Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

ARCH3036 Molecular Archaeology

Module Overview

The extraction and characterization of ancient molecules and the measurement of stable and radioactive isotopes has revolutionized archaeology over the past two decades and remains at the cutting edge of archaeological science. From the the identification of chemical signatures of past foods to the ability to track an individual's movement on a month by month basis, new pictures of the past are emerging as a result of archaeology at the atomic and molecular level. This module aims to give you an understanding of these cutting edge techniques and their application, along with an ability to critically appraise their results.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Develop your understanding of how molecular approaches can be used in archaeology. • Introduce you to the importance of isotopic and molecular analysis for archaeological science. • Instruct you in presentation and publication of scientific analysis of materials and deposits.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The significance of isotopic analysis for dietary reconstruction
  • The role of isotopes in understanding mobility and migration in human and animal populations.
  • The use of isotopic evidence for palaeoclimate reconstruction and archaeological interpretation.
  • DNA extraction and analysis techniques for archaeological research.
  • Current debates within archaeological science.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Present the results of both qualitative and quantitative data in a publishable format.
  • Critically assess and synthesise data from a combination of qualitative and quantitative sources
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Develop advanced skills in data analysis and interpretation.
  • Critically assess scientific data, techniques and your application to the archaeological record.
  • Handling, integration and evaluation of data sets of multi-disciplinary origin.
  • Integration of qualitative and quantitative data into coherent presentations and reports.


This module will advance your knowledge of molecular approaches within archaeology. The module content has been split into five main themes; dating, diet, chronology, climate and trace element analysis.

Special Features

This module will introduce you to industry standard methods and techniques. This will take place both in the classroom and via visits to leading laboratories. The assessment techniques have been developed to map directly on to skill sets required both in the work place and academia. We would envisage these initial contacts to provide opportunities for science-based dissertation topics.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Lectures Laboratory Practicals • Field trips to key archaeological laboratories (e.g. NOCS). • Seminars Learning activities include: • Integrated problem orientated assessment via seminar discussions, laboratory sessions, student presentations and reports. • Thought exercises – you will be given specific archaeological problems to consider, develop a research strategy and report to the group. Innovative or special features of this module: Integrated industry-based and academic learning environment Trips to leading laboratories

Preparation for scheduled sessions14
Follow-up work6
Wider reading or practice20
External visits4
Completion of assessment task62
Practical classes and workshops6
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Brown, T. and K. Brown (2011). Biomolecular archaeology: an introduction (sections 4, 6, 12, and 13). 

Brothwell, D.R. and Pollard, A.M. (2001). Handbook of Archaeological Sciences. 

Marshner, H.D.G. & Chippendale, C. (2005). Handbook of Archaeological Methods Vols 1 and 2. 


Assessment Strategy

Formative This module has been designed around providing substantial amounts of formative feedback within the classroom environment. This will be delivered in two main formats; one feedback via in-class discussion based around case studies and, two, formative feedback on a presentation given in class (on which you will base your project design). The summative assessment for this module is split in two. The first part (project design) is a problem- orientated task. Here, you will be split into groups, given an archaeological site/question and asked to devise a research design and scientific strategy to answer a question pertinent to one of the techniques explored in previous lectures. The group presentation will not be formally assessed, but will provide an opportunity for staff to feedback on your ideas. You will then write up your project design and submit for assessment. The second assessment relies on a traditional exam. This has been put in place to assess the consolidation of your knowledge and your ability to apply in a range of different circumstance.


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (105 minutes) 50%
Scientific report  (2500 words) 40%
Seminar 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (106 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.