Accessibility statement

Animals and Archaeology


Module leader: David Orton


Animals have been a part of the human environment for longer than there have been humans. They were our prey in prehistory, and we were theirs. They became farmed livestock at our service, and we provided homes and food for pets and vermin. Our towns became places where some species flourished, whilst others were driven to extinction. The biology of the human past is inextricably tied up with other animals. Culturally, too, animals have been prominent in all cultures. The very acts of hunting and fishing acquired cultural, even ceremonial, significance beyond their subsistence role. The relationship of farmers and pastoralists to their herds and flocks is a deep, complex one, not simply economic. And animals enter into our symbolic lives too, as deities and symbols, mascots and alter-egos. This module explores those complex relationships from the earliest times to the recent past, asking whether the fascination that we seem to have for other species is something fundamentally human, one of the very few genuinely cross-cultural attributes of our species.


The module topic spans the study of the ways in which people and other animals have interacted in the past through the surviving archaeological record. Seminar topics aim to encompass utilitarian relationships such as hunting and husbandry, mutualistic relationships such as companion animals and other commensals, and the social incorporation of animals in the form of deities, trophies and icons.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate in depth knowledge of a topic of their choosing, within the general theme of human/animal interactions
  • Exhibit a firm understanding of the theoretical and methodological issues related to the archaeological study of Animals
  • Show familiarity with a wide range of case studies
  • Demonstrate in depth knowledge of a topic of their choosing
  • Pick out the key issues in their chosen topic
  • Prepare a worksheet which sets out key reading and issues for presentation, debate and discussion, and support the group in the preparation of the seminar
  • Chair a seminar, engage interest in the topic, stimulate debate and structure discussion
  • Have a critical awareness of the process of collective debate on a specific topic
  • Be able to judge the general 'success' of the seminar, and to be able to reflect on this, through a written summary of a seminar
  • Present PowerPoint presentations on other subjects within the general theme and contribute informed ideas and information to the other seminars


In this module you will develop key skills in presentation and chairing which should be of immense value in your future careers:
  • Self management: in this module you need to develop the ability to take initiative and you will need the will to succeed! There will be a lot of self management required whilst you plan your topic through the spring term- you should be spending about 3-4 days a week on this module and balancing this with finalising your dissertation (and any other commitments)
  • Communication: communication skills are vital and they will be assessed- through the previous 2 years you will should have practised and developed these skills in order to present clear and succinct PowerPoints. Your writing skills will be tested further in your self assessment document. Most importantly, you will have the chance to chair a seminar and you will need to be able to judge when to listen to your team mates, and how to encourage and stimulate debate, particularly from quieter members of the group
  • Team working: it is essential you can bring the team together to tackle your topic in depth and to create a stimulating and enlightening debate. It may be a wise move to set up your own study groups.
  • Problem solving: you will be faced with a lot of reading and it is essential that you develop the skills for retrieving information from relevant sources as well as critical evaluation
  • Creativity and innovation: this module enables you to be creative in your ideas of what topic to develop and how you plan to run the seminar
  • World of work awareness: this module will set you up for similar situations in the world of work where you might need to chair a meeting and will have to keep the team to the point and to time- you should understand the pressures of such meetings and think about ways of coping with them
  • Social, cultural and global awareness: many of you will be considering the international dimensions of your chosen subject, and in many cases you might want to think about the diversity of issues from other cultures and countries, as well as ethical issues related to your research
  • Application of IT: you will be tested on your effective use of PowerPoint as well as word processsing skills. You will also be expected to use the internet effectively with your research