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Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

This course is a practical introduction to soils and sediments for any student who wants to understand how earth sciences are applied to the study of the human past. The course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the complex relationships between past human societies and the environments with which they were intimately associated, and covers important issues for the archaeology of all regions and time periods, including the processes of archaeological site formation, techniques used to reconstruct past human environments, and the importance of situating past cultural practices in their environmental context.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 3
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Karen Milek

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?


What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the field of geoarchaeology, giving an overview of how the earth sciences are making contributions to archaeological research around the world and in all time periods, from the beginnings of human history to the present day. The course will give you: an overview of the emergence of geoarchaeology as a scientific discipline and the current role of geoarchaeology in professional archaeological practice; a critical appreciation of how mainstream archaeological field work and the interpretation of archaeological sites can be enhanced through a better understanding of natural and cultural sedimentary and soil formation processes; foundational knowledge about the composition and formation processes of natural and human-made soils and sediments; a detailed knowledge of how soil and sediment characteristics affect the preservation of artefacts and organic remains on archaeological sites, and the field and laboratory methods that can be used to determine the preservation conditions on sites; an appreciation for how earth science techniques contribute to the reconstruction of past human environments and how past land use has impacted these environments; an understanding of how earth science techniques can contribute to the understanding of the spatial organisation of activity areas on archaeological sites, including the use of space in buildings; practical skills in how to describe, test, and sample archaeological soils and sediment in the field in such a way as to provide as much useful information as is possible for the interpretation of the content, origin, and post-depositional alteration of archaeological deposits; an overview of a wide range of laboratory techniques that can be applied to the analysis of archaeological soils and sediments in order to enhance the interpretation of the materials they are composed of, how they formed, the rate at which they formed, and how their physical characteristics might have changed over time; a springboard for further specialisation or a dissertation in geoarchaeology, if this is of interest to you.

Further Information & Notes

This course is compulsory for BSc and joint BSc archaeology programmes.

This course is appropriate for Geography, Geology and soil science students as well as more humanities-based students taking the single or joint honours Archaeology programmes. It is a compulsory L4 component of the BSc in Archaeology, the BSc in Archaeology with Chemistry, and the BSc in Archaeology-Geoscience and is an optional L4 component of the BSc in Archaeology –Geography, and so is not available to these students at L3. This course may NOT be included in a graduating curriculum with AY 4006. Students will be asked to make a nominal contribution towards the cost of the field trip. In line with the requirements of the new teaching term, this course will no longer present new material in week 23. Instead, one of the labs will be dropped, all of the teaching material will be covered between weeks 12 and 22, and in week 23 a two-hour revision seminar will be held in class.

Degree Programmes for which this Course is Prescribed


Contact Teaching Time

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Teaching Breakdown


1st Attempt: 1 two-hour written examination (50%); continuous assessment (50%), in the form of a field notebook (10%), a lab notebook (10%), and either a practical project or an essay (30%), depending on the students’ interests and background (3,000 words).

Resit: Marks from continuous assessment to be carried forward (50%); re-sit exam (50%).

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment of essay/project proposals and outlines; detailed essay feedback forms; oral feedback during labs and field trips.



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