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The University of Southampton

ARCH6417 Materials, Technology and Social Life

Module Overview

This module examines the central role of technology in archaeological constructions of social life. It integrates techniques for the investigation of materials in archaeological science with discussions of social theory. Case studies from a range of different forms of material culture, places and periods are examined. You are encouraged to read widely and to explore inter-disciplinary approaches to materials and technology including those derived from archaeology, anthropology, sociology, technology studies and materials science.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • How archaeologists use social theories to explore the development of technologies and the changing use of materials in past societies
  • Scientific techniques for the analysis of archaeological materials and technologies
  • The role of social relations and networks in the creation and maintenance of technological practices and skills
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically assess past and current archaeological approaches to the study of materials and technology
  • Critically assess the value and appropriate application of a range of social theories employed to understand materials and technology in past and contemporary societies
  • Evaluate the usefulness of a range of scientific techniques for the analysis of archaeological materials and technologies
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse complex written texts
  • Produce independent research
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Engage with archaeological and ethnographic objects in order to describe and understand the technology of their production, and how this is embedded in fields of knowledge and social relations


Typically the syllabus will cover: - Introduction to the module: material worlds - Making things, making relations: technological processes and choices - Embedded technologies - Art and technologies of enchantment - Materials - Fieldtrip (Pitt Rivers Museum) - Project presentations - Technologies of remembrance and forgetting - Wayfaring and mapping: technologies of travel and space - Building - Feedback on assessed work

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

This is primarily a seminar-based course, although fieldtrips will be incorporated where practical and relevant. Discussions in seminars will enable you to develop your knowledge, understanding, intellectual skills and critical abilities. The seminar sessions will also include hands-on study of archaeological and ethnographic objects as a focus for discussion. Teaching methods include: - Seminars Group work Tutorials Learning activities include: - Individual study Artefact study - Preparing and delivering student-led seminars Discussion groups

External visits4
Independent Study124
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Ingold, T. (1997). Eight themes in the anthropology of technology. Social Analysis. ,41 , pp. 106-38.

Lemmonnier, P. (ed.) (1993). Technological Choices: transformations in material culture since the Neolithic. 

Sofaer, J (2006). Pots, Houses and Metal. Technological Relations at the Bronze Age tell at Százhalombatta, Hungary. Oxford Journal of Archaeology. ,25 , pp. 127-47.

Schlanger, N. (ed) (2006). Marcel Mauss. Techniques, Technology and Civilisation. 

Sigaut, F (1994). Technology. Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology. , pp. 420-59.

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

Dobres, MA and Hoffman CR (eds). The Social Dynamics of Technology: Practise, Politics and World Views. 

Conneller, C. (2011). An Archaeology of Materials: substantial transformations in early prehistoric Europe. 

Toren, C. (1999). Mind, Materiality and History. Essays in Fijian Ethnography. 

Pfaffenberger, B. (1992). Social Anthropology of Technology. Annual Review of Anthropology. ,21 , pp. 491-516.

Adams, J. (2003). Ships, Innovation and Social Change. 

Gell, A. (1998). Art and Agency: an anthropological theory. 

Leroi-Gourhan, A (1945). Milieu et Technique. 

Ingold, T. (2007). Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues. ,14 , pp. 1-16.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: an introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessment 1: through the hands-on, self-directed study of an individual object (either archaeological or ethnographic), this assignment helps you understand processes of making and the social relations that exist within technology. Assessment 2 provides the opportunity to develop in detail a chosen aspect of the module through a case study, decided in consultation with the module coordinator.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 50%
Object study  (1500 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


There are no particular student costs associated with this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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