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Debates in Funerary Archaeology - ARC00077M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Steph Piper
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

Death is a universal experience, yet each society handles it in its own way. Drawing on both anthropological and archaeological case studies from across the globe, this module tracks the development of archaeological approaches to death in the past. We explore themes of ritual, identity, memory and emotion, as well as debating our ethical responsibilities when studying death in the past.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This 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

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should:

  • Be able to demonstrate a systematic understanding of the historical development and significant debates of Funerary Archaeology studies, situating them within the broader development of Archaeology as a discipline
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with 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 periods and contexts
  • Communicate complex ideas in an analytical framework through essay writing, demonstrating an awareness of the standard terminology and style for reporting funerary practices

Module content

Over the course of this module, you will learn to critically examine archaeological approaches to death and burial. Each week the module has a lecture, with case studies, showing how different ideas have been applied to archaeological evidence, and a seminar, in which you will debate your own interpretations through discussion, activities or presentations. The module starts by exploring the foundational debates in funerary archaeology and situating them within the broader development of the discipline. We examine 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 case studies from different time periods to critically examine the methods used and their contribution to funerary archaeology. Themes will arise such as funerary landscapes, memory and commemoration, the material cultures of death, and mourning and grief, and identity. The module also includes a field trip within York.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

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.