BA Latin and Italian

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Artefacts and Interpretation

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE30362
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Whether you are investigating Tutankhamun’s splendid golden mask or a more commonplace object like an obsidian blade, this course introduces students to key theoretical approaches to material culture as well as the artefacts themselves. Students will be introduced to a broad range of material culture and encouraged to interrogate objects to answer the big questions of the past. Depending on the period, these objects may include pottery, chipped stone, glass, metalwork and so on.

Through this course students will gain a critical understanding of the social context of and key approaches to material culture which are explored in relation to anthropological and archaeological case studies. On the practical side, this course covers skills that are essential not only for those who wish to undertake archaeological fieldwork or become an artefact specialist, but also those who are looking to pursue a career in Heritage, Museums, Galleries and Art History where knowledge of how to study, record and interpret artefacts is fundamental. This course will guide you from the initial recovery to the recording and analysis of artefact assemblages of a range of materials. It introduces aspects of professional practice such as formulating research questions and writing grant applications. The course also considers the wider context – how this material fits into the work flow of professional archaeology and what happens to both the artefacts and the data after the analysis has taken place. In the project-based assessment students are encouraged to apply the practical and theoretical knowledge that they have acquired throughout their degree within the context of current archaeological, anthropological and historical debates.


This course aims to give students an insight into the full cycle of the post-excavation process of artefact analysis. By combining theoretical approaches to material culture with practical experience, this course aims to provide an understanding of how to approach artefact assemblages, how to carry out detailed analysis, and the production of comprehensive written summaries both of the contents of assemblages and of their potential to answer research questions. Students will be given an option to develop specific knowledge of different categories of material (e.g. ceramics, lithics, glass, metalwork, building materials).


At the end of the course, students will have:

  • Examined the role and organisation of post-excavation analysis of artefacts, applicable both to research and to commercial contexts
  • Experience of work with artefacts in general and more detailed knowledge of at least one specific category of material
  • Understood and produce professional quality reports
  • Formulated grant proposals, using standard terminology and formats
  • Understood the role of communication with stakeholders
  • Understood the potential for scientific analysis of artefacts, and the ways in which archaeologists work with specialists
  • Acquired new practical skills or deepened those  learnt in earlier years of the degree (e.g. drawing and photography) to produce integrated reports

Knowledge and understanding

  • Critical understanding of the social context of and approaches to material culture
  • Principles of typologies and processing, dating stylistically
  • Collection, retention, sampling and archiving
  • Scientific analysis of materials

Intellectual skills

  • Ability to analyse and evaluate a variety of competing interpretations of the archaeological evidence
  • Understanding of the nature of object-based research and its presentation
  • Appreciation of the interests of different stakeholders in archaeological assemblages

Practical skills

  • Communicate professionally using written and verbal skills including:
  • Report writing
  • Writing grant applications
  • Practice in practical skills acquired in earlier years of the course (e.g. drawing and photography)

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Ability to communicate complex ideas fluently, both verbally and in writing
  • Ability to work in groups to generate team-based written reports
  • Experience in producing professionally formatted reports and creating grant applications

Employability skills

By the end of the course, students will have enhanced their: ¿ ability to communicate in formats similar to those likely to be encountered in employment (reports and funding proposals); ¿ understanding of how to approach the collection of data; ¿ familiarity with the role of post-excavation process of artefact analysis in professional archaeology, including experience of different categories of material.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Grant proposal


Post-excavation assemblage report 


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

Formative and summative feedback will be delivered on written assignments through the 'Feedback Sheet' released through Blackboard. Feedback on examinations may be viewed by the student, upon application to the office, giving 3 working days advance notice.

Oral feedback

Class discussions provide continuous feedback on understanding and contextualisation. In addition, students may make an appointment with the module co-ordinator during their office hours, to gain academic advice throughout the semester. Written feedback should then be discussed face-to-face with the student's Academic Advisor, in one of the bi-semester personal appointments offered to the student.


Recommended reading

Alberti, B., Jones, A. and J. Pollard (eds.) 2013. Archaeology after Interpretation: returning materials to archaeological theory. Walnut: Left Coast Press.

Appadurai, A. (ed.) 1986 The social life of things: commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Caple, C. 2006. Objects. Reluctant Witnesses to the Past. London: Routledge.

Conneller, C.J. 2011. An Archaeology of Materials: substantial transformations in early prehistoric Europe. London: Routledge.

Gerritsen, A., & Riello, G. (eds.). 2021. Writing material culture history. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Harvey, P. (ed.) 2014. Objects and Materials. A Routledge Companion. London: Routledge

Hicks, D. and M.C. Beaudry (eds.) 2010. The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hurcombe, L. 2007. Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture. London: Routledge.

Miller, D. (ed.), 2005. Materiality. Durham: Duke University Press.

Pye, E. 2001. Caring for the past; issues in conservation for archaeology and museums. London: James and James.

Richmond, A. and Bracker, A. (eds.) 2009. Conservation: Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable truths. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Shoplans, N. 2005. Archaeological Finds. A guide to identification. Stroud: Tempus.

Tilley, C. et al. (eds.) 2006. Handbook of Material Culture. London: Sage