European Archaeology Stream

Taught Masters Programme for Archaeology (MSt/MPhil)


Coordinator: Prof Chris Gosden

The European Archaeology stream offers a wide range of subjects from which to choose, spanning the development of European society from the Palaeolithic period until the Early Middle Ages.

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
Europe in the Early Middle Ages: AD400-900
European Prehistory from the Mesolithic to the Bronze AgeDr Rick Schulting and Prof. Amy Bogaard
Landscape Archaeology and Spatial TechnologyDr Rick Schulting and
Transformation of the Celtic World 500 BC-AD 100Prof Chris Gosden
Topics assessed by essay (List B)
Aegean Area, 2000-1100 BCDr Lisa Bendall
Aegean Bronze Age religionDr Lisa Bendall
Aegean Bronze Age trade: interaction and identitiesDr Lisa Bendall
Archaeology and Geographical Information Systems and Dr Rick Schulting
Archaeology and Material CultureDr Dan Hicks
Archaeology of Early Anglo-Saxon England
Archaeology of Late Anglo-Saxon England
Body and Adornment: material culture of later medieval Britain, AD1000-1500Dr Eleanor Standley
City, country and economy in the Late Roman Empire (4th-7th centuries)Dr Ine Jacobs
Maritime Archaeology up to AD 1000 Dr Damian Robinson
Methods and techniques in maritime archaeology Dr Damian Robinson
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic EuropeProf Nick Barton
Practical ArchaeobotanyProf. Amy Bogaard and Dr. Michael Charles
Topics in Aegean PrehistoryDr Lisa Bendall
Topics from Archaeological Science MSt/MSc
Materials analysis and the study of technological changeDr Nathaniel Erb-Satullo
Molecular BioarchaeologyDr Rick Schulting
Principles and practice of scientific datingProf Christopher Ramsey
Topics from Classical Archaeology MSt/MPhil

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.

Europe in the Early Middle Ages: AD400-900

This course considers the development of European societies as reflected in their material cultures from the demise of the Western Empire to the Viking Age. It offers an overview of a wide geographical region during some 500 years; although the emphasis is on western and northern Europe, including Britain, consideration is also given to central and eastern Europe and in particular the impact of nomadic peoples on these regions. The main components of the course examine the interaction between the late Roman world and 'barbarians'; the role of material culture in the construction of post-Roman identities; mortuary ritual and votive deposition; the emergence of kingship; rural settlements and their economies; the rise of towns; and the archaeology associated with the conversion to Christianity.

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.

Transformation of the Celtic World 500 BC-AD 100
Coordinator: Prof Chris Gosden

This course will focus on issues of long term change and continuity in Europe between the late Bronze Age and the Roman periods. We will focus on the changing relationships between people and material culture, settlement and landscape, together with the issues of identity they raise. As well as considering issues of both continuity and change, we will look at the nature of connections across Europe including those running east west as well as between the Mediterranean and Europe north of the Alps. We will also explore new approaches to material culture and to the manner in which time and space can be categorised and understood in Europe at the end of prehistory. The course will have a basic chronological structure, ending with considerations of the coming of the Roman Empire and issues of so-called 'Romanization'.

Topics assessed by essay (List B)

Aegean Area, 2000-1100 BC
Coordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall

The second millennium BC saw the emergence in the Aegean of the complex, palatial societies of Minoan Crete, their increasing relations with the rest of the Aegean world and with the wider eastern Mediterranean. Around the middle of the second millennium similar societies appeared on the Greek mainland and they too expanded their relations within and beyond the Aegean so that by the 13th century BC the Aegean was linked in to long-distance networks that extended from Sardinia to Egypt. By 1100 BC, the region had experienced a series of destructions that ushered in a period of political collapse shared with much of the eastern Mediterranean. This course explores the complex societies of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece and their material culture, their relationships with each other and with the wider Mediterranean world and their collapse.

Aegean Bronze Age religion
Coordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall

This course examines archaeological and documentary evidence for religion in the Aegean Bronze Age. It addresses issues such as what is meant by 'Minoan' as distinct from 'Mycenaean' religion with reference to problems of ethnicity and identity, how belief systems and cognition more generally can be approached through material culture alone, and how documentary and archaeological sources can be used in tandem. A broadly anthropological approach is adopted and close attention paid to debates in other areas of archaeological research, especially the ancient Near East.

Aegean Bronze Age trade: interaction and identities
Coordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall

This course examines trade, specifically focusing on issues of identity and interaction in the Aegean Bronze Age, both within the Aegean and beyond. The Aegean was a fertile ground of interaction for various societies and social groups many of which were in touch since before the beginning of the Bronze Age. The rich archaeological record for such interaction includes imported and exported artefacts and raw materials found primarily in settlements, shipwrecks and burial assemblages, but also evidence for more intangible exchanges of ideas, craft techniques, and cultural knowledge.

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.

