Taught Masters Programme for Archaeology (MSt/MPhil)

Topics assessed by examination (Schedule A from the Exam Regulations)

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.

Chinese Archaeology
Coordinator: Dr Anke Hein

The tendency, even today, to refer to high quality translucent white wares as china harks back to a period where this rarefied material was only obtainable from the East. Yet, the production of Chinese porcelain, with all its global impact, is only one late episode in a complex social relationship between humans and clay that stretches back almost 20,000 years. This course focusses on the emergence and development of ceramics in prehistoric and historic China, providing both general training in ceramic analysis and the specific context needed by students wishing to specialize in the study of Eastern Asia.

From the first modern archaeological excavations in China which uncovered remarkable prehistoric assemblages of elaborately painted earthenware?to long-standing research on Imperial kiln sites and the recent discovery of the earliest pottery in the world, archaeological ceramics research has played an important part in uncovering China's past. Traditional archaeological approaches will, therefore, form the foundations of the course. However, students will also be shown how archaeological interpretations of pottery in the past can be shaped within frameworks drawn from ethnographic, ethnoarchaeological, and historical research. In addition, by connecting Archaeological Materials component of the MSt course, students will be given a general introduction to suitable techniques for the analysis of both high- and low-fired ceramics.

The course will introduce China?s early relationship ceramics and consider how geography and climate help us to contextualize early finds and understand the character of later production. Focusing on concrete examples from the Chinese Neolithic to the Qing Dynasty, the course will show how ceramics can help us to explore innovation, specialization and centralization in production, to both define and transgress the boundaries of cultural units, and to investigate the character of long-distance exchange.

The course is taught by several specialists, including a practicing potter, who will provide students with insight and perspective into a wide range of research theories and methodologies. Within this framework, the students will have the opportunity to develop a framework for a research project of their own that may lead to a MSt/MPhil dissertation or a DPhil thesis.

Environmental Archaeology
Coordinator: Dr. Michael Charles

This module explores in detail the role of environmental archaeology in the understanding of past human societies. Recovery of evidence of organic remains and their soil matrix is nowadays a key part of archaeological investigation. Critical evaluation of the possibilities and limitations of this evidence is required for the subject to play its full role in the analysis and interpretation of human activity in relationship to the environment. Focus is given to both the methods used to study past human and natural environments and the theoretical framework that interpretation requires. Teaching is based around lectures which consider particular lines of evidence which are then demonstrated in practical classes. 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
Coordinator: Prof Helena Hamerow

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
Coordinator: Dr Rick Schulting

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 (Schedule B from the Exam Regulations)

Archaeology and Geographical Information Systems
Coordinator: 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 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.

Archaeology of Early Anglo-Saxon England
Coordinator: Prof Helena Hamerow

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 Eurasia
Coordinator: Dr Anke Hein

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.

Archaeology of Late Anglo-Saxon England
Coordinator: Prof Helena Hamerow

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.

Archaeology of Southern African hunter-gatherers
Coordinator: Prof Peter Mitchell

Southern Africa has not only produced some of the oldest fossils of anatomically modern humans, but also has one of the richest and arguably best understood rock art traditions in the world. In addition, anthropological research here has made a significant contribution to both the development of general models of hunter-gatherer economic and social organization and, more recently, to their ongoing critique. This course provides a broad overview of some of the main recent developments in the archaeology of southern Africa's hunter-gatherers. The overall treatment is chronological, from the first anatomically modern humans at Klasies River Mouth to the impact of the Namibian liberation war on Bushman communities in the Kalahari. Within this framework, the emphasis will be placed on changing paradigms in the explanation of the Middle and Later Stone Age past and on the relationship between archaeological and anthropological data in understanding social and economic change. The relations between hunter-gatherers and the pastoralist, farming and settler societies with whom they have increasingly shared the southern African landscape over the past 2000 years form another major theme. The extensive southern African collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum are available for the teaching of this course, all the literature for which is in English.

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

Body and Adornment: material culture of later medieval Britain, c. AD1100-1600 This course investigates the material culture of mainland Britain, focussing on objects that were worn and adorned clothing during the period AD1100- 1600. 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 Black Death and the Reformation. Themes covered will include the history of artefact studies, sexuality, devotion, magic, 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.

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.

Hunter-gatherers in world perspective
Coordinator: Prof Peter Mitchell

Humans, it has been famously said, have depended on the exploitation of wild plant and animal resources for more than 99 % of their evolution. But hunter-gatherers are defined by more than how they obtain food. This course examines diversity in the organization of hunter-gatherer societies using examples from both the archaeological and anthropological records. Particular themes include mobility and land use patterns, the organization of technology, diet, exchange, gender relations and similarities and contrasts between egalitarian and non-egalitarian hunter-gatherers. In addition, the range of theoretical perspectives from which hunter-gatherer societies have been explored will also be considered. Prominent here are social evolution, middle range theory, optimal foraging, Marxist and structural-Marxist perspectives and neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Opportunities also exist for making use of the rich archaeological and anthropological collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum in teaching this course.

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

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 eight 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

Scientific analysis of archaeological materials can uncover networks of exchange, reconstruct technological processes, and identify cultural choices and behaviours that are otherwise inaccessible to the archaeologist. This course provides students with a strong understanding of the potential uses and limitations of these methods, with an emphasis on how they help address questions about the human past. Lectures in the first part of the course will focus on methodological approaches to analysing common archaeological materials, covering the fundamentals of material structure, raw materials, and production processes. The second part of the course is organized in discussion-based seminars that centre on key archaeological themes, such as craft production, innovation, and culture contact. These seminars cover both the theoretical approaches to these issues and the ways that materials science can contribute to these discussions. Weekly practicals include both hands-on experimental archaeology sessions and lab-based exercises aimed at introducing various methods of materials analysis. These sessions help students think about how ancient people transformed and manipulated materials, and how those behaviours are translated to the archaeological record.

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.