Environmental Archaeology Stream

Taught Masters Programme for Archaeology (MSt/MPhil)


Coordinator: Dr. Michael Charles

This stream allows students to concentrate on Environmental aspects of Archaeology. In addtion to taking the Environmental Archaeology topic, students can choose topics that allow them to develop regional expertise, or deepen their understanding of other aspects of the subject.

See the main page for the MSt/MPhil in Archaeology for more options.


Topics assessed by examination or essay (List A) Coordinator(s)
Archaeological method and theoryProf Chris Gosden and Dr Dan Hicks
Environmental ArchaeologyDr. Michael Charles
European Prehistory from the Mesolithic to the Bronze AgeDr Rick Schulting and Prof. Amy Bogaard
Landscape Archaeology and Spatial TechnologyDr Rick Schulting and
Topics assessed by essay (List B)
Archaeology and Geographical Information Systems and Dr Rick Schulting
Farming and States in Sub-Saharan AfricaProf Peter Mitchell
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic EuropeProf Nick Barton
Palaeolithic ArchaeologyProf Nick Barton
Practical ArchaeobotanyProf. Amy Bogaard and Dr. Michael Charles
Topics from Archaeological Science MSt/MSc
Molecular BioarchaeologyDr Rick Schulting
Principles and practice of scientific datingProf Christopher Ramsey

Not all the courses listed may be available every year.

Academic staff



  • required to study three subjects for examination
  • at least one subject must be assessed by examination with an unseen 3 hour written paper offering a choice of questions
  • the second subject will normally be examined by a pair of 5,000 word preset essays or the candidate may chose to substitute a 10,000 word dissertation on an approved topic
  • the third subject will normally be examined by a further pair of 5,000 word pre-set essays
  • at least two of the subjects studied should be from the 'Main' and 'Additional' lists above.
  • a viva voce examination may be held


  • in the first year, the candidate takes the same examination as the MSt and must pass it to qualify for the second year
  • in the second year, the candidate presents a 25,000 word dissertation on an approved topic and
  • is examined in one further subject chosen from those listed for the MSt, normally by a pair of 5,000-word pre-set essays

The dissertation

For the one-year MSt degree a thesis of up to 10,000 words on an approved topic is optional. For the two year MPhil degree submission of a thesis of up to 25,000 words on an approved topic is required. A supervisor is appointed to guide the student but the work must be the student's own original work.


Topics assessed by examination or essay (List A)

Archaeological method and theory
Coordinators: Prof Chris Gosden and Dr Dan Hicks

One of the most vital areas within archaeology over the last forty years has been the debate concerning method and theory. Archaeological theory has shifted from the attempts to generalise about human life developed by the New or Processual archaeologists from the 1960s onwards. In the late 1970s there was a reaction against grand theory and a greater concentration on local prehistoric sequences and the fine details of people's lives by the so-called post-processualists. Today there is a huge range of archaeological theories in use, focussing on issues of identity, gender, mind, material culture, art and aethetics, as well as the more traditional questions of technology and subsistence. Archaeology has drawn on a huge range of theory from outside the discipline, ranging from evolutionary and ecological theories, post-modernist and post-colonial theories, feminist and gendered perspectives and theories of history and change. How relevant any or all of these theories are to archaeological subject matters and problems is debatable, but these are subjects that need debating if we are to decide the most profitable and productive directions for archaeology. Recently, archaeological method has become a source of intense debate, looking at how social and intellectual factors influence the ways in which archaeological sites are excavated and interpreted. Excavation and analysis are not purely technical matters, but have great influence on how we create our basic forms of evidence and make sense of them.

Environmental Archaeology
Coordinator: Dr. Michael Charles

The course investigates various types of geoarchaeological and bioarchaeological evidence for the past environment and human interaction with it. Three main areas are covered: soils and sediments; biological remains; and historical ecology. It includes biological evidence for ancient economies (e.g. that given by bones of domestic animals) but not the exploitation of geological resources (e.g. mining). Teaching is based around lectures which consider particular lines of evidence which are then demonstrated in practical classes or field trips as appropriate. Classes and tutorials are used to develop themes which cut across or link the lines of evidence and to provide a theoretical basis for the subject.

European Prehistory from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age
Coordinators: Dr Rick Schulting and Prof. Amy Bogaard

This course surveys the dramatic social changes that emerged from the end of the last Ice Age to the end of the second millennium BC in Europe, including the agricultural transition, the spread of monuments and metallurgy, and the emergence of remarkably stable 'egalitarian' social systems alongside intermittent developments of lasting social inequality. This course is suitable for students without prior advanced training in later European prehistory.

Landscape Archaeology and Spatial Technology
Coordinators: Dr Rick Schulting and

This course provides and overview of the key issues in landscape archaeology, highlighting the role of spatial technology in the management and interpretation of the archaeological landscape. It will be delivered through a series of seminars and practical classes which outline the theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches which have furthered our understanding of the development of the cultural and physical landscape. Seminars will explore a wide range of topics, including the tensions between the formal economic models central to spatial archaeology and the discourse on space and place characteristic of more recent humanistic approaches to the landscape. Practical classes will include working with spatial data, archaeological prospection, modelling artefact distributions and analytical GIS.

