The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6405 Archaeological Ceramics and Stone

Module Overview

Archaeological ceramics and stone small finds are two of the most common categories of material available to the archaeologist for all but the earliest periods of the human past. Such material presents opportunities to increase our understanding of fundamental aspects of past societies, such as food preparation and consumption, the movement of goods through trade and distribution, technology and craftsmanship, resource management, and socio-cultural identity, change or interaction. Ceramic and stone objects are both highly practical, tools used in day-to-day activities; but can also often be seen to carry symbolic meanings to their producers and consumers. These materials thus open avenues to multiple and exciting archaeological research directions.

This module will equip you with the skills to use pottery and stone small finds to address research questions about past societies, and give you an awareness of the potential of these materials within archaeology as a whole.

Aims and Objectives


The aims of this module are to introduce you to the principles and practice of recording, analysing and presenting archaeological ceramics and stone small finds. The first half of the module will introduce the principles of the subject, which will be consolidated by means of individual ‘hands-on’ projects on particular assemblages of archaeological material. The skills that you learn on this module will underpin subsequent finds-based research, and/or will equip you for work on finds within the commercial sector of archaeology.

Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • analytical approaches to the production, distribution and use of archaeological ceramics and stone small finds;
  • the properties of ceramics and different types of stone;
  • current best-practice in recording and analysing assemblages of archaeological ceramics and stone small finds;
  • the value of assemblages of archaeological ceramics and stone small finds for addressing a wide variety of research questions.

Cognitive (thinking) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • devise and implement appropriate methodological approaches to specific research questions;
  • critically assess others’ work in this area;
  • engage with quantitative, as well as qualitative, approaches to data.

Practical (subject specific) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • sort, identify, record and analyse the more common types of material for the period and place on which you have chosen to focus;
  • create recording systems in order to manage, manipulate and present medium-sized datasets by means of software packages such as Excel;
  • demonstrate awareness of and conform to (or develop further) best-practice guidelines in the field of ceramic and finds research.

Key transferable skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake (supervised) independent research and present the results clearly in written form;
  • manage and present data in spreadsheet form, and use illustrative software such as CorelDraw;
  • compile a report on an assemblage of archaeological material to professional standards;
  • present the results of your archaeological project in oral as well as written form.


The syllabus will cover: archaeological traditions of the study of ceramics and small finds; raw materials, resources and processes of ceramic production; ceramic fabrics; vessel function and use; sampling and statistical approaches to assemblages; scientific approaches such as lipid analysis; quarrying processes for stone; approaches to objects such as querns, millstones and whetstones, ballast, decorative marbles and building stones. For the second half of the module, classes will involve supervised project work, including skills such as data collection, management and interpretation, illustration and presentation.

Typically, the syllabus will include the following:

  • Archaeological traditions in the study of ceramics and small finds
  • Raw materials, resources and processes of ceramic production
  • Ceramic fabrics
  • Vessel function and use
  • Sampling and statistical approaches to assemblages
  • Scientific approaches (e.g. Lipid Analysis)
  • Quarrying processes for stone
  • Querns, millstones and whetstones, ballast, decorative marbles and building stones
  • Classes and supervised project work

Special Features

This module offers the opportunity to work with primary archaeological material, and to develop skills that will be key to future research and/or employment in the field of ceramics and stone small finds analysis. Visits to institutions such as English Heritage and Wessex Archaeology provide opportunities to make contact with government and commercially funded organisations in the heritage sector. A high-quality project report will give you strong evidence of your skills and abilities with which to approach potential employers both with and outwith the field of archaeology.

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:48
Private study hours:252
Total study time: 300 hours

Teaching and learning methods

For the first half of the module, teaching and learning will be by means of informal lectures followed by practical sessions designed to illustrate and consolidate the issues discussed. For the second half of the module, classes will take the form of supervised practical work on your chosen project assemblages. The module will also include visits to nearby archaeological facilities of relevance to ceramics and stone small-finds research, for example English Heritage’s materials science laboratories at Fort Cumberland, or Wessex Archaeology, subject to the availability of staff at those institutions.

Resources and reading list

Arnold, D.E. 1988. Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process. Cambridge.

Barclay, K. 2000. Scientific Analysis of Archaeological Ceramics: A handbook of resources. Oxford.

Council for British Archaeology. 1997. Recording worked stones: a practical guide. London.

English Heritage Guidelines and Standards on a range of topics, available through

Orton, C., Tyers, P. and Vince, A. 1993. Pottery in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge.

Parsons, D. ed. 1990. Stone: Quarrying and building in England, AD 43-1525. Chichester.

Peacock, D.P.S. 1998. The archaeology of stone: a report for English Heritage. London.

Rice, P.M. 1987. Pottery Analysis; A Sourcebook. Chicago.

Rockwell, P. 1993. The Art of Stoneworking: a reference guide. Cambridge.

Rye, O.S. 1981. Pottery Technology: Principles and Reconstruction. Washington DC.

Sinopoli, C.M. 1991. Approaches to Archaeological Ceramics. New York.

Skibo, J.M. 1992. Pottery Function: A Use-Alteration Perspective. New York.

Watts, M. 2002. The Archaeology of Mills and Milling. Stroud.

Williams, D.F. and Peacock, D.P.S. 2011. Bread for the People: the archaeology of mills and milling. Oxford.


Assessment methods

Formal Assessments:

  • 1 x 2500 word essay - 35%
  • 1 x Project (approxiamtely 3500 words) - 65%

The essay, of 2,500 words, will address a choice of questions provided by the module co-ordinator, with reference to a case study or studies from your own area of archaeological research interest. It will aim to assess the extent to which you are able to apply the approaches to the materials under study that are the subject of the lectures and practicals during the first half of the module. The essay will carry 35% weighting for the module.

The project (of around 3500 words) will comprise the recording and analysis of an assemblage of archaeological material. All efforts will be made to source assemblages as appropriate as possibly to your particular research interests (although this is harder for earlier periods and more distant locations). Under the supervision of the module co-ordinator and/or other appropriate staff, you will produce a professional-standard report on your assemblage, demonstrating your mastery of material assemblages and their application to archaeological questions. You will present the results of your research in oral form for formative feedback, which can be incorporated into your final submission. No word limit has been fixed for this assignment: the length and detail of the report can be at your discretion, in light of the nature of your assemblage, and with guidance from staff. Your project report will carry 65% weighting for the module.


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

This module is core in the MA Ceramic and Lithic Analysis for Archaeologists programme

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