Archaeology in Practice (Online)
How do archaeologists recognise and interpret the lives of past peoples and their societies? An introduction to the methods and techniques of archaeological enquiry, from initial site survey and excavation to scientific analysis.
Listen to Dr Wendy Morrison talking about the course:
Archaeology is everywhere, from the buildings we walk past to the landscapes we travel through. Beginning with the history of archaeology and its growth from antiquarian hobby, this course will explore the practices and methods of excavation and interpretation. We will look at the diverse techniques and skills archaeologists have developed to tease out the stories of the past from objects and landscapes. We will learn to read archaeology in the earth and from plans and drawings. We will examine the archaeology of burials and begin to explore what artefacts may have meant to our ancestors. At the same time, we will explore questions about what archaeology really means, both in the broader context, and at the individual level.
For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.
1. What is archaeology?
- Archaeology’s predecessors: antiquarian and Biblical chronology
- New ways of thinking
- The first archaeologists
- Why archaeology?
- Changing face of the past in the past
2. Reading the landscape
- Aerial photography
- Desk-based assessments
- Topographical survey and fieldwalking
- Geophysical survey
- Interpreting results
- Computerised information processing
3. Excavation techniques
- Understanding stratigraphy
- Context: the most important element of excavation
- The Harris matrix
- Excavation strategy – sequence of events
- Recording the excavation
4. Types of sites and features
- Site formational process
- Unusual site conditions
- Characteristics of features
- Negative features – pits, ditches and postholes
- Positive/structural features
5. Artefacts: ambassadors from the past
- Objects – the ‘social lubricant’ of human interaction
- How artefacts enter the archaeological record
- Preservation factors
- What can the artefacts tell us?
6. How old is it?: archaeological dating
- Typology, cross-dating and seriation
- Historic chronology
- Absolute dating and radiocarbon dating
- Radiocarbon dating – some difficulties
- Dendrochronology and ice-core dating
- Luminescence dating
7. Archaeological science
- Animal bones and shells
- Analysis of materials and artefacts
- Human skeletal remains
- DNA and isotopic analysis
8. Burial archaeology
- Treatment of the dead
- Grave goods
- Human burial practices – Palaeolithic to 1st millennium BCE
- Human burial practices – 1st millennium BCE to present
9. Making sense of it all: interpretation
- Diffusionism, migration and invasion
- Processualism: the ‘new’ archaeology
- Gender archaeology
- Interpretation: theory and data united
10. Whose archaeology? Museums, the past and the public
- Archaeology and identity
- Heritage: who decides if it’s worthy?
- Museums: archaeology for all
- The public and archaeological human remains
- What can archaeology do for the public?
We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.
To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following textbook:
Greene, K & Moore, T., Archaeology: an introduction 5th ed. (2010), Routledge,London
To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.
For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php
Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.
Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.
All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.
This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.
EU Fee: £260.00
Non-EU Fee: £295.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00
Wendy Morrison holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Archaeology. She has worked in both commercial and research archaeology since 2007 and has excavated in Britain and further afield.
This course aims to introduce the methods and practices of archaeology to students with little or no previous knowledge of the subject.
This course will enable students to:
- Understand how archaeologists collect, analyse, and interpret data.
- Become familiar with the different types of evidence available and to learn to critically assess such evidence.
- Critcally analyse and discuss such current topics as the relationship between archaeology and the public and the ethical debates around dealing with human remains.
- Further develop their interest in archaeology.
- Introduction to and overview of the session, highlighting the main issues to be examined and discussed.
- Guided readings (required and optional).
- Tutors notes and handouts.
- Practical activities, including discussion on the unit forum.
- Concluding comments and indication of areas for further independent study and research.
By the end of this course students will be expected to:
- Have an appreciation of the diverse skill sets and techniques applied in archaeology.
- Be able to think critically about material and textual evidence.
- Be prepared to further pursue their interests in archaeology, either though furthering formal study or visiting sites and museums.
By the end of this course students will have gained the following skills:
- Critical assessment of different types of evidence and their context.
- Correlation of many threads of evidence to arrive at a narrative interpretation.
- Present clear and rational arguments to defend the interpretation of evidence.
Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.
Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.
Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.
Level and demands
FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.
Terms and conditions
Terms and conditions for applicants and students on this course
Sources of funding
Information on financial support