Topics assessed by essay (List B)

Archaeology and Geographical Information Systems
Coordinators: and Dr Rick Schulting

This course provides a practical introduction to the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in archaeology. Since it's adoption in the late 1980s, GIS has become an essential part of the archaeological tool kit and has revolutionised the way in which archaeologists manage spatial data and think about spatial relationships. Whilst the use of GIS has been widely criticised for encouraging retrogressive positive approaches, the potential of GIS for enabling a 'humanised' approach to the archaeological landscape was recognised early in the adoption process. Seminars and practical classes will highlight the principal trends in GIS-based archaeology, from early applications grounded in formal models and economic theory, including Site Catchment Analysis and Thiessen Polygons, to more recent humanistic approaches based on modelling movement and visibility, including viewshed analysis and Least Cost Pathways. The analytical potential of GIS will be explored within the broader context of spatial archaeology, highlighting the methodological and theoretical implications of GIS-based approaches with reference to key case studies. Practical classes will be based on the topics covered in the seminars and will provide hands on training in the use of ArcGIS and ancillary software including SPSS and Landserf.

Farming and States in Sub-Saharan Africa
Coordinator: Prof Peter Mitchell

Despite the extensive research conducted there over the last three decades, the archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa is still largely unknown to most western audiences. This course focuses on two key processes in world prehistory over the last 10,000 years: the development and spread of systems of food-production and the formation of state societies. These processes are examined using data from several regions of Africa south of the Sahara in order to illustrate the diversity of the African experience. In addition to this comparative focus, particular themes examined will include the relevance of oral tradition and linguistics to reconstructions of prehistory, the symbolic role of metallurgy in many African societies and the extent to which influences from outside Africa were of importance to the continent's development. Potential students should note that it is also possible within this option to concentrate specifically on the archaeology of farming societies and early states in southern Africa. This provides a more tightly focused complement to Archaeology of Southern African hunter-gatherers, but both courses can be taken independently of the other. All the basic reading for this option is in English, though some knowledge of French is necessary for those wishing to investigate original papers on some aspects of West and Central African prehistory.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Europe
Coordinator: Prof Nick Barton

A study of the earliest arrival of humans in Europe more than a million years ago, and subsequent developments during the Pleistocene and the earlier Holocene (to 4000 BC). Archaeological evidence is used to explore the behavioural responses of archaic and modern humans to climatic and environmental change, and to trace technological, social, economic and cognitive development. Direct study of artefacts supplements the written sources

Palaeolithic Archaeology
Coordinator: Prof Nick Barton

This course covers the Palaeolithic period in outline on a world-wide scale, but encourages the development of students' particular interests by treating in greater detail a selection of the most important current themes. Examples of these include: the origins of humans in sub-Saharan Africa; their first spread to other areas of the Old World; the subsequent dispersal of physically 'modern' humans; the technological, social and cognitive developments which characterize the Upper Palaeolithic; and the responses of humans in different regions to the major environmental changes brought about by the rapid ending of the Last Glaciation. Teaching, by lectures, classes and tutorials, is spread over all three terms. The direct study of actual archaeological material is an important supplement to the literature as a source of learning, right through the year.

Practical Archaeobotany
Coordinators: Prof. Amy Bogaard and Dr. Michael Charles

Many current debates in archaeology, ranging from the origins of agriculture to the rise and collapse of urban centres and empires, rely on ideas concerning the production and consumption of plants. This paper introduces the theory and methodology that underpin the analysis of macroscopic plant remains from archaeological deposits. Core topics include the identification of charred and waterlogged plant remains, issues of preservation and recovery, analytical approaches to the interpretation of archaeobotanical data and presentation of results.

The practical component of the paper consists of ten laboratory-based classes (2-3 hours each) and covers the key stages of archaeobotanical investigation, from on-site recovery to sample sorting, identification, quantification and data analysis. The tutorial component (five sessions) focuses on principles underlying analytical techniques and broader issues of interpretation.

Topics from Archaeological Science MSt/MSc

Molecular Bioarchaeology
Coordinator: Dr Rick Schulting

Scientific methods are playing an increasingly important role in archaeological research, and this is particularly true of organic materials. Developments in the analysis of stable isotopes, lipid residues, trace elements and ancient DNA are providing new lines of evidence for a host of central questions, including past subsistence and environmental change, migration and genetic origins. This course provides a detailed, critical overview of these topics, both in terms of the techniques themselves, and their archaeological applications. More traditional bioarchaeological analysis of human, faunal, and plant remains also feature. The course includes a strong practical component, with a series of laboratory-based practicals. It makes use of the ongoing research of both members of staff and research students to present the latest approaches.

Principles and practice of scientific dating
Coordinator: Prof Christopher Ramsey

We need to be able to put past events onto a timescale if we are to understand them properly. Scientific dating allows us to explore the relationship between different sites and regions. Furthermore, chronologies built up from dating and other evidence enable us to understand processes at work in the archaeological record. This course looks at the scientific dating methods most commonly applied, including the practical aspects of radiocarbon, luminescence, tephrochronology and dendrochronology. It also provides an introduction to the use of statistical methods for combination of information from direct dating and other archaeological information. There is a strong emphasis on the critical evaluation of dating evidence.