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Study information

Essential Archaeological Methods

Module titleEssential Archaeological Methods
Module codeARC1020
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Hajnalka Herold (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Essential Archaeological Methods explains how archaeology is done. It will introduce the business of finding archaeology, whether in the form of individual sites or as interconnected landscapes, and how we then investigate archaeology through excavation and the importance of stratigraphy. After gathering data the archaeological process progresses to the analysis of materials and evidence. The fundamentals of chronology and the use of historical, typological and scientific dating methods are an important element of the process. The investigation of biological evidence that tells us about natural as well as human environments in the past will be introduced. Desk-based exercises will give exposure to some of these methods.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module introduces the most widely used methods of archaeological investigation. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate an understanding of the key techniques used in gathering archaeological evidence
  • 2. Demonstrate understanding of the different stages of the archaeological process
  • 3. Appreciate the contribution of science in archaeology and the role of specialist research

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Appreciate how and why different methods are chosen for investigating archaeology and their impact on interpretation

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Understand information presented in a range of written, numerical and graphical forms.
  • 6. Understand the relationship between methods, data and interpretation

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • What and where is archaeology: sites and landscapes
  • Seeing archaeology from afar: aerial survey and remote sensing
  • Seeing archaeology close-up: geophysics
  • Digging archaeology: excavation strategies and stratigraphy
  • Digging archaeology: recording and archiving
  • Dating archaeology: chronology and typology
  • Dating archaeology: scientific methods
  • Analyzing materials and assemblages
  • Spatial and numerical analysis
  • Bioarchaeology: plants and animals
  • Bioarchaeology: human remains

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching20Lecture content
Scheduled learning and teaching130Guided independent study, including reading, research and preparation for classes and assignments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Practical exercises (face to face or online; online can be synchronous or non-synchronous delivery)10-15 minutes1-6Verbal comment (written comment for non-synchronous delivery)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination601.5 hours (or open book equivalent if closed note examination is not available)1-6Written feedback
Poster40500 words1-6Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Examination1500-word essay1-6Referral/Deferral period
Poster500 words1-6Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading (e books):

  • Cunliffe, B., Gosden, C. and Joyce, R. A. (eds) 2009: The Oxford handbook of archaeology. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • David, B. and Thomas, J. (eds) 2008: Handbook of landscape archaeology. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Left Coast Press.
  • Dincauze, D. F. 2000: Environmental archaeology: principles and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Drewett, P. 1999: Field Archaeology: An Introduction. London: UCL Press.
  • Grant, J., Gorin, S. and Fleming, N. 2015: The archaeology coursebook: an introduction to themes, sites, methods and skills. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Richards, M. P. and Britton, K. (eds) 2020: Archaeological science: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shennan, S. 1988: Quantifying Archaeology. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
  • Publications by English Heritage and Historic England on archaeological methods and techniques, available at

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Archaeology, methods

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date