Prehistoric Art


The archaeology of ancient art has much to offer for our understanding of visual culture in past societies, with a record rich with material that opens up new ways of thinking about environment, nature, the body and the non-human world. Such an approach can lead us to consider how art (as we define it in the present day) shaped past lifeways with archaeological evidence that indicates representation, relationships and identities were expressed through image-making.

Focusing on European material and organised chronologically, we will we engage with the earliest evidence we have for visual inscription. This will include cave paintings (e.g. Lascaux, France), figurines (e.g. the Venus of Willendorf, Austria) carvings (e.g. Lepenski Vir, Serbia), monuments (e.g. Newgrange, Ireland) rock art (e.g. Ilkley Moor, UK), metalwork (e.g. Gundestrup Cauldron, Denmark) and frescoes (e.g Tarquinia, Italy). This will lead to an engagement with the roles colour, technologies, symbolism and materiality play in the construction of prehistoric lifeways. Our coverage will also include global ethnographic and anthropological research as analytical tools for interpretation.

We will contextualise our discussions with reference to digital sources (e.g. museum collections), readings (which we will discuss in class) and visual media (film and online presentations).

Programme details

Courses starts: 21 Sep 2023

Week 0: Course orientation

Week 1: Art in Prehistory: Course Introduction

Week 2: Art for Art’s Sake: A Closer Look at Image Making in Prehistory

Week 3: Cave Paintings and Mobile Artefacts: Art and Nature in the Palaeolithic

Week 4: Carvings and Body Ornamentation: Representation and Mesolithic Art

Week 5: Circles, Spirals and Metaphors: Visual Inscription in the Neolithic  

Week 6: Colurways and Carvings: Material Creativity in the Bronze Age

Week 7: Corporeality and the ‘Celts’: Art and Identities in the Iron Age

Week 8: Understanding Prehistoric Art: Ethnographic Analogies

Week 9: New Ways of Thinking: Interpreting Prehistoric Art

Week 10: Prehistoric Art: Course Summary


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. 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.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


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


Ms Fay Stevens

Fay Stevens is an award winning and experienced lecturer in archaeology at Oxford OUDCE and other UK and International Universities. She is currently completing a PhD in archaeology (UCL) and specialises in landscape and theoretical archaeology.  She is Adjunct Associate Professor University of Notre Dame, London Global Gateway and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London. 

Course aims

To provide an introductory approach to art in prehistoric archaeology and use this basis to show how the skills and techniques covered in the classes can be used for further studies on prehistoric art.  

Course objectives:

  • To familiarise students with an archaeology of prehistoric art and to develop an understanding of some of the key issues relating to visual culture in the archaeological record.
  • To develop analytical skills in the interpretation of prehistoric art and to show how the evidence relates to how we understand past societies.
  • To encourage students to develop their interests through site visits and further study.

Teaching methods

The course will be taught using a range of teaching strategies and methods. This includes lectures, question and answer sessions and discussion, as well as encouraging reflection, independent study and coursework participation. You will be inspired and encouraged to develop the ability to process and apply information through discussion as well as through written work, in order to cultivate your skills in critical thinking, as well as your own interests in the subject through independent study.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • demonstrate introductory knowledge of the archaeology of prehistoric art;
  • have some critical awareness of the key issues relevant to art making in prehistory;
  • be aware of how archaeological analytical techniques and interpretations can be used to better understand the making of art in prehistory.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be both formative and summative.

Formative:  You have the option of submitting a short piece of writing for feedback. This is not a graded assignment but an opportunity to obtain feedback and direction in your scholarly work.  It might, for example, be on the thinking behind an essay, or a book review that might form the basis of one of the three short written pieces. This work should be submitted mid-way in the term.

Summative:  Submission of work for feedback and grading. You have a choice as to the assessment format and there are two options.

  1. A collection of three short written pieces (e.g. book/site/artefact reviews of 500 words each, totalling c.1500 words) that can be spread throughout the term or submitted as a portfolio of works at the end of the course.
  2. An essay or personal fieldtrip review  (a site, a museum, gallery, archive or collection for example) review  totalling c. 1500 words.  The tutor will provide a list of topics, although you may select your own relevant topic. Guidance will be provided throughout the term.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)