Photo overlooking the totem pole in the Pitt Rivers Museum


During the Final Honour School, students delve more deeply into the subject areas which have been introduced to them in the first year. They will also decide on which three options they would like to take from the following list of 30 subjects. One option is studied in the second year, two are studied in the third year.

Science-Based Methods in Archaeology

This course provides an introduction to archaeological sciences, concentrating on three principle areas. It will be of interest to students wishing to take a scientific direction in their archaeological studies, as well as for those who wish to understand the general foundations of science-based evidence in the discipline and the nature of that evidence. Each section has 6 formal classes in which the essential components are outlined (total 18 lectures), and 2 tutorials during which we further discuss appropriate case studies, problems and essays (total 6 tutorials). 

Biomolecular approaches to diet deals with the retrieval of chemical evidence from skeletal tissues and other organic residues for addressing questions about human diet in the past. We concentrate on the recovery and interpretation of stable isotope information from bones and teeth, complemented by trace element studies and chemical and isotopic evidence from organic food residues in potsherds and tools. We also consider the taphonomic issues associated with preservation of these chemical signals.

In Materials analysis of artefacts we discuss the background to application of materials science to archaeological artefacts, with an emphasis on the main methods in current use, such as petrology, microscopy (of various kinds), chemical and isotopic analysis, and chromatography. The lectures follow the classification of the materials, e.g. ceramics, metals, glass and organic materials (such as amber).

The Dating methods section deals with a variety of current and developing approaches to establishing absolute chronology. The main emphasis is on radiocarbon dating but we also discuss a suit of other techniques, both established and emerging. Some of these have been developed to address chronology at greater age depths (luminescence, uranium series) or to enhance precision (tephra) where required.

Last update on 09/12/16 by Robyn Mason.

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