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Special Topic: Battlefield Archaeology


Module leader: Tim Sutherland


This module will examine historic battlefields from around the world and from a variety of periods. The archaeological signature of each type will be discussed.
Warfare has had a physical and psychological effect on humanity for thousands of years, but it was usually documented from a distance in both time and space. Battlefield archaeology is a vital mechanism for understanding how conflicts were fought and what their conclusions were, both physically and historically. It is often said that history is written by the victors but such texts can now be critically scrutinised by undertaking multidisciplinary archaeological procedures that provide physical evidence which can be compared with associated historical documents. It is now becoming apparent that often the results reveal conclusions that differ to those from the documentary record.
Analysis of evidence of contemporary technology from these battlefields sometimes provides an insight into often secretive or unrecorded technology in what has been a perpetual arms race. Many material innovations found early uses as weapons on fields of conflict. Charting the first known use of these changes, often from a specific day in history, provides us with a glimpse into the cutting edge world of material technology and allow artefact typologies to be given an early fixed date.
Historic conflicts also resulted in large numbers of dead, some of which were removed for formal burial, whilst others remained within the battlefield landscape, particularly in mass graves. The analysis of such remains and associated artefacts often provides extensive evidence of where combatants came from, how they lived, fought, died and how they were subsequently treated. Occasionally, even their names can be determined.


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 the 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 aims of this module are to enable students to critically examine the archaeological data from historic battlefield sites from around the world; to familiarise students with a key research area in battlefield and conflict archaeology; and to develop skills and understanding in dealing with the methodological problems of relating archaeology and written evidence of military engagements.

Learning outcomes

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

  • demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of the archaeology of the sites of historic conflict
  • Discuss and explain the principal archaeological evidence in the area of study and demonstrate a critical appreciation of the potential biases and problems in the interpretation of the evidence and modern political discourses
  • Evaluate and contextualise different types of archaeological source material
  • Critically appraise other people’s studies and produce logical and structured arguments supported by relevant 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