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Practical Skills: Ceramics


Module Leader: Stephanie Wynne-Jones


  • To introduce the key features of ceramics studied by archaeologists and the potential of this study for interpretation
  • To introduce the key means by which ceramics 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 the formal, decorative and technological aspects of archaeological ceramics
  • Appreciate the process by which archaeologists move from ceramics to analysis and interpretation
  • Appraise the various ways in which ceramics are used in the production of narratives
  • Perform a basic analysis on a ceramic assemblage
  • Critically evaluate specialist ceramics 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 develop skills of ceramic analysis through hands-on activities with archaeological ceramics. They will learn about the analytical process by working with ceramics and assemblages, moving through the steps in data processing in preparation for the team project in the following term. Students write their own report in the following term, so another key aspect of preparation will be in critiquing and interpreting specialist reports; we will spend time throughout the course discussing aspects of good practice in this regard. 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’s goal is to provide basic methodological knowledge and skills related to ceramic analysis and interpretation, that may then be built upon in the summer term’s ‘team project: ceramic analysis’.  Practically, the students will work with several different kinds of assemblages in order to explore different technologies and organisations of production.  Students will be introduced to basic analytical skills (description, measurement, identification of manufacturing methods, and dating) and how archaeologists use these to discuss production, exchange and use. Furthermore, students will become familiar with basic data sources used by specialists, including site reports, and specialist ceramics volumes.

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 ceramic 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