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Module HTA-2114:
Experimental Archaeology

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Kate Waddington

Overall aims and purpose

Archaeology by experiment is one way that we can gain valuable insights into how people did things and experienced materials in the past. It is through the routines of doing things and making things that people generate understandings of themselves and also the world around them. This course will provide students with both theoretical and practical knowledge of experimental archaeology. The course aims to provide students with a critical understanding of how experiments with materials, technologies and processes can broaden conceptions of the past and enhance a researcher’s knowledge of the past. This course explores the theory and practice of experimental archaeology and will provide systematic studies on the nature of human experience, addressing various processes of artefact production and consumption, metallurgy, building construction and dwelling practices, food production and consumption, cremation, and discard practices and decay processes. The closely related fields of ethnography and ethnoarchaeology will also be explored via a series of case-studies. The course is grounded in archaeological case-studies which include examples stretching from the Neolithic to the Iron Age.

Course content

  1. Introduction: experimental archaeology today and its links with ethnoarchaeology
  2. The history of experimental archaeology
  3. Experiment by design: designing experiments, recording data and methodology
  4. Prehistoric metallurgical practices: copper and bronze production
  5. Stone and flint technologies; production and use-wear analysis
  6. Prehistoric metallurgical practices: iron production
  7. Food production: cooking with stone and food storage pits
  8. Making prehistoric roundhouses
  9. Cremation pyres: a case study on Early Bronze Age practices
  10. Taphonomies: understanding the formation of the archaeological record through experimental archaeology
  11. Experiencing experiments and materials; revision lecture

Assessment Criteria


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with archaeological theories/interpretation, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of archaeological writing and interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the primary data and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular archaeological debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions. Overall, the standards of content, argument, and analysis expected will be consistently superior to top upper-second work. Standards of presentation will also be high.

Learning outcomes

  1. Critically evaluate the historical development of experimental archaeology;

  2. Evaluate the utility and characteristics of a range of materials including ceramics, stone, metals and organic materials, via a range of experimental case-studies.

  3. Critically assess the role of archaeological ‘reconstruction’-sites in the production of archaeological interpretation.

  4. Demonstrate knowledge, critical understanding and theoretical grounding in the scientific and experiential use of experiments within archaeological research.

  5. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the role of material culture theory, ethnography and ethno-archaeology in the construction of archaeological interpretations.

  6. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the emerging synergies between material culture theory and experimental archaeology.

  7. Show and critically assess how experimental reconstruction can assist with the creation of archaeological narratives, and specifically assist with the (re)construction of ancient technologies, material culture practices and dwelling practices.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Essay 50
Alternative assignment 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Practical classes and workshops

Field trips: 3 trips (21 hours)


Seminars: 1 hour per week for 10 weeks


Feedback on assessments and exams


Lectures: 1 hour per week for 11 weeks

Private study 152

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • demonstrating a positive and can-do approach to practical problems
  • demonstrating an innovative approach, creativity, collaboration and risk taking
  • preparing effective written communications for different readerships
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making effective and appropriate use of relevant information technology
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions
  • engaging with relevant aspects of current agendas such as global perspectives, public engagement, employability, enterprise, and creativity


Reading list

Ascher, R. 1961. Experimental archaeology. American Anthropologist 63 (4), 793-816.

Coles, J. 1966-7. Experimental Archaeology. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 99, 7-27.

Coles, J. 1973. Archaeology by experiment. London: Hutchinson.

Coles, J. 1979. Experimental Archaeology. London: Academic Press.

Cunningham, P., Heeb, J. and Paardekooper, R. 2008. Experiencing archaeology by experiment: Proceedings of the Experimental Archaeology Conference, Exeter 2007. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Ferguson, J.R. (ed.) 2010. Designing experimental research in archaeology: examining technology through production and use. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

Forrest, C. 2008. The nature of scientific experiment in archaeology: experimental archaeology from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In P. Cunningham, J. Heeb, and R. Paardekooper. 2007. Experiencing archaeology by experiment: Proceedings of the Experimental Archaeology Conference, Exeter 2007, 61-8. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Hodder, I. 1982a. Symbols in action: ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jewel, P.A. and Dimbleby, G.W. 1966. The experimental earthwork on Overton Down, Wiltshire, England: the first four years. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 32, 313.

Marshall, A. 2011. Experimental archaeology: 1. Early Bronze Age cremation pyres: 2. Iron Age grain storage. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 530).

Mathieu, J.R. 2002. Introduction: experimental archaeology: replicating past objects, behaviours and processes. In J. R. Mathieu (ed.), Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviors, and Processes, 1-11. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (International Series 1035).

Ó’Drisceoil, D. 1988. Burnt mounds: cooking or bathing? Antiquity 62, 671-80.

Outram, A.K. 2008. Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology 40 (1), 1-6.

Reynolds, P.J. 1979. Iron Age Farm: the Butser experiment. London: British Museum Press. (see also

Reynolds, P.J. 1999. The nature of experiment in archaeology. In A.F. Harding (ed.), Experiment and design: archaeological studies in honour of John Coles, 156-62. (see also

Rowlands, M.J. 1971. The archaeological interpretation of prehistoric metalworking. World Archaeology 3(2), 210-24.

Schiffer, M.B. 1976. Behavioural archaeology. New York: Academic Press.

Townsend, S. 2007. What have reconstructed roundhouses ever done for us...? Proceedings of the Prehistoric society 73, 97-111.

Wood, J. 2000. Food and drink in European prehistory. European Journal of Archaeology 3, 89.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: