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Zooarchaeology in Context - ARC00117M

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

Module summary

In this module we explore and discuss the many archaeological questions to which animal remains can contribute, from Palaeolithic hunting to post-medieval trade, taking in topics such as domestication, environmental impact, and the cultural roles of animals along the way. Associated practical workshops provide a grounding in the zooarchaeologist's basic toolkit: age and sex determination, quantification, metrics, and butchery analysis. The module will be useful for anyone who needs to read and interpret zooarchaeological reports, as well as those planning to study animal bones directly.

Related modules

Pre-Requisite: Students must have taken Animal bones for Archaeologists in Semester 1 to be able to take this module in Semester 2. 

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module aims:

  • To demonstrate the contribution of zooarchaeology to understanding past human societies in a wide range of contexts, and to provide students with a broad knowledge base of such studies.
  • To provide students with training and hands-on experience in the key methods of analysis of archaeological animal remains.
  • To provide students with the necessary knowledge and confidence to recommend and apply appropriate analytical approaches to specific animal bone assemblages.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the contribution of animal remains to various key issues in archaeology and beyond.
  • Demonstrate a practical understanding of standard techniques for quantification, age/sex determination, metrical and butchery analyses of animal remains, and interpret the results in a range of archaeological scenarios.
  • Demonstrate critical engagement with the strengths and limitations of those approaches, and critically evaluate published zooarchaeological studies.
  • Critically assess the potential of zooarchaeological assemblages or datasets for future research, and recommend appropriate approaches.

Module content

The module is built around a series of seminars taking students from evidence for past hunting strategies, through the study of domestication and herding practices, to the role of animal bones in complex societies, organised religion, and urban settlements. Along the way, sessions are dedicated to zooarchaeological contributions within exciting topics such as island archaeology, the archaeology of food, and contemporary biodiversity conservation. The seminars are supported by practical workshops covering age-at-death analysis, metrics, sex determination, zooarchaeological quantification, and butchery – ensuring that students understand how zooarchaeological data are generated, and the complexities and limitations of the techniques on which our interpretations are based.

The last few weeks are given over to the Yok Höyük research simulation workshop which allows students to recreate the entire zooarchaeological research process in the context of a fictional Neolithic excavation in Turkey: developing research questions, applying sampling strategies, and analysing and interpreting results.


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

Reitz, E. & E. Wing. 2008. Zooarchaeology. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steele, T. 2015. The contributions of animal bones from archaeological sites: the past and future of zooarchaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science 56: 168-176.

Sykes, N. 2014. Beastly Questions. London: Bloomsbury.

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.