Accessibility statement

Practical Skills: Artefact Analysis

Module Code: ARC00001I

Module Leader: Steve Ashby


  • To introduce the key categories of portable material culture studied by finds specialists
  • To introduce the key means by which such objects are analysed and interpreted
  • To develop critical skills through the discussion of various artefactual case studies

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Identify some of the key forms of artefact frequently recovered from excavation.
  • Appreciate the process by which archaeologists move from artefact to analysis and interpretation
  • Appraise the various ways in which artefacts are used in the production of narratives
  • Perform a basic analysis on an artefact assemblage
  • Critically evaluate specialist artefact reports    

Further information

This module builds on the first year module Field Archaeology where students have been introduced to artefacts through fieldwalking and training in the museum.

Through the term, students will be expected to develop their skills in critiquing a specialist report (students write their own specialist report in the co-requisite module the following term, so it is important that they understand good practice). The formative assessment is designed to provide training, and a similar summative assessment is handed in at the end of term. Students will be encouraged to keep a lab notebook during term and in week 10 they will be assessed on the practical skills they have acquired during practical sessions through the term, and their ability to “think on their feet” in a class test.

The module will provide basic knowledge and skills related to artefact analysis and interpretation, that may then be built upon in the summer term’s ‘team project: artefact analysis’.  In particular, students will be introduced to some of the basic data sources used by finds specialists, including site reports and electronic resources such as the database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme ( They will be introduced to basic analytical skills (description, measurement, identification of raw material and manufacturing methods, and dating). The importance of these phenomena in interpretation will be discussed, as will the roles of artefacts in contributing to archaeology as a whole. Students will also consider some of the ethical and data-quality concerns of artefact analysis (e.g. the role of metal-detecting).

The students will be able to engage with some of the key classes of material culture, drawn from ceramics, metalwork, coinage, lithics, and bone/antlerwork.  They will see that each class comes with its own suite of approaches and problems. Important sources of material include the ceramic reference collection developed for the CONTACT project (housed at Hull Museum) and material stored in the Yorkshire Museum.  

Finally, the course will allow students to consider how the various facets of analysis may be brought together as finds reports, and, in turn, how such reports may best be integrated with site reports. This will allow critique and consideration of best-practice in publication, and will provide a valuable introduction for the work to be undertaken as part of the summer term’s ‘team project’ on artefact analysis.


This module not only provides practical skills in a certain area but also gives students the opportunity to develop the following skills:

  • Self management: it is of vital importance that you learn the practical skills this term so you can apply them next term to your team project so you will need to manage your time well and spend about 10 hours a week in independent study
  • Communication: you will be learning how to communicate the results of work and should be developing both your written and verbal communication skills
  • Team working: although the focus of team working comes next term it is a good idea to begin to work with others in the group and think about how to lead, and follow, effectively
  • Problem solving: this module will require a capacity for analysis, synthesis and the ability to evaluate information from a range of sources
  •  Social, cultural and global awareness: you may be considering case studies from an international context within this module. You should also appreciate the ethical issues involved.
  • Application of IT: you will be using the internet for a range of sources and you will be using word processing packages for presentation of your work
  • Application of numeracy: you will be thinking about how to interpret data

 Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, Roman artefact