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Special Topic: The Archaeology of Africa - ARC00079H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Stephanie Wynne-Jones
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module explores the archaeology of Africa, from the Stone Age through to the colonial period. There is a particular focus on the last 2,000 years and the many complex societies that developed over that period. As such the module explores themes of ethnic and social identity, landscape and resource use, urbanism, craft production and trade, colonialism and slavery. It will give an introduction to a broad range of sites and societies, leading students to understand the unique character of the African past.

Related modules

A directed option - students must pick a Special Topic module and have a choice of which to take

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

Special Topics focus on 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 examine the scholarly approaches to and range of evidence involved in the archaeology of Africa, with a particular focus on the last 2,000 years
  • To evaluate and critique the challenges surrounding the ways we know the African past, including the use of interdisciplinary approaches and colonial legacies
  • To develop research, analytical and communication skills.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • demonstrate a broad and comparative knowledge of the archaeology of Africa, from the Stone Age to the present day
  • Demonstrate awareness of the archaeology of African sites and monuments, exemplified in a series of case studies
  • critically discuss and assess key theories, methods and debates relating to the African past, and their limitations
  • critically evaluate primary data of different types, including those drawn from material culture, documentary sources, oral histories, and archaeological science
  • communicate an in-depth, logical and structured argument, supported by appropriate evidence and case studies

Module content

The Archaeology of Africa provides a journey through a phenomenally diverse set of ancient settings and societies. This module will lead students through some of that diversity, using examples from across the continent and introducing a range of themes that are crucial to archaeological inference. The module will provide an overview of the archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa from the Stone Age to the colonial period, with a particular focus on the last 2,000 years. During this time period, African societies built complex societies rich with monumental remains and home to craftsmanship and rich technological traditions. By focusing on case studies from Timbuktu to Great Zimbabwe, this module will give students familiarity with that archaeology and allow them to comment on key themes that characterise debate on the continent.

Over the course of the module, we will explore the links between landscape and identity, as envisaged through lifestyles such as pastoralism or settled agriculture. We will discuss forms of urbanism, power and control. In many cases, African material poses a fundamental challenge to models derived from outside the continent (such as the Neolithic revolution) and we will explore those debates through data from African examples. The archaeology of Africa is also intimately bound up with histories of colonialism and this module will explore the legacies of colonialism, both in the historical societies revealed through archaeological excavation, and within the history of the discipline itself.


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

Special assessment rules



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

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders in class

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Andah, B., A. Okpoko, T. Shaw, P. Sinclair 1993. The Archaeology of Africa: food, metals, towns. London: Routledge.

Connah, G. 2015. African Civilizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lane, P. and P. Mitchell (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology. 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.