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Special Topic: Death & Burial in Later Prehistory - ARC00075H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Penny Bickle
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

What would it be like to handle the bones of your relatives? Or fashion them into jewellery? Do different grave goods accompanying men and women, mean they had the same genders as the modern world? Or were Bronze Age warriors more interested in how they looked, than violence? While long studied monumental architecture can give the impression that Prehistoric burial was just about the elites, new methods have revealed that we are only just getting to grips with the complexity of funerary practices in the past. Penny’s teaching on Later Prehistory has been described as “fun, interesting and intellectually stimulating”, while about her teaching on Funerary Archaeology, students have said “Penny is incredibly enthusiastic about her subject and it rubs off on the students”.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

Module aims

Special Topics focus upon the archaeology of a well defined time, space or theme and the modules seek to allow students, in small groups, to focus upon primary source material and to apply to it the theoretical and thematic perspectives learned over your first and second years. The aim is to facilitate the acquisition of deeper knowledge of one aspect of the past than has been possible in more general courses.

Specifically this module aims to:

  • Introduce the broad range of burial practices in later prehistory in Europe from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, including inhumations, cremations, secondary burial rites, and monumental architecture.

  • Evaluate the appropriateness of the current scientific methods and theoretical approaches applied to burial evidence.

  • Critically assess the key interpretations, and their limitations, of funerary practices in issues of gender, personhood and social identity, social organisation and inequality, and belief systems and cultural change.

  • Evaluate the primary data and evidence through the use of case studies, excavation reports and the scientific literature.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module the students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of death and burial in the later prehistory of Europe (with a focus on the Neolithic and Bronze Age).
  • be aware of the scientific methods and theoretical approaches applied to burial evidence in later prehistory.
  • critically assess and discuss the key interpretations and their limitations
  • critically evaluate the primary data and evidence
  • communicate an in-depth, logical and structured argument, supported by archaeological evidence

Module content

In this module, we will explore why death and burial is prominent in the archaeological record for Later Prehistory (Neolithic to Iron Age). We will examine how new techniques are opening up new avenues of interpretation, but also have limitations. The module will also explore how easily the evidence can be misused in modern political debates about identity and belonging, and challenge you to suggest your own interpretations.

The lectures and seminars will take a thematic approach, exploring an issue relating to funerary archaeology in later prehistory through comparing and contrasting different cases studies. Drawing on a range of evidence from across Europe, we will explore the application of ethnography to interpret death and burial; landscapes and monuments; identities and grave goods; treatment of the body from inhumation, cremation, to disarticulation and secondary burial rites; ancient DNA and isotopic studies; social inequalities and structures; and the evidence for deviant burial rites. Case studies will come from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, introducing you to the major sites and types of evidence found, found from the iconic monuments of Neolithic Britain to the Iron Age Bog Bodies of the Iron Age. We will also explore some case studies that you may be less familiar with, giving you the chance to explore some of the less well known, but no less fascinating aspects of European Prehistory.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: The marker will share written feedback with you in a timetabled one-to-one meeting and you will have the opportunity to ask further questions about how to improve your work before your summative assessment. If you are unable to attend the feedback session, your tutor will share the formative feedback with you digitally.

Summative: Written feedback sheets will be uploaded to your e:vision account (your personal University of York online services account) within 20 working days of the submission deadline, along with your overall mark for the module. If you have any questions about your mark and/or your written feedback, you will be able to sign up for office hours with the marker.

Indicative reading

Croucher, K. 2012. Death and Dying in the Neolithic Near East. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cummings, V. 2017. The Neolithic of Britain and Ireland. London and New York: Routledge.

Fokkens, H. and Harding, A. 2013. The Oxford handbook of the European Bronze Age. Oxford: Oxford 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.