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Ethnoarchaeology - ARC00086M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Stephanie Wynne-Jones
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

Ethnoarchaeology is central to the ways archaeologists understand the past, and has informed interpretations of the archaeological record from the Palaeolithic to the present day. It provides a powerful set of techniques, using modern analogies to understand how objects and sites of the past would have related to social activities, skills and ways of understanding the world. This course, which gives an introduction to the debates, practices, and ethics of ethnoarchaeology is therefore a fantastic component of any programme of study. In particular it focuses on the ways that ethnoarchaeology has informed debates on material culture and technology and gives an essential set of skills for exploring the material record.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

  • Provide an introduction to ethnoarchaeology, with a focus on material culture and the use of space.

  • Introduce students to the theoretical basis, critique of archaeology offered by ethnoarchaeology, and reflexivity within ethnoarchaeology.

  • Allow students to understand how ethnoarchaeology can help archaeologists to understand the past, working through different areas of study: discard patterns, hunter-gatherer archaeology, craft production and consumption, the use of space in houses and settlements, and engagement with the material world. Studies will focus particularly but not exclusively on African examples.

  • Introduce students to formative and current debates on the uses and problems of ethnoarchaeology, as an essential basis for the study of the material world.

  • Enable students to design their own ethnoarchaeological studies

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Discuss with confidence with the historical development and significant debates within ethnoarchaeology and be able to situate them within the broader development of Archaeology as a discipline;

  • Debate the merits and contribution of ethnoarchaeological research, including ethical dimensions;

  • Evaluate critically different interpretative and methodological approaches to understanding the past through ethnoarchaeology, and to assess their application to different periods and contexts

  • Design and implement their own ethnoarchaeological study using standard terminology and style for reporting ethnoarchaeological studies

  • Present ideas confidently in discussion and debate

  • Work with a team to create projects and presentations

  • Convey complex ideas in an analytical framework through essay-writing and presentations

Module content

This course will introduce students to all aspects of ethnoarchaeology, from theoretical approaches to practical aspects of working between living societies and the archaeological record. After an introductory lecture, teaching will be via seminars and discussion groups, based on particular readings. Students can expect to become confident in using ethnoarchaeology to enhance their understanding of the past, particularly with aspects of material culture and spatial patterning. This means that students will not only learn how to explore the technological and social context of archaeological objects, but will also be able to engage in informed discussion about technology and materiality in context.

In seminars students will be expected to contribute to discussion, as well as participating in short group and individual presentations. The module will be taught thematically, drawing on anthropological and archaeological examples. Topics covered will include: ethnoarchaeology and ethics; objects and identity; feasting and consumption; technology; cultural landscapes and communities; ethnoarchaeology of gender.


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

Feedback will be available within 6 weeks

Indicative reading

David, N. and C. Kramer. 2001. Ethnoarchaeology in Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Ch. 1, p. 1-32).

González-Ruibal, A. 2006. The Past is Tomorrow. Towards an Archaeology of the Vanishing Present, Norwegian Archaeological Review 39 (2): 110–125. doi:10.1080/00293650601030073.

Lyons, D. and J. Casey 2016. It’s a material world: the critical and on-going value of ethnoarchaeology in understanding variation, change and materiality, World Archaeology 48(5). 

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.