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Exploring the Past: Archaeology

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Archaeologists do much more than dig, but what is archaeology and what do archaeologists do?

This course offers an introduction to archaeological methods and interpretation.

Using a series of case-studies, we will explore the reconstruction of past landscape and agriculture, technology, trade, diet, burial practices, beliefs, cultural identities and the lives of individuals and communities.

We will consider how sites are discovered and excavated, and why and how we study the archaeological past.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through nine in-person sessions. These sessions will consist of lectures and class discussions and group work on specific topics relating to the module.

The discussion and group work will enable you to think critically and contribute to the debates and topics presented during the lectures.

The discussion-led sessions and the lectures will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.


  • What is Archaeology?
  • It’s Digging After All …
  • When is Archaeology?
  • Archaeology and Nationalism in Europe
  • Interpreting Finds
  • The Role of Science in Archaeological Interpretation
  • Archaeological Interpretation, a case-study: Knossos
  • Whose Past? Objectivity and Interpretation

Coursework and assessment

This course has three short pieces of assessed work which together should add up to around 1500 words.

These pieces of work have been designed to help you in developing the skills and approaches that you need to study the past successfully.

The first of these will allow you to practice putting your ideas in words in an academic form. The second will help you to develop your skills of presenting and analysing data, whilst the third will give you the opportunity to write a short essay.

There will be lots of help and support available for all three assignments.

Reading suggestions

  • Carver, M. 2009. Archaeological Investigation. London: Routledge.
  • Flatman, J. 2011. Becoming an Archaeologist: A Guide to Professional Pathways. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gamble, C. 2001. Archaeology. The Basics. London: Routledge.
  • Hurcombe, L. 2007. Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture. London: Routledge.
  • Ralston, I. and Hunter, J.  (eds) 2009. The Archaeology of Britain. London: Routledge (2nd Edition).
  • Renfrew, C. and P. Bahn. 2008. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London: Thames and Hudson. (5th Edition).
  • Scarre, C. (ed.) 2005. The Human Past: World Prehistory & The Development of Human Societies. New York: Thames & Hudson.

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.