Maritime Archaeology Stream

Taught Masters Programme for Archaeology (MSt/MPhil)


Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson

Drawing upon the expertise in maritime societies across the School of Archaeology, Faculty of Classics and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford, as well as the University's other archaeological resources, this stream enables students to develop knowledge and research skills relevant to the rapidly growing area of maritime archaeology. Students can tailor the course from a wide range of themes to specifically develop a broad maritime expertise or to explore the maritime aspects of particular time periods or societies.

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


Topics assessed by examination or essay (List A) Coordinator(s)
Ancient Maritime SocietiesDr Damian Robinson
Archaeological method and theoryProf Chris Gosden and Dr Dan Hicks
Archaeology of EurasiaDr Anke Hein and
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
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 trade: interaction and identitiesDr Lisa Bendall
Archaeology and Material CultureDr Dan Hicks
Archaeology of ColonialismProf Chris Gosden and Dr Dan Hicks
Chinese ArchaeologyDr Anke Hein
Maritime Archaeology up to AD 1000 Dr Damian Robinson
Methods and techniques in maritime archaeology Dr Damian Robinson
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic EuropeProf Nick Barton
Regional studies in Australian and Pacific prehistoryProf Chris Gosden
Topics in Aegean PrehistoryDr Lisa Bendall
Topics from Archaeological Science MSt/MSc
Materials analysis and the study of technological changeDr Nathaniel Erb-Satullo
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)

Ancient Maritime Societies
Coordinator: Dr Damian Robinson

Maritime societies have become a major research interest in archaeology, as the terrestrial bias of much traditional archaeological research has gradually been recognised. This paper will provide an overview of key theoretical and conceptual issues relevant to maritime archaeology, and in particular the study of coastal, island and other maritime societies. It will explore a broad range of social, cultural, technological and environmental issues relating to human ancient coastal and island occupation and seafaring, including ethnographic aspects of maritime societies, social aspects of seafaring and voyaging, developments in maritime technology, and the ecology of island colonisation. The paper will stress archaeological perspectives on maritime societies, but will also draw upon anthropological, palaeoenvironmental, documentary, and other sources of information to offer a holistic approach. In covering this range of themes, the paper will address maritime societies and seafaring through time, from the earliest records of coastal subsistence and movement across the sea through to maritime activities documented in textual sources.

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.

Archaeology of Eurasia
Coordinators: Dr Anke Hein and

The forests, grasslands, and deserts of Eurasia create an almost continuous ecological corridor across the northern half of the continent, bridging an apparent divide between East and West. Understanding the patterns of social connectivity, mobility, and human-environment interaction in this vital interstitial zone is currently a major focus of interdisciplinary research. Addressing itself to students of China, Western Europe, and the Classical World who are seeking to contextualize their research foci, this course introduces the archaeology of northern Eurasia from the beginning of the Holocene to the rise of the first nomadic empires. It explores transformation of Eurasian societies, the transmission of technologies and ideas, and the challenge of analytical scales which can make the archaeology of Eurasia appear simultaneously homogeneous and highly variable. The lecture part of this course is geared to graduate and undergraduate students alike, providing them with a general overview of the major archaeological phenomena in this region from the early 3rd to the late 1stmillennium BCE. Additionally, the tutorials provide an opportunity for graduate students to discuss case studies and develop a greater awareness of the methodological problems of defining identity groups, investigating cultural contact and human movement in the archaeological record, and assessing the relationships between humans and their natural environment.

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.

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 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 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 Colonialism
Coordinators: Prof Chris Gosden and Dr Dan Hicks

Colonialism has been the dominant element of world history for the last five hundred years and an important aspect of world history for the last 5000 years. Archaeology has much light to throw on colonial forms past and present, complementing written accounts and oral histories. A comparative approach to colonial past and present is taken, drawing on perspectives from post-colonial theory, anthropology, world-systems theory as well as archaeology. Material culture from archaeological sites is an important source for the study of colonialism, but so too are museum collections and archival materials. Through its concentration on the material aspects of human existence archaeology has a unique perspective complementing those drawn from many elements of post-colonial theory which do not consider the material world in any great detail. Case studies which can be considered range from early Mesopotamia, Greek settlements, the Roman Empire, the Incas and Aztecs and colonialism post-1492.

Chinese Archaeology
Coordinator: Dr Anke Hein

This course provides a survey of the archaeology of Ancient China from the early Neolithic (ca. 10,000 BP) through the Qin period (221-208 BC). Each lecture is arranged around a particular set of questions as well as a time period and/or region. In this fashion, this course explores the major cultural developments, focusing on the most important finds in greater detail, while at the same time discussing general archaeological questions and approaches. The class commences by providing an overview of the environmental background as well as the history and organizational structure of archaeological work in China. After setting the stage in this fashion, the course will proceed chronologically, simultaneously covering questions of the emergence of agriculture, settlement patterns, burial practices, beliefs and ritual, craft production, the development of writing, complex societies, urbanization, and finally political unification.

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

Regional studies in Australian and Pacific prehistory
Coordinator: Prof Chris Gosden

The archaeology of Australia and the Pacific spans some 50,000 years of human prehistory and history. These regions are of interest in themselves but also for the light they throw on broader themes of world prehistory, notably: colonization; hunter-gatherer lifestyles, the origins of farming, systems of gift exchange and ritual; and colonialism. Australian prehistory exhibits considerable continuity with attachment to landscape and the longevity of ritual systems being notable elements. Levi-Strauss called Australian Aboriginal people 'the virtuosos of the human mind' due to the complexity of their structures of kinship and ritual. However, only limited elements of these complex structures find expression in material culture, posing considerable challenges for the archaeologist. The Pacific represents the last major area of the earth to be colonised by humans, between 3500 and 1000 years ago. Archaeological, genetic and linguistic evidence throw light on how this colonisation took place. The more recent prehistory of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific sees the rise of sophisticated agricultural forms and complex forms of trade and exchange. Archaeological and anthropological evidence can be combined in understanding the nature of these forms and their changes over time. Colonialism by Europeans and Asians has brought about considerable restructuring of ways of life and archaeology is a vital means of studying these changes, and again needs to be combined with anthropological and historical evidence.

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.

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.