Contemporary Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Issues - CL805

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 4)
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7 30 (15) DR P Baker







The module is designed with training, knowledge enhancement and skills acquisition to the fore. The module begins with an introduction to the origins and development of theoretical perspectives in archaeology (e.g. ‘cultural history’, the ‘New Archaeology’, ‘Post-Processualism’), and assesses the contributions of these approaches. A central question is how we may study and define past society. Artefacts and their value as evidence of the past are then considered within a contemporary intellectual framework. Settlement sites are then examined and in particular approaches to understanding their morphology, elements and their identity as lived environments; spatial approaches are considered here too. Approaches to the archaeology of landscape are in turn examined, this being a dynamic field in contemporary archaeological understanding. How archaeological data is assesses, organized, and published is then examined from a theoretical and methodological angle. Finally, how the various strands of archaeological data can be brought together to assemble a coherent picture of past human life and society are critically examined and reviewed.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

Total contact hours: 20


This module is compulsory for students studying on the MAs in Archaeology, Roman History and Archaeology, and Roman History and Archaeology with a term in Rome.

Method of assessment

Presentation (30 minutes) - 35%;
Research paper (5000 words) - 65%

Indicative reading

Gosden, C. 1999. Anthropology and Archaeology a Changing Relationship. New York and London: Routledge;
Hodder, I. And R. Pruecel (eds.) 1996. Contemporary archaeology in theory. Oxford: Blackwell;
Johnson, M. 2007. Archaeological theory an introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers;
Renfrew, C and Bahn, P. 2008. Archaeology The Key Concepts. London: Routledge;
Shanks, M and C. Tilley 1987. Social theory in archaeology. Cambridge: Polity Press;
Shanks, M. and C. Tilley 1992. Reconstructing archaeology, theory and practice. London: Routledge;
Trigger, B. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to demonstrate a systematic understanding of contemporary issues, approaches and thinking in archaeology and how its various constituent areas can be used to interpret past cultures;
Students will be able to firmly locate archaeological theories and interpretations within conceptual frameworks and understand their intellectual origins;
Students will be able to demonstrate a systematic understanding of the value and contribution of particular methods in archaeological study and a comprehensive understanding of the history and direction of theoretical and practical approaches in the 21st century;
Students will be able to demonstrate familiarity with critical issues in archaeology and be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in archaeological work and its presentation;
Students will be able to demonstrate a rounded understanding of methods in contemporary archaeology, their relationship to theoretical approaches and their appropriateness in particular circumstances;
Students will be able to demonstrate a strong awareness of the nature of archaeological remains and other sources of information upon the past, how these have survived or otherwise ('taphonomy') and how their survival impacts upon archaeological thinking

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