last 80,000 years. 
  • 2004-2009: NERC - Human dispersals and environmental controls during the Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene in Mexico: implications for the peopling of the Americas. This project was led by Prof Silvia Gonzalez (John Moores University, Liverpool) and aimed to clarify the affinities and evolution of early humans in Mexico during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene wit the help of improved dating evidence for recently excavated sites, craniofacial analysis and studies of ancient DNA. The funding included support for a research assistant in luminescence dating.
  • 2004-2008: NERC - The chronology of the Aurignacian in Eastern Europe: the changing distribution of modern humans in the environmental context. This project was led by Prof Robert Hedges (RLAHA, University of Oxford) and set out to answer key questions regarding the spread of the earliest modern humans into Europe, what directions they might have taken, how long this took and what climatic conditions they were confronted to? One of the key objectives of the project was to improve the quality and reliability of the dating of the archaeological entity known as the ‘Aurignacian’ by obtaing 160 new AMS radiocarbon dates and 40 luminescence dates from key sites across Eastern Europe.
  • 2003-2007: NERC - Environmental factors in human evolution and dispersals in the Upper Pleistocene of the Western Mediterranean. This project initially funded by NERC and currently supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the Boise Fund, is led by Prof Nick Barton (School of Archaeology, University of Oxford) and examines the early human occupation of Morocco in the Upper Pleistocene. It has the broad aims of identifying changes in the archaeological and environmental records and assessing whether these may be correlated with global climatic events. The study is focused on caves in the north and the east of the country, including well known caves such as ‘Grotte des Pigeons’ at Taforalt.

PhD 1997 (Royal Holloway, University of London)
MSc 1988 (Bangor University)
BA 1986 (University of Sheffield)


Students and Research Staff

Research technician

David Peat (since 2004)    

Post-doctoral research staff
Dr Marine Frouin (since 2014)
Dr Laine Clark-Balzan (2012-2015)
Dr Roger Nathan (2007-2009)

Doctoral students
Dr Amber Hood (Merton College, 2011-2016)
Dr Laine Clark-Balzan (Keble College, 2008-2012)
Dr Diana Bailey (Keble College, 2002-2008)
Dr Roger Nathan (St Hughes College, 2001-2010)

Master students
James Gazak (Wolfson College, 2017-2018)
Christopher Osborne (Kellogg College, 2016-2017)
Mariana Sontag Gonzalez (Linacre College, 2015-2016)
Aditi Dave (Brasenose College, 2015-2016)
Dr David Strebler (St Cross College, 2013-2014)
Dr Benjamin Franta (Keble College, 2009-2010)
Dr Amber Hood (Merton College, 2009-2010)
Dr Laine Clark-Balzan (Keble College, 2006-2007)     

Undergraduate students
Bryony Collis (2009-2010, St Hughes, University of Oxford)
Morven Sloan (2005-2006, University of Bradford placement student)
Dr Thomas Gurling (2003-2004, University of Bradford placement student) 
Dr Victoria Cullen (2002-2003, University of Bradford placement student) 



Undergraduate teaching

Undergraduate course convenor for:

  • FHS option paper - Science Based Methods in Archaeology