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ARA3123 : Lessons from the Past: Archaeo-historic perspectives on Sustainability in the Anthropocene

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Lisa-Marie Shillito
  • Lecturer: Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips, Dr Chloe Duckworth, Dr Louise Rayne, Dr Eric Tourigny, Dr Clare Hickman, Dr Francesco Carrer
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


To explore the interface between the sciences and humanities in relation to environmental change
To understand the concept of the Anthropocene and related ideas of sustainability
To understand how the study of the past can help inform modern day responses to environmental change

Outline Of Syllabus

The relationships between people and their environments are complex, and it is recognised that humans can have a dramatic impact on the health of ecosystems. Sustainability is an ecological term that describes the diversity and productivity of ecological systems, whilst sustainable development describes processes that aim to reduce the long term negative impact of development. A major issue in sustainability studies is the definition of ‘impact’ on different timescales, and in understanding how human activity impacts different environments in the long term. It is here that archaeology can play an important role, with its unique capability of exploring long term (>lifetime) responses of societies to environmental change.

This module covers the scientific and historic study of human-environment dynamics from a thematic perspective, first introducing analytical concepts, and exploring how this data can be used help to inform modern responses to environmental change and sustainability initiatives. We will explore the emerging disciplines of the environmental and medical humanities, and the contributions that these can make to understanding human relationships with the natural and built environments. We will look at case studies of how human activity has damaged ecosystems to the point of collapse, but also areas where societies have successfully managed resources in a sustainable way. Finally, we look at how we can make a ‘real world’ difference through engagement with stakeholders.

Topics may include:
1.Introduction to the Anthropocene
2.Climate change and ‘collapse’
4.Historical ecology and zooarchaeology, conservation
5.Reuse, recycling and disposal from prehistory to present
6.Pollution and sanitation
7.Desertification and ancient water management
8.Health and the built environment
9.Was ancient farming sustainable?
10.Sustainable buildings
11.The ‘real’ palaeodiet
12.Landscape and heritage
13.Oral histories and the environment

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion412:0082:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading811:0081:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module is taught through a combination of short lectures, with longer workshops and seminars. The lectures introduce the basic concepts and direct students towards key areas of reading, and each topic is then explored in depth in the seminars. The workshops focus on writing development and communication of complex topics to a non-specialist audience.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Poster1A50500-1000 words + visuals
Written exercise1M50'Wikipedia' article 1000-1500 words with appropriate links
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise1MWikipedia draft for peer comment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Wikipedia article – assesses individual understanding of topics and ability to communicate these to a non-specialist audience in written format
Group poster presentation – assesses group working skills, understanding of topics and ability to communicate these to a non-specialist audience in verbal and visual format

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.

Reading Lists