Module Catalogue 2020/21

ARA2102 : Cold Case: Archaeological Science in Action

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Chloe Duckworth
  • Lecturer: Dr Chris Fowler, Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito, Dr Jane Webster, Dr Eline Van Asperen
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



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

Week 1
Introduction and Themes

Week 2
The Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

Week 3
The Tomb of Tutankhamen

Week 4
Inca Child Sacrifices

Week 5
Richard III

Week 6
Vindolanda Roman Fort

Week 7
Olduvai Gorge

Week 8

Week 9
aDNA Controversies

Week 10
The Mary Rose

Week 11
Bog Bodies

Week 12
Reflection and Summary

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

1. Knowledge of a range of scientific techniques applied to archaeology, and the ability to critically assess their relative technical strengths and weaknesses.
2. Knowledge of several key archaeological case studies covering different time periods and regions of the globe.
3. Understanding of how scientific information is translated into archaeological hypotheses.
4. Understanding of the relationship between scientific research and media stories about archaeology.
5. Some understanding of the ethics of archaeological reporting.

Intended Skill Outcomes

1. Ability to digest academic papers in scientific journals, and to navigate the structure of scientific reporting.
2. Experience in ‘translating’ between the languages of the sciences and the humanities.
3. Experience in presenting the results of scientific analysis in a factual yet digestible manner for a young audience.
4. The ability to critically assess the way science is reported in the media.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1181:00118:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture241:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading441:0044:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork13:003:00N/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).

A minimum of two guided readings will be given to students each week, in preparation for the small group sessions. 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).

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

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.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.