BA Ancient History and Archaeology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Thinking Archaeology

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE20112
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces students to a range of conceptual frameworks that archaeologists have used to explain and interpret their evidence in the past and the present. Beginning with a series of sessions that outline the history of archaeological thinking, from the antiquarians of the 16th to 19th centuries to the New Archaeology of the 1960s and the ‘post-processual’ archaeology of the 1980s/1990s, the course proceeds to a series of approaches and issues that are pertinent to contemporary archaeology: Marxism and critical theory; the notion of the ‘archaeological record’; structuralism and hermeneutics; phenomenology, the ‘new materialisms’ and assemblage theory. The course concludes with a consideration of the ‘material turn’ in the human sciences, and its manifestation within archaeology in the forms of ‘symmetrical archaeology’ and assemblage theory.


This course provides the student with a ‘toolkit’ of theoretical approaches that can be applied to many different sets of archaeological evidence, and to contemporary representations of the past.  Many of these frameworks are not exclusive to archaeology, and enable the evaluation and interrogation of a very broad range of cultural phenomena, as well as fostering a critical outlook in relation to cultural production in society and the media.  In addition, the assessment work provides the opportunity to critically review a series of pieces of archaeological writing.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students should:

  • Have an appreciation of the development of archaeological thought since antiquarian times;
  • Be able to discriminate between a variety of inferential frameworks;
  • Be able to describe and select from a range of forms of social theory appropriate to the investigation of past communities.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students should:

  • Be able to compare and contrast the principal forms of critical theory employed in the evaluation of archaeological arguments;
  • Be able to identify the ways in which theory relates to the archaeological methods used in the field and laboratory.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students should:

  • Be able to express ideas in both written and oral formats;
  • Be able to read critically, to identify theoretical perspectives and how these have influenced interpretation.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students should:

  • Be able to use theoretical skills to evaluate the content of arguments;
  • Be able to present a short summary of an article in a seminar context
  • Be able to discuss abstract ideas in a seminar context;
  • Be able to present a written summary of a theoretical argument.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Cognitive Skills: This course unit emphasizes critical thinking skills, the evaluation of arguments, and the interrogation of cultural phenomena.
Written communication
Personal Capabilities: Learning for themselves through accessing readings; developing discussion skills in class; presenting a written summary of a theoretical argument.
Generic Competencies: Communicating in the seminar context; identifying the key aspects of arguments; summarising and evaluating written arguments. Practical and Professional Skills: Familiarity with a range of theoretical and philosophical frameworks employed in the human sciences and beyond. These are considered essential for careers in museums, heritage, field archaeology and further study in the discipline.

Assessment methods

Logbook entries 1-5      50%
Logbook entries 6-10    50%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

After the first five weeks of the course, the submission of the first five logbook entries, based on the first five seminars, provides the opportunity for formative and summative feedback, informing the submission of the second group of entries. Both submissions will be provided with written feedback via the Turnitin/Grademark system.

Oral feedback

Additional one-to-one verbal feedback will be provided during the consultation hour, or by making an appointment.

Recommended reading

Alberti, B., Jones, A.M. and Pollard. J. (eds.) 2013 Archaeology After Interpretation: Returning Materials to Archaeological Theory. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Harris, O. and Cipolla, C. 2017 Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: Introducing Current Perspectives. London: Routledge.

Hodder, I. 2012 (ed.) Archaeological Theory Today (2nd Edition).  Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hodder, I. And Hutson, S. 2003 Reading the Past (3rd edition).  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, M. 2010 Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (2nd Edition).  Oxford: Blackwell.

Lucas, G. 2012 Understanding the Archaeological Record. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Murray, T. and Evans, C. 2008 (eds.) Histories of Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T., Witmore, C. 2012 Archaeology: The Discipline of Things.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

Scheduled activity hours Fieldwork 7 Lectures 22 Seminars 11 Tutorials 11

Independent study hours
Independent study 149

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Julian Thomas Unit coordinator

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