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Courses / Modules / ARCH2039 Experimental Archaeology: the social prehistory of technology

Experimental Archaeology: the social prehistory of technology

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 5
Module lead
Simon Davies
Academic year

Module overview

This module will engage you with prehistoric societies and their available economic options through the active reconstruction and evaluation of their technologies. Knapped stone is the oldest-known surviving technology, and persisted until the 1950s, when Norfolk flintknappers were still making gunflints for export. Ground/polished stone technology is intermittently present from 40,000 years ago. We have evidence for the working of wood from about 400,000 years ago, while the earliest sculpted bone/antler tools are some 100,000 years old. Ceramic technology can be traced back to 40,000 years ago (the earliest pottery vessels are 20,000 years old). Textiles and worked plant fibres can be traced back some 30,000 years. The use of metals can be seen from perhaps 7000 years ago in some places. This module investigates how and why artefacts in these materials might have been made: the social, economic and symbolic contexts for their production, and how to distinguish their various functions. To answer these questions, the basic concepts and current classificatory schemes will be introduced and examined through practical, in-depth, analysis of objects, assemblages and reconstructive techniques. You will be able to compare results from archaeological assemblages with your experience of reconstructing responses to materials used in prehistory, using experimental production and use, and the ethnographic literature. You will be encouraged to think carefully about how prehistoric technologies can be created, learnt and used through the writing of a project proposal as one of your assignments. This project will allow you to combine practical knowledge of prehistoric artefact manufacture, function and social context with communication of key findings to an interested non- specialist audience, which will culminate in a written project report. You will be able to explore how prehistoric technologies reflect the cognitive, behavioural, economic and technological contexts of the societies that produced them. The “public engagement” aspects of your experimental research will give you important experience of how to communicate often complex processes to non-specialist audiences, which is assuming an increasing academic importance (for grant-awarding bodies, publication of scientific papers, and for the introduction of prehistory to the National Curriculum).