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Archaeological Excavation & Heritage Practice - ARC00010C

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jim Leary
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

Excavation is, for many people, the defining activity of archaeology and this module uses hands-on work to introduce you to all aspects of collecting, analysing and communicating fieldwork data. It will also introduce you to aspects of heritage practice within the context of a wider field archaeology project, including as desk-based and archival research, and public presentation.

Professional requirements

accredited by CIFA; no additional requirements needed

Related modules


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

This module is structured around a combination of introductory lectures, then hands-on experience on a designated departmental project, finishing with post-excavation work and an exhibition. In this way, it introduces you to all aspects of assessing, collecting and analysing primary excavation data, for many people the defining archaeological method (although it is really just one part of that whole).

In this way, we hope you will be able to appreciate how the process of reconnaissance and evaluation allows the development of an excavation strategy, and to understand the main excavation techniques, including recording archaeological features and associated stratification and taking environmental samples. Finally, after the excavation has finished, you will gain a grasp of how artefacts are sorted and cared for, environmental samples are processed and sorted, and the records made in the field checked.

Students will also get the opportunity to organise tours of the site for the general public and help curate stories of the excavation and its interpretation for wider audiences. We will consider how archaeology and cultural heritage are mobilised via different forms of media. How do such media help, for example, in promoting understanding, garnering public support, furthering research and encouraging participation? We will also consider the role of museums and their varied interpretative practice in the modern world. Our interest is not only in the use of exhibitions/interpretative media for promoting the past to the public, but also in their efficacy for adding to our archaeological theoretical frameworks and furthering our research agendas.

This excavation element is looked forward and enjoyed by most students, something that many look back on fondly long after their degree has ended. Yet our excavations always involve a strong research element - we never excavate a site just for the sake of training students. So you will be involved in a project which will make a real contribution to our understanding of the past, and will help different audiences gain understanding of ‘their heritage’ into the bargain. For many of you this will be a voyage of discovery, of finding new evidence, trying new techniques and discovering new things, both about the past and, often, yourself.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Recognise the role of desk-based and archival research within the context of a wider field project

  • Critically assess source materials and appreciate their relevance to research questions

  • Under supervision, undertake basic desk-based and archival research, including text-based and cartographic sources

  • Understand and apply excavation techniques

  • Record archaeological context data under supervision

  • Understand the process and recording of stratification

  • Understand the process of environmental sampling processing, and sorting

  • Recognise, sort and care for artefacts

  • Process field records from excavation work

  • Understand what is required in the world of work including good attendance and punctuality

  • Understand the principles of public presentation

  • Communicate ideas through visual media, developed through production of a PowerPoint poster

  • Under supervision, undertake basic public presentation including site tours and production of display materials as appropriate


Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The on-site supervisors will provide continuous feedback to the students in order for them to achieve all of the learning outcomes. PowerPoint posters will be marked on the day of the group presentation and feedback given.

Indicative reading

Drewett, P (1999) Field Archaeology: an introduction (gives the basics, esp. Chs 4 and 7, plus Ch.8 on post-excavation matters)

Harris, E (1989) Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy (Chs. 3 and, especially, Ch.5)

Lucas, G (2001) Critical Approaches to Fieldwork (esp. Ch.1 for history, plus the rest for a more theoretical positioning than Drewett)

Flatman, J., Chidester, R. and Gadsby, D. (2012). What public engagement in archaeology really means. In M. Rockman and J. Flatman, eds. Archaeology in Society: Its Relevance in the Modern World. Springer: New York, pp. 65-76.

Moshenska, G. (2017) Key Concepts in Public Archaeology [electronic Resource]. London: UCL.

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.