Accessibility statement

Special Topic: Ancient DNA


Module leader: Nathan Wales


The purpose of the special topic is to allow students to study the archaeology of a well defined time, space or theme in a small seminar group. This enables them to come to grips with primary source material (material and written, as appropriate) and to apply to it the theoretical and thematic perspectives learned over your first and second years, so as to acquire a deeper knowledge of one aspect of the past than has been possible in more general courses.


The ancient DNA module will provide students with an opportunity to explore one of the most rapidly moving areas in bioarchaeology. The lectures and seminars will focus on a thematic approach to the field, in order to introduce the key methods adopted in the study of ancient DNA, as well as some of the caveats. We will look at issues of aDNA decay, contamination and survival, and importantly, the approaches used to integrate genomic and archaeological data. Students will explore these advances though sophisticated and integrated applications of DNA and archaeological evidence to address major questions in bioarchaeology.

Learning outcomes

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

  • demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of the use of DNA in bioarchaeology
  • be aware of the methods underpinning the rapid advances in ancient DNA analysis
  • critically discuss and assess the ways in which DNA based methods can be used to explore archaeological questions, as well as the limitations of this approach
  • critically evaluate primary data and evidence from scientific articles
  • be able to explore and aquire scientific literature using appropriate bibliographic sources 
  • communicate an in-depth, logical and structured argument, supported by biomolecular and archaeological evidence


During this module you will be building on the skills you have learnt in the first and second years. The Special Topic will particularly help you develop:
  • Self management: you have learnt to plan your time and work autonomously in the last couple of years, but it is now even more important that you take the initiative this term and manage your time effectively to cope with the demands of this module (for which you should be dedicating about 3-4 days of your time per week) against the demands of the dissertation, and your other committments
  • Communication: this is the last chance to practice your verbal communication skills and take account of your feedback before you do presentations in Assessed Seminars, which will count towards your final degree. You also need to make sure you have really understood how to write a strong academic argument which is required in the summative essay, but you will have the chance to practice this further in the formative essay for the module - make sure you attend feedback sessions so that you understand how to improve
  • Team working: it may be of benefit to form your own study groups and work together with others in the class in order to cover all the reading you have been set
  • Problem solving: you will be developing your skills in retrieving, analysing and evaluating information from a range of different sources
  • Social, cultural and global awareness: you should be developing your awareness of international issues and particularly ethical issues
  • Application of IT: you will be developing your word processing skills and should concentrate on presentation of your work, both in essays, but also the Powerpoints you create