Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module ARCH41630: Topics in Archaeological Science

Department: Archaeology

ARCH41630: Topics in Archaeological Science

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • The aim of this module is to facilitate students to explore and debate current key topics and central research themes in archaeology, to critically assess the scientific methods employed and to begin to develop original thinking in order to identify gaps in knowledge and future research directions. Emphasis will be placed on the need to critically evaluate the application, potential and limitations of a range of techniques and the importance of considering the archaeological context and question.


  • This module will introduce and explore central topics in archaeological science and the scientific, ethical and chronological frameworks in which they are investigated. As this module has a strong emphasis on current research, the precise topics presented will vary from year to year depending on topical issues and staff research expertise but will centre around the themes of: chronologies in archaeology; reconstructing palaeoenvironments and palaeoeconomies; human impact on the environment and climate change; human health and environment; animal husbandry and domestication; and human dispersals and mobility.
  • Principal scientifc methods used in archaeobotany, archaeozoology, chronometry and biomolecular archaeology will be explored and emphasis will be placed on how they are applied to investigate the complex interactions of human culture, behaviour and the environment.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of the module students should be able to demonstrate:
  • Familiarity with current debates and key academic texts and journals in archaeological science and leading research groups, laboratories and individuals.
  • A critical understanding of a range of environmental and biomolecular methods by which archaeological science investigates the human past including their fundamental constraints and current limits of knowledge.
  • Understanding of when and how scientific methods can be applied appropriately and ethically in archaeological case studies.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to critically evaluate the scientific evidence used to investigate major questions in archaeology and integrate the evidence into archaeological theories of human land-use, reconstructing subsistence and behaviour, the development of farming and more complex urban societies.
  • Ability to identify gaps in current knowledge, challenge accepted wisdom, formulate, present and discuss research questions both orally and in written work.
  • Ability to consider the future application and development of scientific studies for testing environmental evidence for culture change and to consider the relevance of these issues to current and future decision making processes.
Key Skills:
  • Ability to synthesise arguments critically.
  • Ability to express complex arguments clearly and concisely.
  • Ability to undertaken independent learning through the exercise of self-direction and initiative.
  • Ability to formulate original ideas.

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

  • The module will consist of five two-week blocks each composed of a lecture to introduce the topic in week one and a student-led workshop to develop and discuss the topic in week two. Students will present and consider the disparate lines of evidence using a series of case studies which will help to focus upon and develop in-depth critical issues of interpretation.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Introduction 1 1 1 1
Lectures 5 1 2 10
Workshops 5 1 2 10
Workshop Preparation and Reading 1 10 279
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay One Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 100%
Component: Essay Two Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2500 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment is based on two 20 minute oral presentations during two of the workshops. These presentations are to be accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and other visual aids where relevant, with the seminar notes in a word document placed on DUO after the seminar. Students are to sign-up for workshop topics during the first teaching session, with the topic to be discussed and agreed with the Module Convenor or the topic lecturer.

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