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Assessed Seminars: Palaeodiet - ARC00002H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Michelle Alexander
  • Credit value: 40 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

You are what you eat, but what we are and what we eat have both undergone major transformations during the course of human evolution and more recent human history. What humans eat (and even what we feed other animals) goes beyond the biological need for sustenance and lies at the intersection between ecological, biological, social and ideological processes (e.g. status, gender, religion, wealth, the environment). Much of the efforts of our ancestors were driven towards the provision and consumption of food for survival but what they chose to eat provides a window on society and economy. The study of paleodiet has a crucial role to play in the study of any human society, underpinning some of the great debates in our discipline (human evolution, transition to agriculture, domestication, agricultural revolutions). We will explore the different archaeological evidence and methodologies for studying food provision and consumption and what they can tell us about life in the past with a focus on scientific approaches. 

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21 to Summer Term 2020-21

Module aims

Assessed Seminars seek to develop an understanding of a specialist topic (particularly a critical understanding of the key themes, approaches and opinions). In doing so students should be able to improve their knowledge of the subject area (through reading and preparation for their own seminar, their seminar contributions and involvement in the seminars) and also have the opportunity to develop their skills in chairing a seminar, presenting material and being involved in discussion (including thinking on their feet about the topic being discussed, how to engage interest in the topic and stimulate debate).

Specifically this module aims to:

  • 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

Module learning outcomes

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

 

  •  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

  • 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

  •  judge the general 'success' of the seminar, and to be able to reflect on this, through a written summary of a seminar

  • Present on other subjects within the general theme and contribute informed ideas and information to the other seminars

Module content

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 practices and food taboos.

In a series of lectures and workshops, students will become familiar with the different archaeological evidence and methodologies for studying food provision and consumption and what they can tell us about the past. Students will then choose and develop a topic around which they will design and chair a seminar. Seminars and class discussion will encourage a critical approach to the study of paleodiet. The choice of subjects has been incredibly varied, and as long the focus is archaeological approaches to palaeodiet, the choice of specific topic is down to you.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Critique
N/A 15
Essay/coursework
Seminar Contribution
N/A 5
Essay/coursework
Seminar Worksheet
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Chaired Seminar
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 1
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 2
N/A 20

Special assessment rules

None

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Critique
N/A 15
Essay/coursework
Seminar Worksheet
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Chaired Seminar
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 1
N/A 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 2
N/A 20

Module feedback

Formative: There will be group discussions and opportunities for one-to-one feedback as you prepare for your summative assessments.

Summative: Assessed Seminar modules are exempt from the University's Policy on Feedback Turnaround Time owing to the nature of this assessment (in that the seminar performance is the subject of your critique).  Marks for all elements of the assessment will be uploaded to your e:vision account (your personal University of York online services account) within four weeks of submission of the final reflective critique. 

 

Indicative reading

Twiss, Katheryn C. The Archaeology of Food. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019. 

Hastorf, Christine A. The Social Archaeology of Food. New York: Cambridge UP, 2016. 

Richards, M. P. (2020) “Isotope Analysis for Diet Studies,” in Richards, M. P. and Britton, K. (eds) Archaeological Science: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Detailed reading for the module will be available via YorkShare (the University's virtual learning environment). When you have enrolled on a module, you will be able to access the full reading list.



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

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