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Unit information: Discovering the Past in 2021/22

Unit name Discovering the Past
Unit code ARCH10015
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Cramp
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit reviews the variety of methodologies and approaches that comprise the discipline of archaeology today. It introduces students to the history of archaeological research, from the antiquarians of the eighteenth century to contemporary debates on the interpretation of the past. A range of essential archaeological concepts are introduced alongside key field and laboratory methods, including survey techniques, relative and absolute dating, DNA analysis and environmental archaeology. The ways in which archaeologists have employed the evidence from objects, bodies, buildings and landscapes to reconstruct past human societies are considered, with case studies exploring how particular archaeological cultures (for example the ancient Greeks) or issues (for example the origins of agriculture) can be addressed.


• To introduce key concepts (such as ‘the archaeological record’) that help us make sense of the past.

• To demonstrate how archaeological techniques and ways of understanding the past have changed since the birth of the discipline.

• To provide a basic understanding of the multidisciplinary methods and approaches that characterise current archaeological practice.

• To explore how archaeologists use the material record to make sense of past social relations and human action.

• To establish core skills in academic writing and research, and in verbal presentation.

• To assess how archaeological techniques can be employed to cast light on big issues such as the origins of social complexity.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

1. Summarise key intellectual approaches to the past and describe how these have changed over the past two hundred years.

2. Define basic archaeological concepts such as ‘relative dating’.

3. Recognise the major analytical and scientific techniques available to the modern archaeologist to study ancient objects, landscapes and people.

4. Appraise the variety of ways in which archaeological data is employed to reconstruct the past.

5. Construct logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence.

6. Access and correctly reference a variety of written and internet sources.

7. Present such information effectively in writing.

8. Present information verbally and engage in critical discussion.

Teaching Information

Weekly lectures, biweekly seminars, supported by self-directed activities. Seminars to include group tasks and student-led discussion.

Assessment Information

Formative: One 15-minute presentation, including a precis of one or more key archaeological approach(es)/method(s) (ILOs 2 - 8). Summative: 1 x 1500-word essay (ILOs 1-7)


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. ARCH10015).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.