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ARA2001 : Archaeological Theory and Interpretation

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Chris Fowler
  • Lecturer: Dr Jane Webster
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The last fifty years have seen some radical changes in how we study the past. The majority of these stem from the recognition that the past must be actively interpreted in the present. During this module we will explore the major trends in archaeological theory over the last fifty years and consider how each of these assists in the interpretation of the past. Such theoretical trends have not only shaped archaeology but also played an integral role in many other disciplines, including anthropology, history of all kinds, geography, philosophy, sociology and cultural theory. For that reason, topics covered in this module are of wider relevance as they provide a guide to the ideas characteristic of the modern and postmodern world in which we live. Nonetheless, while the course is designed to address theoretical perspectives on the past, emphasis will be given to the practical deployment of theoretical perspectives in interpreting the past.

This module aims to develop an awareness of the relationship between archaeological interpretation and theoretical reasoning, to provide a detailed understanding of developments in archaeological theory over the last four decades, and to illustrate the impact of different theoretical approaches on our understanding of the past and on present social, cultural and political contexts. It also aims to develop your ability to recognise and critically evaluate differing theoretical perspectives and communicate these to others.

Outline Of Syllabus

Topics will include:
Introduction: the importance of theory
Culture as history
Culture as process
Society and culture as political: Marxism and post-processual archaeology
Culture as meaning
Contextual and post-structuralist archaeologies
Archaeology and lived experience
Agency and theories of practice
Identities that matter, identities in practice
An ontological turn: agency and materiality revisited
New materialism and assemblage theory
Archaeological theory and contemporary society

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials111:0011:00Lecture recordings and materials. Counts as contact hours
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion871:0087:00Guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00The lecture will include plenty of time for questions and discussion
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading441:0044:00Guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Live seminars (can be present in person or moved online)
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities92:0018:00Seminar preparation using reading briefs
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study181:0018:00Further independent study
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

A series of subject-specific recorded lectures will provide an introduction to the aims and objectives of the module nd a detailed outline of notable developments in archaeological theory over the last four decades.

Alongside the lectures students will attend weekly seminars. Eight of these will act as workshops where students, lead by the seminar leader (TA), analyse key texts in archaeological theory. This will assist in preparation of all forms of assessed work. The other two will be led by the module leader and offer a forum for discussion of essay preparation.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M50Essay, 2000 words
Essay2A50Essay, 2000 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay topics will relate to debates covered in lectures and seminars and assess students’ abilities to analyse or compare positions.

Submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

Reading Lists