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Exploring the Past: Archaeology

Archaeologists do much more than dig. This course offers an introduction to archaeological methods and interpretation, using a series of case-studies.

From initial questions about archaeology (How are sites discovered and excavated? How long is the archaeological past? Who do we study it for?), the course goes on to introduce some of the approaches and techniques (from traditional to cutting-edge science) that allow a reconstruction of life in the past. Topics covered include:

  • the roles of archaeologists today
  • finding and excavating sites
  • techniques and problems
  • artefact dating and analysis
  • human remains and DNA
  • burial customs
  • landscape and economy
  • plants and animals
  • climate and vegetation.

The course will also place emphasis on the need to question the past and will outline some recent trends in archaeological interpretation.

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

The course is delivered over nine evening classes through a mixture of lectures, discussions/seminars and workshops. Each theme is introduced through case-studies and sites to allow you to get a real insight into the step-by-step process of archaeological problem-solving. Each two-hour session will include elements of direct student participation to hone your skills in argument building, writing and oral communication.

There are sessions on the analysis and presentation of actual archaeological data, as well as discussion of rival interpretations of the past. These evening sessions are supplemented by support and activities delivered online via Learning Central, the university’s Virtual Learning Environment.

Coursework and assessment

This course has three short pieces of assessed work which together should add up to 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 is a short report, which will help you to develop your skills of site analysis, whilst the third will give you the opportunity to write a short archaeological 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.


John Percival Building
Colum Drive
CF10 3EU