Things lie at the heart of any archaeological enterprise. The archaeologist’s world is made up of a variety of different objects, from large, complex structures such as amphitheatres to small, portable items like jewellery or tools. We study this world of things in different ways that help us understand both the nature of those objects - for example their date, context, chemical composition and style - and the ways in which humans have interacted with them across time and space. Through this study of things we can understand the priorities and preoccupations of people in the past.
The School of Archaeology has a rich, diverse programme of research into material culture, ranging from the analysis of artefacts from excavation through to synthesis and the development of theory. Materials from excavations are also used in teaching and to develop links with the wider public through volunteer involvement in the processing of artefacts. The Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art has a strong research emphasis on archaeological chemistry and materials science, utilised, for example, in the study of ceramics. In addition, the collections at the Ashmolean Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science provide plentiful resources for the study of material culture. The Research Laboratory has the facilities to analyse a range of archaeological materials, including an electron microprobe equipped with a energy-dispersive (silicon drift detector) and 4 wavelegth-dispersive spectrometers.
The study of material culture at the School of Archaeology crosses the chronological and geographical boundaries of its members and is the source of numerous creative collaborations, linking together the Institute, the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, and the museums as well as other departments in the University.