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The University of Southampton

ARCH1047 Debates and Issues in Archaeological Science

Module Overview

The application of scientific techniques is increasingly embedded in archaeological studies and is an area where the UK currently leads the world. Techniques such as dating methods, the use of isotopes to reconstruct past diet or human migrations and the sequencing of ancient DNA are responsible for many major recent breakthroughs in our understanding of the past. But rather than teach students to produce scientific data, or bog them down with scientific equations, this module aims to give the students the skills required to be consumers of archaeological science. They will become familiar with the scientific literature and learn to cast a critical eye over scientific data; interpret it for themselves and engage in the archaeological debates arising from the science.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Key issues and debates within archaeological science
  • The variety of methods and techniques deployed in archaeological science
  • Specific issues within computation, geoarchaeology, osteoarchaeology, palaeo-oceanography and materials science.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Evaluate alternative scientific approaches to archaeological problems.
  • Synthesise data from a variety of sources.
  • Understand analytical techniques within the discipline
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Present and report in a scientific manner
  • Plan data acquisition for a specific scientific task
  • Improved basic numeracy


This module will introduce you to key current debates, concerns and approaches within archaeological science. Through exploration of case studies from palaeo-oceanography, computation, geoarchaeology, osteoarchaeology and materials science you will gain a basic grounding and critical awareness of the breadth of the subject and its potential.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures • Classes • Laboratory Practicals Learning activities include: • Background Reading • Examination preparation • Lab book completion Innovative or special features of this module: • Lab book component • Use of web based resources (in particular MAAS and podcasts)

Practical classes and workshops36
Wider reading or practice30
Follow-up work30
Completion of assessment task30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Andrews, K. & R. Doonan (2003). Test Tubes & Trowels: Using Science in Archaeology. 

French, C (2003). Geoarchaeology in Action. 

Bell, M. & M. J. C. Walker (2005). Late Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives. 

Jones, A (2002). Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. 

Dincauze, D. F (2000). Environmental Archaeology. 

Lock, G (2003). Using Computers in Archaeology. 

Renfrew, C. & P. Bahn (1996). Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide formative, on-module feedback Discussion in seminars and lab practicals


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination 50%
Laboratory notebooks 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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