Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2010-2011 (archived)


Department: Anthropology


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2010/11 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To provide students with an advanced practical understanding of biomolecular methods including isotope analysis and DNA sequencing, and the specific archaeological questions addressed by each method. These will focus principally upon past human and animal diets and migrations in the past and will include detailed exploration of the use of stable and radiogenic isotopes of past humans and animals, and the DNA analysis of modern and ancient population.
  • To enable students to integrate multiple forms of biomolecular evidence to solve larger scale questions of past peoples and their palaeoenvironments, with reference to issues and methods that are common to archaeology, anthropology, earth sciences and geography.


  • Elements, isotopes and archaeology
  • Diet: carbon and nitrogen isotopes
  • Migration I: Strontium and lead isotopes
  • Migration II: Oxygen isotopes
  • Computer lab practical on interpreting isotopic data
  • Modern DNA and past demography
  • DNA phylogenies
  • DNA sequencing and ancient DNA
  • Case study I: Human dispersal in S.E. Asia and the Pacific
  • Case study II: Neolithic central Europe
  • Case study III: Neolithic to Iron Age Britain

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Practical understanding of the range of isotopic methods and data analysis. Familiarity with the main features of DNA analysis from modern populations. Critical appreciation of current theories concerning the interpretation of DNA data.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to test theories of human demographic history through application of isotope and DNA analysis of humans and their remains. Ability to integrate these multiple forms of biomolecular evidence which can be integrated to reconstruct prehistoric human dispersals and society. Ability to evaluate future applications of biomolecular methods to current “big questions” in archaeology.
  • Practical laboratory skills in sample preparation for isotope analysis.
Key Skills:
  • Ability to analyse, interpret and present large and often complex and diverse data sets.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Modes of Teaching and Learning: Lectures introduce students to broad subject knowledge Small group practicals within chemistry or computer labs (normally one student per computer) provides students the opportunity to improve core and more diverse laboratory and analysis skills e.g. practical on hair isotopes. Students will keep a one week food diary, calculating their expected isotope ratio, and then comparing it to their hair isotope values.
  • Modes of Assessment: Data production and analysis exercise (50%) Data interpretation exercise (50%)

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 9 weekly 2 18
Tutorials 0
Seminars 0
Practicals 5 bi-weekly 2 10
Fieldwork 0
Other 0
Preparation and Reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Data production and analysis Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Data Analysis 2,500 words 100%
Component: Interpretative exercise Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Interpretative exercise 2,500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Practical Portfolio

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University