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Assessed Seminar: Palaeodiet - ARC00094H

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Lara Gonzalez Carretero
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

You are what you eat, but what we are and what we eat have both undergone major transformations during the course of human evolution and more recent human history. What humans eat (and even what we feed other animals) goes beyond the biological need for sustenance and lies at the intersection between ecological, biological, social and ideological processes (e.g. status, gender, religion, wealth, the environment). Much of the efforts of past human populations were driven towards the provision and consumption of food for survival, but what they chose to eat provides a window on society and economy. The study of palaeodiet has a crucial role to play in the study of any human society, underpinning some of the great debates in our discipline (human evolution, transition to agriculture, domestication, agricultural revolutions). We will explore the different archaeological evidence and methodologies for studying food provision and consumption and what they can tell us about life in the past, with a focus on scientific approaches.

Related modules

A directed option - students must pick an Assessed Seminar module and have a choice of which to take

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Assessed Seminars seek to develop an understanding of a specialist topic (particularly a critical understanding of the key themes, approaches and opinions). In doing so students should be able to improve their knowledge of the subject area (through reading and preparation for their own seminar, their seminar contributions and involvement in the seminars) and also have the opportunity to develop their skills in chairing a seminar, presenting material and being involved in discussion (including thinking on their feet about the topic being discussed, how to engage interest in the topic and stimulate debate).

Specifically this module aims to:

  • Develop knowledge and understanding of the varied sources of evidence for palaeodietary reconstructions
  • Develop a critical perspective on interpretations of palaeodiet from an interdisciplinary perspective, and through the study of a range of problems in different periods and areas of the archaeological record

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate that they are familiar with the literature on palaeodietary reconstruction in archaeology
  • Exhibit a firm understanding of the theoretical, ethical and methodological issues in palaeodietary isotope studies
  • Explore a range of case studies and the interpretations of them
  • Prepare a worksheet which sets out key reading and issues for presentation, debate and discussion
  • Chair a seminar, engage interest in a topic, stimulate debate and structure discussion
  • Present on other subjects within the general theme and contribute informed ideas and information to the other seminars

Module content

In a series of lectures and workshops, students will become familiar with the theme of the module. Students will then choose a topic around which they will design and chair a seminar. Seminars and class discussion will encourage a critical approach to the literature and provide preparation for chairing and presenting.

Once regarded as a rather unexciting field of study associated with basic subsistence, palaeodietary studies have been rejuvenated in recent years both by new scientific methods and new theoretical perspectives. The food that people eat stands at the intersection between ecological, biological, social and ideological processes, and provides a rich source of evidence with which to view these different perspectives on human action and their complex inter-relationship. Palaeodietary studies involve a consideration of the food remains recovered from archaeological deposits as well as issues of taphonomy, differential preservation and seasonality. Palaeodietary studies can also provide information on biological factors associated with nutrition and metabolism, the information on diet that can be recovered from human skeletal remains, ecological factors associated with food production, changes in food production (such as domestication and agriculture), and social and ideological factors associated with food consumption practices and food taboos.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
1 hours 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Contribution to seminars
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 1
0.17 hours 20
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Presentation 2
0.17 hours 20

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will hand in worksheets before consolidation week (in Week 5) so staff can work out a schedule for students chairing and delivering presentations. Students will need to hand in presentation slides by week 8, either with pre-recorded narration or without if they opt to do it live. Student-run seminars will run from Week 9 to Week 11 where students will chair a 1hr session. Within these seminars, contributions from students will be assessed.


Task Length % of module mark
Short report on best practice in chairing
N/A 25
N/A 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pre-recorded Presentation 1
0.17 hours 25
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pre-recorded Presentation 2
0.17 hours 25

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders in class

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Twiss, Katheryn C. The Archaeology of Food. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019.

Hastorf, Christine A. The Social Archaeology of Food. New York: Cambridge UP, 2016.

Richards, M. P. (2020) “Isotope Analysis for Diet Studies,” in Richards, M. P. and Britton, K. (eds) Archaeological Science: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge 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.