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ARA2001 : Archaeological Theory and Interpretation

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Chris Fowler
  • Lecturer: Dr Jane Webster, Professor Chantal Conneller
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
  • Capacity limit: 30 student places

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


The last sixty 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 sixty 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 may 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
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion771:0077:00Guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading441:0044:00Guided independent studies
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Seminar
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities101:0010:00Group presentation preparation time: each student only produces one presentation.
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 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, analyse key texts in archaeological theory. This will assist in preparation of all forms of assessed work. The other three will include a forum for discussion of essay preparation, and a seminar where students give their group presentation.

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
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Oral Presentation2MGroup presentation of 10 mins. The topic relates to an upcoming essay title.
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. The formative presentation is designed to give students a chance to gain verbal feedback on their work towards a topic assessed by one of the essay questions.

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

The essay questions for this module require students to explore both a set of theoretical concepts and apply them to at least one case study, it is very difficult to do this rigorously in less than 2000 words. The formative assessments allow students to explore the theoretical concepts and receive feedback prior to formal assessment, and serve to reduce student concerns over whether they have understood the material.

Reading Lists