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World Archaeology: Alpine Landscape Archaeology - ARC00062I

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Kevin Walsh
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

The European Alps are arguably Europe’s most enigmatic landscape or region. The history of human activity here is complex and fascinating. In the 1700s, Jean-Jacques Rousseau celebrated the Alps as the embodiment of the victory of nature over the “horrors” of civilization – This module will assess this rather romantic notion of alpine landscape development; a notion that is founded on the idea that people have had minimal role in the evolution of these harsh, and in many ways, unforgiving environments. This module will adopt a holistic approach, considering human-environment interactions from the Mesolithic to the Post Medieval period in the Alps. For each period, we also address questions relating to ritual and ideology and the ways in which these processes might have influenced the organisation or perception of alpine landscapes.

Related modules

A directed option - students must pick one World Archaeology module and have a choice of which to take.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The World Archaeology Modules seek to expose the students to the diversity of World Archaeology through an in depth review of a range of topics.

The module aims are:

  • To explain the development of human lifeways in the Alps from the Mesolithic to the Post-Medieval Period via a review and discussion of a wide range of archaeological evidence (sites, artefacts) and palaeoenvironmental evidence (geoarchaeology, palynology, isotopes, sedimentary DNA)
  • To explain the importance of geography and (palaeo)environment in the analysis of human-environment interaction in the Alps
  • To consider how archaeologists exploit and integrate cultural and scientific data-categories in the creation of comprehensive analyses of past human lifeways

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate an appreciation of how people have lived and worked in the Alps from the to the post-medieval period
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the physical geography and (palaeo)environmental trajectories of alpine environments
  • Critically evaluate why a (palaeo)environmental perspective is essential in the reconstruction of past human-lifeways in alpine landscapes
  • Appreciate how today’s alpine landscapes are the product of a complex series of human-environment interactions that span the last 10,000 years

Module content

While there is a long history of research at lower altitudes across the European Alps, research in Europe’s most important mountain range has suffered from a lack of work in the higher-altitude zones. The last two decades have witnessed a significant increase in higher altitude research, thus helping us complete the picture of how these complex landscapes developed over time. This module will present a chronological overview of activity in the Alps from the Mesolithic through to the post-medieval period. After reviewing the complexity of hunting and gathering in alpine environments, the module will then consider evidence for the movement of farmers into the alpine valleys and the gradual incursions into the higher altitudinal zones. Moving into the chalcolithic, we will consider what Otzi, the “Ice Mummy”, tells us about life in the Alps at this time. Around the edges of the Alps, the world-famous lake villages were established during this period, and many were inhabited into the Iron Age. The development of copper mining and high altitude pastoralism are important themes for the study of Bronze Age societies in the Alps. The complex network of economic and social relationships within and beyond the Alps established during the Bronze Age were a preface to the emergence of the famous Iron Age cultures; Hallstatt and La Tene. We will then consider how Roman control of the Alps manifests itself in the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record; this will, however, be prefaced by a review of the evidence for Hannibal’s infamous traverse of the alpine massif. The final lecture will consider how alpine economies developed during the medieval period, how new social systems influenced the development of key and industrial activities - from cheese production to tourism.

This module will adopt a holistic approach, considering the way interdisciplinary research allows us to develop an image of how people adapted to these often harsh environments. While a range of scientific (paleoenvironmental, biological) evidence will be referred to in this module, we will also consider “orthodox” archaeological data. Therefore, this module will be suitable for both BA and BSc students.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



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

Carrer, F., 2020. Archaeology of the Alps, in: Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp. 1–12.

Walsh, K., Giguet-Covex, C., 2020. A History of Human Exploitation of Alpine Regions, in: Encyclopedia of the World’s Biomes. Elsevier, pp. 555–573.

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.