BA Archaeology and Anthropology

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
The Archaeology of Ritual

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30992
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Archaeology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Life is constituted of innumerable rituals, that is a set of established or prescribed actions that structure religious and other rites. This course explores the physical evidence, visual cues and behavioural practices bound up in ritual activities and explores their underlying meaning. We will investigate the nature of ritual and its relationship with religion, before looking at surviving locational, stratigraphic, architectural, artefactual and iconographic evidence to help us determine the precise nature of the rituals enacted at sites. This course makes use of detailed case studies from the ancient world and ethnographic examples drawn from a wide range of periods and geographical regions.


1. To familiarise students with diverse theoretical approaches, concepts and intellectual frameworks that have been         brought to bear upon the study of ritual.
2. To gain a solid understanding of the main developments in the study of ritual across different disciplines.
3. To explore key aspects of rituals through the use of diverse case studies drawn from ancient and modern examples and diverse regions.
4. To evaluate critically the interpretative potential of difference evidence types.
5. To apply these approaches to an analysis of an ancient or modern ritual of the student’s choice.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course unit, students will have:

Knowledge and understanding

  • Become familiar with diverse theoretical approaches, concepts and intellectual frameworks that have been brought to bear upon the study of ritual.
  • Gained a solid understanding of the main developments in the study of ritual across different disciplines.
  • Explored key aspects of rituals through the use of diverse case studies drawn from ancient and modern examples and diverse regions.
  • Developed an awareness of different types of evidence, as well as an appreciation of the problems involved in marshalling these different kinds of evidence.

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrated an ability to evaluate and reflect critically upon different theoretical approaches and evidence types.
  • Acquired experience in summarizing one’s intellectual position coherently verbally and in writing.
  • Acquired experience in marshalling the evidence to support ones own argument.

Practical skills

  • Acquired experience in presenting and reflecting upon evidence orally in a group context.
  • Demonstrated an ability to utilize Blackboard.
  • Demonstrated an ability to research a topic using library and internet resources.
  • Developed competency in applying appropriate academic conventions for presentation of written arguments.
  • Acquired experience in planning, conducting and presenting an essay and project.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Gained practice in managing time and working to deadlines.
  • Acquired experience in contributing to group discussions.
  • Demonstrated an ability to communicate effectively in written work.
  • Developed experience in a critical use of the Internet to retrieve information.
  • Gained experience in utilizing computer word processing software.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Cognitive Skills: critical thinking skills, the evaluation of arguments, interrogation of cultural phenomena
Personal Capabilities: ability to work without supervision, willingness to reflect upon your academic performance and improve your skill-set further, ability to respond positively to changing arguments and evidence
Oral communication
Generic Competencies: ability to access different sources, the recognition of key points of arguments, marshal and critically appraise other people's arguments, explaining your viewpoint in a structured and logical manner orally and in writing
Practical and Professional Skills: familiarity with a range of theoretical and philosophical frameworks employed in the Humanities and beyond, appreciation of the diversity of cultures and human behaviour, ability to use writing software, work constructively with others on a common task, to work effectively whilst meeting deadlines

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Fieldtrip Essay


3000 words


Project: Analysis of a Ritual


3000 words




Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

Students will receive summative and formative feedback on their Essay and Project.

Oral feedback

The seminars are a place for directed discussion and thus provide verbal formative feedback on the development and presentation of argument and interpretation on a weekly basis. In advance of submitting the Project and the Essay, students are encouraged to discuss their Project and Essay plans with the course convenor who will provide formative feedback.


Recommended reading

Dietler, M. and Hayden, B., 2010. Feasts: archaeological and ethnographic perspectives on food, politics, and power. University of Alabama Press.

Dietler, M., 2006. Alcohol: Anthropological/archaeological perspectives. Annu. Rev. Anthropol.35, pp.229-249.

Fogelin, L., 2007. The archaeology of religious ritual. Annu. Rev. Anthropol.,36, 55-71.

Inomata, T. and Coben, L.S. eds., 2006. Archaeology of performance: theaters of power, community, and politics. Rowman Altamira.

Gell, A. The Technology of Enchantment and the enchantment of technology. In: The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams, edited by E. Hirsch, pp. 159–86. Oxford: Berg.

Insoll, T. 2004 Archaeology, ritual, religion. Psychology Press.

Insoll, T., 2011. The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of ritual and religion. Oxford University Press.

Kyriakidis, E., 2007. The archaeology of ritual. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California.

Laneri, N., 2007. An archaeology of funerary rituals. Oriental Inst Publications Sales.

Malone, C. and Barrowclough, D., 2010. Cult in Context: Reconsidering Ritual in Archaeology. Oxbow books.

Pearson, M.P. and Pearson, M.P., 1999. The archaeology of death and burial. Phoenix Mill, UK: Sutton.

Renfrew, C. 1985. The Archaeology of Cult. London: Thames & Hudson.

Rowan, Y.M., 2011. Beyond Belief: The Archaeology of Religion and Ritual. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association21(1), pp.1-10.

           Van Gennep, A. 1960. Rites of Passage. London. Routledge & Keegan Paul.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ina Berg Unit coordinator

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