Module leader: Oliver Craig


You are what you eat' is a well known truism, but what we are and what we eat have both undergone major transformations during the course of human evolution and more recent human history. Once regarded as a rather unexciting field of study associated with basic subsistence, palaeodietary studies have been rejuvenated in recent years both by new scientific methods and new theoretical perspectives. The food that people eat actually stands at the intersection between ecological, biological, social and ideological processes, and provides a rich source of evidence with which to view these different perspectives on human action and their complex inter-relationship. Palaeodietary studies involve a consideration of the food remains recovered from archaeological deposits and issues of taphonomy, differential preservation and seasonality, biological factors associated with nutrition and metabolism and the information on diet that can be recovered from human skeletal remains, ecological factors associated with food production and with changes in food production such as domestication and agriculture, and social and ideological factors associated with food consumption practises and food taboos.


  • Develop knowledge and understanding of the varied sources of evidence for palaeodietary reconstructions
  • Develop a critical perspective on interpretations of palaeodiet from an interdisciplinary perspective and through study of a range of problems in different periods and areas of the archaeological record

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module you should:

  • Have an understanding of the key theories and debates concerning palaeodietary reconstruction
  • Have a detailed knowledge of palaeodietary isotope studies
  • Have a critical awareness of the limitations of the various datasets
  • Be able to evaluate different lines of 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 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 exam, but you will have the chance to practice this further in essays during 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