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Archaeological Theory - ARC00005C

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. James Taylor
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The study of the past is inherently theory laden and always political. We are subject to biases from our own social and cultural perspectives, which can influence how we view and react to archaeological interpretations and practice. This module sets the scene for developing essential critical analytical skills by challenging you to think about how our philosophies and experiences shape the questions we ask of the past. Everyone takes something meaningful from this module - and many students have come back in later years of their degree and affirmed they could not possibly have predicted the huge value of the concepts and ideas they learned in this first year module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

This module aims:

  • to introduce students to the development of key strands of archaeological thought from the nineteenth century to the present
  • to provide students with a critical understanding of the development of the discipline of archaeology world-wide
  • to provide a basis for a critical appreciation of current archaeological practice and theory

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the wider social and political context of archaeology
  • Demonstrate an appreciation that interpretations of data may differ because of the theoretical positions of archaeologists, consciously or unconsciously
  • Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the principles and applications of Culture History, Processualism, Marxism, Structuralism, Post-Processualism and various other critical approaches and be able to place their development and application within a historical, political, international context
  • Appreciate the links between theory and practice and situate themselves within the theoretical positions they feel are most appropriate to their field of practice, as it relates to their wider world view

Module content

The module will introduce students to a range of theoretical debates and, through reading a combination of textbooks and original papers, students are exposed to the emphases, terminology and assumptions behind the various theoretical movements as applied to archaeology. Analysis of case studies, drawn from a range of regions around the world, will be utilised to help explain the development and application of various theoretical approaches. Case studies will be used to illustrate the impact of theoretical developments on archaeological practice and the subsequent implications this had for the development of the discipline both regionally and world wide.

The course will be broadly structured by the big themes that dominate archaeological discourse and will demonstrate the importance of theory to every aspect of our understanding of the past, our disciplinary practice and the way we disseminate the past to our audiences. We will shine a light on the political implications of the theoretical context of our research, and consider the paradox that the theory we use and the knowledge we create on one hand embodies implicit and inherent power structures and hierarchies, which we seek to dismantle in on the other hand with the very same theory.

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: written feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Johnson, Matthew (1999) Archaeological Theory : An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harris, Oliver J. T, and Cipolla, Craig N. (2017) Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium. 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Trigger, Bruce G. (2006) A History of Archaeological Thought. West Nyack: Cambridge UP.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University constantly explores 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. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.