Accessibility statement

Accessing Archaeology


Module leader: Andy Needham


Accessing Archaeology is a course which introduces you to how we actually do archaeology, focussing on artefacts. Archaeologists draw on a diverse range of sources and employ a diverse array of techniques and specialisms to study the past. Important amongst these is the study of material culture, which can provide an important window into the lives of past people. In this course, we will explore a diverse array of material culture, ranging from familiar objects in the contemporary world, to ancient objects made from stone, organic materials such as bone, antler, ivory, and ceramics.

The course explores temporally and geographically diverse case studies, from periods including the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval, Post-Medieval, and through to the contemporary world, and from places including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Israel, Greenland, Canada, USA, Mexico, Galapagos Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Caroline Islands, Australia, China, and Japan.

The course provides an introduction to the diverse ways archaeologists approach material culture, including theoretical tools, especially object biography and materiality, as well as the more scientific tools, such as experimental archaeology, with the opportunity to try to make some of the objects we study.

The course will also introduce what happens to objects after they have been excavated by archaeologists, how we conserve them, interpret them, and display them for the public, including some of the challenges involved in this, as well as the use of new digital technologies. 

Module credit: 20 credits

Teaching methods: 3 lectures (2x1 hour, 1x2 hour), 6 seminars (2 hours each) 

Practical elements: Experimental workshop at the York Experimental Archaeology Research (YEAR) Centre (6 hours); visit to the Yorkshire Museum (1 hour, included within seminar time) 

The module is examined through an essay, and students participate in seminars through group work and presentations.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • describe the characteristics of archaeological data generated by particular forms of material culture
  • explain the methods by which different forms of archaeological data are studied by archaeologists
  • select, synthesise and present archaeological data orally and in written seminar papers
  • appraise and debate archaeological data presented to you by others


In this module, from the very start of your degree, you will be practising important skills which will be assessed later on in the programme. Importantly, they will also be of use to you after your degree, whether you decide to continue in academia, or pursue a different career path, of whatever type. The key skills you will be learning in this module are:

  • Self management: you will need to learn to work independently, planning your time to complete reading and preparation for seminars and lectures
  • Communication: you will be learning to communicate verbally in seminars, and through essay writing, and thinking about communicating to different audiences in seminar activities
  • Team working: you will be working with others to engage in experimental workshops, and participating in group activities and discussions within seminars
  • Problem solving: within classes you will be learning how to analyse data, critique research, and create replica objects using different materials
  • Application of IT: you will be using PowerPoint for your presentations and should be learning how to find academic papers through the internet
  • Numeracy: in some of the papers you will be need to be able to interpret graphs and tables

I really loved the hands on elements in the seminars.