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Module HXA-1005:
Archaeological Principles&Tech

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Karen Pollock

Overall aims and purpose

This module introduces students to the ideas that inspire and drive archaeologists. Thus, students shall explore the main principles archaeologists follow and the techniques they employ. Archaeology is a discipline that engages with the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural and environmental sciences. Archaeologists collaborate with specialists in all of these fields and consequently draw on a wide variety of materials. In this way, archaeologists use a range of skills, from large-scale excavation to field recording at isolated sites to lab-based identification of pollen grains. Together these many facets of the discipline are united in a common purpose: revealing several million years of the human past (and our evolution) through study of material remains. This course aims to provide students with a broad grounding in these topics, and in the way archaeology is studied at university level.

Course content

What is archaeology?; what archaeologists study; the history of archaeological principles and techniques; Survey and prospecting 1; Survey and prospecting 2; Excavation process; Post-excavation and dating techniques; Technology and materials and experimental archaeology; Environmental Archaeology 1; Environmental Archaeology 2; People.

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 controversies, 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 data (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant data 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.


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 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 relevant historiography 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.

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 archaeology 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.

Learning outcomes

  1. Present relevant arguments in presentations, essays and examinations, supported with evidence.

  2. Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the development and current practice of archaeology, as well as an understanding of different types of archaeological evidence and how they may be investigated.

  3. Show awareness that archaeology may be interpreted in different ways.

  4. Demonstrate a mastery of basic study skills, particularly the ability to follow a course of reading, make effective notes, and benefit from seminar discussions.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Literature and web search 40
Essay 40
In-class test 20

Teaching and Learning Strategy


11 two-hour lectures


8 two-hour workshops

Private study

162 hours of private study time


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
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • 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 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
  • demonstrating a positive and can-do approach to practical problems
  • preparing effective written communications for different readerships
  • 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


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Aitken, M.J. 1990. Science-Based Dating in Archaeology. London: Longman.

Dincauze, D.F. 2000. Environmental Archaeology: principles and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Drewett, P.L. 1999. Field Archaeology: an Introduction. London: UCL.

Evans, J.G. and O’Conner, T.P. 1999. Environmental Archaeology: principles and methods. Stroud: Tempus.

Gibson, A. and Woods, A. 1997. Prehistoric Pottery for the Archaeologist. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Greene, K. and T. Moore. 2010. Archaeology: an introduction (fifth edition). London: Routledge. Johnson, M. 1999. Archaeological Theory: an introduction. Blackwell: Oxford.

Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. 2012. Archaeology: theory, methods, and practice (sixth edition). London: Thames and Hudson.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: