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, please click here.

Programme details

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?
  • Assemblages

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

  • Archaeobotanics
  • 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
  • Post-processualism
  • Ethnoarchaeology
  • 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

Please ensure you are able to access copies of any required textbooks prior to enrolling on a course.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 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 £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

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. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Wendy Morrison

Dr Morrison has over a decade of experience in both research and commercial archaeological work. She has excavated in Britain, the Channel Islands, and India and currently is a Senior Associate Tutor for OUDCE.

Course aims

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.

Teaching methods

  • 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.

Learning outcomes

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 methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

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.