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Debates in Funerary Archaeology - ARC00077M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Penny Bickle
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

This module aims to explore the debates in methodology and interpretation that have informed archaeological approaches to death and burial in the past. Drawing on both anthropological and archaeological cases studies from across the globe, we track the development of thought about studying death in the past, from critiquing interpretations that regard burial and grave goods as the straight-forward presentation of status, to examining the complexities and diversities of identity and ritual that arise in different cultural approaches to death. 

Students say they find the module fascinating and intellectually stimulating, often commenting that they come out with an enhanced understanding not only of funerary archaeology, but the broader archaeology discipline.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

  • To critically examine the ways in which the evidence from, and methods used in, the funerary archaeology are interpreted

  • To critically analyse how past and current theoretical debates are shaping the sub-discipline of funerary archaeology

  • To develop research, analytical and presentational skills

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should

  • Be familiar with the historical development and significant debates of Funerary Archaeology studies and be able to situate them within the broader development of Archaeology as a discipline

  • Have knowledge of the key research questions and methodologies for studying death and burial in Archaeology

  • Be able to critically evaluate the different interpretative and methodological approaches to the study of funerary practices and to assess their application to different prehistoric periods and contexts

  • Have an awareness of the standard terminology and style for reporting funerary practices

  • Have enhanced their skills in oral presentations, discussion and debate

Module content

The module starts by exploring the foundational debates in funerary archaeology, the move from processualist methods to the post-processualist critique, as well as exploring the impact of anthropological analogy on interpretations. The second part of the module focuses on a series of topical debates, drawing on case studies to critically examine the methods used and their contribution to archaeology. Topics covered include: Funerary rites and the role of ritual practice; Identity in burial studies; Material culture of death; Memory, and commemoration; Ethics and politics of the dead; and Death and attitudes to the human body. 


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback will be available within 6 weeks


Indicative reading

Bradbury, J. and Scarre, C. eds. (2017). Engaging with the dead: exploring changing human beliefs about death, mortality and the human body. Oxford: Oxbow.

Parker Pearson, M. (1999). The archaeology of death and burial. Stroud: Sutton.

Tarlow, S. and Nilsson Stutz, L. eds. (2013). The Oxford handbook of death and burial. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.