Global Opportunities

ARA2102 : Cold Case: Archaeological Science in Action (Inactive)

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module uses globally significant archaeological case studies as a way to discover how different scientific techniques inform our knowledge of the past, and to develop skills in the critical assessment of the use of scientific results in the popular media.

In this module, we explore the profound impact of archaeological science via some of the most exciting and important archaeological case studies in the world. No background in science is needed, but you do need a willingness to challenge yourself.

In lectures, you will learn how fossils of our early ancestors were dated by radioactivity in the surrounding rocks at Olduvai Gorge; how we know that King Tut’s dagger was from outer space (but wasn’t made by aliens); how non-invasive analysis has revealed the secrets of the mausoleum of China’s first emperor; and much more. Each case study is examined from multiple angles, demonstrating how specialists come together to create a three-dimensional picture of the past. You will see that science does not operate in a vacuum, and learn to recognise the social forces at work in scientific inquiry.

In seminars, you will look into case studies in more depth, and also develop your own analytical skillset. You will learn how to read and critique scientific reports, and how to summarise them in digestible – and engaging – ways for the general public.

Outline Of Syllabus

The Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

Inca Child Sacrifices

Bog bodies

Coursework preparation

Richard III

Vindolanda Roman Fort

Olduvai Gorge


The Tomb of Tutankhamun

aDNA Controversies

The Mary Rose

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Non-synchronous online lectures and lecture replacement materials
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00Lecture materials
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion501:0050:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Synchronous online drop-in sessions and group discussions
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1171:00117:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will provide students with the knowledge of several archaeological case studies (KO 2), and with knowledge and understanding of a wide range of scientific techniques as applied to these (KO 1, KO 3). Each week, the first lecture will focus on the case study and its context, and the second on the theory behind the scientific techniques, and on the archaeological information they provide (SO 1, SO 2).

Seminars (small group teaching) will focus upon critical analysis of the scientific evidence, its archaeological interpretations, and/or the way it is reported in the media (KO 4, KO 5, SO 1, SO 4). Students will also receive key training (e.g. in preparing teaching materials aimed at Key Stage 2 school children).

Coursework and guided independent study will allow students to develop their knowledge and understanding of particular case studies (KO 1, KO 2, KO 3) and to develop skills in presenting complex scientific and archaeological reporting to a young audience (SO 3).

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2A50Critique or rebuttal of a piece of popular writing that relies upon archaeological science, with academic bibliography (1500 words).
Essay2M50Creation of educational outreach materials for 8-11 year olds. 2000 words with additional bibliography and appendix (data)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

1. Critique or rebuttal of a piece of popular writing (traditional or online media – original text must be supplied). This will enable students to employ their developing abilities to critically assess popular science reporting, and to develop more detailed understanding of a particular archaeological case study. Students will be expected to read and refer to relevant scientific articles in their assessment. It will develop transferable skills in the critical analysis of popular reporting, and the ability to independently research the facts behind the headlines.

2. The creation of educational materials aimed at 8-11 year old children will provide students with experience in ‘translating’ complex scientific and archaeological data into a digestible format, and in STEM outreach. Through independent research, students will develop more detailed knowledge of their chosen case study, and will gain experience in the increasingly important interaction between the sciences and the humanities.

Reading Lists