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Digging: The Archaeologist's World

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Anyone asked what they most associate with archaeology will undoubtedly reply 'digging' (or even 'digging for treasure').

But is it really as simple as just sticking a spade in the ground? How do archaeologists know where to excavate in the first place, how does the process work, and what happens after the site tent has been taken down on the last day?

This brief introductory course will take you through the basics of excavation, starting with the changing approaches to archaeological fieldwork that have characterised the discipline across its various theoretical developments, moving on to pre-excavation planning, the different excavation methods and kinds of recording you will most likely come across, and some of the big issues of post-excavation analysis.

It is aimed at students with no or very little prior experience of excavation, and especially those who may want to participate in an archaeological dig in the future.

This course is for anyone with an interest in archaeology and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Exploring the Past pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and teaching

These sessions will include short lectures, interactive workshops, class discussions and debates, and group exercises to develop your academic skills. In addition, there will be support both before and after the weekend school, facilitated via email contact and through Learning Central, the university’s Virtual Learning Environment.

Coursework and assessment

Students will be expected to provide two pieces of assessed work:

  • a 500 word review (with time given over during the weekend to complete this and receive detailed feedback)
  • a 1000 word essay (which will be expected to be submitted within two weeks of the weekend course).

Advice and support will be provided for both assignments.

Reading suggestions

  • Andrews, G., Barrett, J. and Lewis, J.S.C. 2000. Interpretation not record: the practice of archaeology. Antiquity 74, 525-30.
  • Bahn, P. 1996. The Cambridge illustrated history of Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Barker, P. 1993. Techniques of Archaeological Excavation. London: Routledge.
  • Carver, M. 2009. Archaeological investigation. London: Routledge.
  • Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. 2016. Archaeology: theories, methods and practice. London: Thames and Hudson. [note: prior editions still form a good introduction to the topic]
  • Watkinson, D. and Neal, V. 1998. First aid for finds. Hertford: RESCUE.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.