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Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

The societies that we study as archaeologists are often long since vanished. How can we reliably interpret these past societies? And what influences do modern moral and ethical issues have on our views of the past? This course explores the theoretical and ethical frameworks that archaeologists use to understand the past, using lectures and interactive seminars to illustrate and debate the limits of inference and the ethical and political issues that impact on how we understand the past.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 2
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Gordon Noble

Qualification Prerequisites


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

  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

  • AY2001 Interpreting the Past 1: Theory and Ethics (Studied)
  • AY2003 Interpreting the Past: Theory and Ethics (Studied)
  • AY2007 Interpreting the Past (Dl) (Studied)
  • KL205T Interpreting the Past (Studied)

Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

Course Aims: To critically examine the theoretical and ethical implications of how archaeologists study past societies. This course provides students with a detailed introduction to how theory, ethics and politics all play an important role in the archaeological study of human (pre)history. By the end of the course, students should be able to:
• Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the crucial role played by archaeological theory in the study of past societies.
• Use a range of theoretical approaches to interpret the material evidence of the past
• Articulate the range of political factors that impact upon archaeological research and interpretation.
• Critically evaluate the ethical and moral implications of archaeological research in a modern global setting
• Demonstrate improved verbal and written skills

Content: As an advanced introduction to theoretical and ethical aspects of archaeological enquiry, the course includes two themes:
• Archaeological theory since 1950. World history of archaeological theory, starting with culture-historical approaches, adaptive and ecological perspectives, and moving on to recent post-processual and gender critiques. Concludes with an exploration of how archaeological theory might develop in the future.
• Archaeological ethics. Explores the political and moral implications of how archaeologists study and represent past societies. Considers issues of cultural heritage, artefact ownership and land-rights, and examines the politics of excavation, interpretation and repatriation.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: 1 two-hour written examination (50%); continuous assessment in the form of a 2500-word essay (50%) Resit: 1 two-hour written examination (100%)

Formative Assessment


Detailed essay feedback forms; in class tutorial feedback.

Course Learning Outcomes


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