Archaeology and Material Culture
Coordinator: Dr Dan Hicks

This paper examines the historical development of the study of material culture in archaeology since the late 19th century, and introduces current debates. It traces the changing status of the study of objects from antiquarianism through the 20th century in culture-historical archaeology, processual and post-processual archaeologies, and in the present. The paper addresses key themes in the archaeological study of material culture, including materiality, museums, technology, aesthetics, material agency, heritage, the built environment, landscapes, consumption and historical change. It introduces contemporary relationships between archaeology and allied disciplines in the study of materiality: including anthropological material culture studies, Science and Technology Studies (STS), Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and non-representational theory. Through two extended essays, students draw upon these theoretical approaches to explore a particular body of material culture of their chosing. The textbook for the paper is The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (Dan Hicks and Mary Beaudry, eds, Oxford University Press 2010).

Archaeology of Early Anglo-Saxon England

This course covers roughly the period from 450-750 and examines current debates in several areas of the subject, including migration theory and the nature of post-Roman Britain; death and burial; the links between material culture and identity; settlements and settlement patterns.

Archaeology of Late Anglo-Saxon England

This course, which covers the period roughly from 750-1050, considers key areas of Late Saxon studies to which archaeology has made particular contribution, namely: the development of towns and the economic basis of kingdoms; the nature of the Scandinavian presence in Danelaw; the way in which the art and the architecture of the 10th century reflect cultural contacts as well as political and religious developments; the origins of castles and of the manor; the development of trade and industry. Students will become familiar with specific case-studies as well as current academic debates.

Body and Adornment: material culture of later medieval Britain, AD1000-1500
Coordinator: Dr Eleanor Standley

This course investigates the material culture of mainland Britain, focussing on objects that were worn and adorned clothing during the period AD1000- 1500. Using archaeological material, and other sources of evidence, the course will examine how these artefacts were used in the daily lives of people, and how their context of use was affected by major social events, such as the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, and the Wars of the Roses. Themes covered will include the history of artefact studies, fashion and consumption, courtship, sexuality, family life, devotion and pilgrimage, magic and protection, and death and burial. Although the emphasis is on Britain, evidence and material from mainland Europe will be included to place the topics within their wider contexts. A multidisciplinary approach will be taken to understand the themes fully, drawing predominantly on archaeological evidence, but also using material from history, art history, anthropology and related disciplines. Material from the Ashmolean Museum's medieval collections will be made use of to allow the students to identify, handle and interpret archaeological material culture. How medieval material evidence is collected and disseminated will also be investigated, highlighting the importance of grey literature and electronic resources, such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

City, country and economy in the Late Roman Empire (4th-7th centuries)
Coordinator: Dr Ine Jacobs

The course investigates the economic and other interaction of the city and the countryside during late antiquity, using evidence from field survey, excavation and written sources. Examination of urban life at Rome, Constantinople and major provincial cities in the western and eastern empires focuses on their varying roles as administrative and economic centres and on evidence of prosperity given by sustained building activity. Trade, particularly in the case of port cities, is considered on a local and an inter-regional basis, and as providing links to the countryside. The countryside, in turn, is viewed with regard to land tenure (with reference to Egyptian documents) and farming. Industrial activity is examined in city and countryside alike and sources of raw materials traced. Evidence for long-distance trade with northern Europe and the Far East is assessed, and the evident productivity of the eastern Empire is reviewed within the context of the future Arab conquest in the 630's.

Maritime Archaeology up to AD 1000
Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson

The course examines the historical development of seafaring within the communities of the Mediterranean basin and their near neighbours. The tutorials and associated lectures will identify the main trends in the technological development of both military and merchant naval architecture both at sea and on land. They will also examine the changing attitudes of Mediterranean communities through the development of larger political units and increasing international trade and exchange. The nature of the archaeological, textual and iconographic evidence will be discussed in order to understand issues such as the lack of warships in the archaeological record and the apparent collapse of trade after the 2nd century AD as seen by the evidence of wrecked merchant ships.

Methods and techniques in maritime archaeology
Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson

The purpose of the course is to provide an up-to-date overview of the current methods and techniques in maritime archaeology and its allied sub-disciplines of maritime history and anthropology. It will also highlight the importance of contemporary issues in maritime archaeology such as the requirement for a robust legislative framework for the management and protection of submerged sites, the problems with treasure hunting and the necessity to document the fast disappearing traditional lifeways of maritime communities. There are no temporal or geographical limits upon the examples of best and worst practise that will be used in this course.

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

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 in Aegean Prehistory
Coordinator: Dr Lisa Bendall

The course involves in-depth study of selected, specific topics in Aegean Prehistory. It is not a general overview of Aegean Bronze Age, but asks students for detailed treatment of specific issues lying in three main areas: application of theory and method to specific problems; study of an individual site or class of sites; study of an individual artefact or class of artefacts.

Topics from Archaeological Science MSt/MSc

Materials analysis and the study of technological change
Coordinator: Dr Nathaniel Erb-Satullo

Much of archaeology is about reconstructing human behaviour from material remains - either humanly-modified material (such as stone tools), or artefacts such as pottery, metals, or even buildings. The scientific analysis of such objects can yield a great deal of information, not only about the raw materials, manufacture, use and deposition of the object, but also about the technological choices made by the artisan. This course provides an introduction to materials science and the history of technology; and the theoretical and practical aspects of materials analysis. It focuses on common material types - stone, ceramics, vitreous materials and metals, as well as the provenance of raw materials, and provides some case studies of archaeological problems.

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.

Topics from Classical Archaeology MSt/MPhil

See period topics and subject details from that course.

Return to the main page for the MSt/MPhil in Archaeology for details of the course structure.