BA Classics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Neolithic Britain

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30131
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


 The course deals with the Neolithic period in Britain (4000-2400 BC), the era of Stonehenge and Avebury, and is particularly concerned with processes of social and cultural change, viewed from an anthropological perspective.   In this period, traces of domestic activity are scarce, and the archaeological record is dominated by large monuments, burials, formal deposits, and complex artefacts which circulated in exchange networks.   The course shows how we can come to terms with this kind of evidence, while at the same time demonstrating the specific character of the period under study.

The intention of this course is to provide a detailed regional study, which considers the ways in which different generations of archaeologists have addressed a given set of evidence.   Consequently, the material is not arranged in strict chronological order, but as a series of themes, each of which relates to a set of conceptual issues.



  • This course unit aims to introduce students to the principal forms of evidence and main research themes relevant to the study of the Neolithic period in mainland Britain, 4000 – 2400 BC.
  • Students will be introduced to debates concerning the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic; to issues of settlement and subsistence practice; to the principal forms of field monument and mortuary practice dating to the Neolithic; to discussions of ritual and depositional practice; to the principal types of lithic and ceramic artefacts and their manufacture and use; and to comparative regional developments in the Stonehenge and Avebury areas.
  • In each case, competing perspectives will be identified, and their conceptual underpinning evaluated.

Learning outcomes



Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course unit, students will:

  • Have acquired a general awareness of the pattern of social and cultural change in mainland Britain, 4000-2400 BC;
  • Have acquired a general understanding of the principal forms of dwellings, subsistence practices, monuments, mortuary practices and portable artefacts current during the British Neolithic;
  • Be familiar with the principal arguments concerning social, cultural and economic change during the Neolithic, and be able to relate these to distinct theoretical positions.


Intellectual skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will:

  • Have developed their ability to integrate theory and evidence;
  • Have gained a basic familiarity with the problems of evaluating competing hypotheses;
  • Have developed skills in the critical use of source materials;
  • Be able to construct arguments based on the interpretation of archaeological evidence.


Practical skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will:

  • Have developed their skills in written presentation and oral discussion;
  • Be able to make use of the appropriate scholarly conventions for the presentation of essays or dissertations, including lists of references


Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course unit, students will:

  • Be familiar with the process of synthesising theoretical perspectives and archaeological evidence to give an account of prehistoric social, cultural and economic phenomena;
  • Have begun to be able to undertake independent learning and reflect on their achievements;
  • Have developed the ability to organise workload and other commitments effectively.


Employability skills

Cognitive Skills: identifying and analysing competing viewpoints in the study of the past; identifying and evaluating significant evidence; applying theoretical approaches to empirical evidence. Generic Competencies: communicating in the seminar context; identifying the key aspects of arguments; summarising and evaluating written arguments. Practical and Professional Skills: familiarity with the architectural and artefactual evidence for Neolithic activity in Britain. Personal Capabilities: individual learning through accessing readings; developing discussion skills in class.

Assessment methods

Book review - 25%
Essay - 25%
Exam - 50%

Feedback methods

  • Written formative feedback will be provided (by email) on the essay outline and bibliography.
  • Written feedback on the essay will be provided via the Turnitin/Grademark system.
  • Written feedback will be provided on the exam via an exam feedback form.
  • Additional one-to-one verbal feedback will be provided during the consultation hour, or by making an appointment.

Recommended reading

Bradley, R.J. 2007 The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cummings, V. 2017 Neolithic Britain and Ireland. London: Routledge.

Fowler, C., Harding, J. and Hofman, D. 2015 The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jones, A. and Diaz-Guardamino, M. 2019 Making a Mark: Image and Process in Neolithic Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxbow.

Parker Pearson, M. 2012 Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery. London: Simon and Schuster.

Ray, K. and Thomas, J. 2018 Neolithic Britain: The Transformation of Social Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whittle, A., Barclay, A., Bayliss, A., McFadyen, L., Schulting, R. and Wysocki, M. 2007 Building for the dead: events, processes and changing worldviews from the thirty-eighth to the thirty-fourth centuries Cal. BC in southern Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17 (supp.), 123-47.

Whittle, A., Healy, F. and Bayliss, A. 2011 Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxbow.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 8
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 148

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Julian Thomas Unit coordinator

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