Artefacts and Material Culture
Artefacts and material culture lie at the heart of archaeological enquiry. Artefacts and materials provide us with dating evidence, exemplify ancient technologies, and offer insights into other ways of life, art, cognition and the materiality of human existence - practically and in terms of symbolic expression and sensory experience. Artefacts are also the primary media for representing the past in museums - a key point of contact for public engagement with cultural heritage. Archaeology is thus at the cutting edge of material culture studies, heavily influencing – and being influenced by – new approaches in anthropology, art history, heritage conservation and museology.
The module is divided into two sections. The first part charts the progress of artefacts “from mud to museum”; from their places of recovery to their final presentation in museum displays or curation in museum repositories. This will include discussion of on-site and lab-based finds management, curation, museum display methods (including innovative digital media), and the values, meanings and aesthetics of artefact presentation. The second part of the module examines current approaches to the interpretation of material culture in archaeology. The primary archaeological concern with understanding social life in the material world, and relationships between beliefs, knowledge, action and artefacts, are considered in relation to fundamental aspects of human existence such as technology, ritual, gender, age groups, cult, ethnicity and power.
The themes explored by this module are relevant to all periods of study and all parts of the world. By the end of the module you will be able to interpret material culture from a range of perspectives, and critically evaluate how past material worlds are recovered, curated, displayed and interpreted for modern audiences.
Archaeology in the World
Archaeology – more than any study of the past – is a truly global discipline, and no archaeologist works in a vacuum. All over the globe, archaeologists work within a framework of laws and regulations that control and determine what they do. Moreover, the work of archaeologists has implications for the people on whose behalf they work. This module will place archaeology in its context as a global endeavour that takes place at the national and local level. The module will cover issues such as how the discipline is governed and regulated, the different systems in place in different parts of the globe, the “public” on whose behalf archaeologists work, and the social, ideological and political consequences of conducting archaeology. Overall, the module will locate the practice of archaeology within its real-world context and raise interesting questions about what archaeology is for.
Year 2 and 3
Option – Death, Burial and Society
The universality of the human experience of death, the presence of well-preserved bodies and artefacts in burials, and the prominence of funerary architecture and symbolism have led archaeologists to some of their most vivid encounters with past cultural worlds. In many cases, mortuary practices provide us with the richest sources of archaeological evidence for religious beliefs and social ideals, while at the same time offering insights into the life histories and deaths of individuals. This module explores the diversity and complexity of funerary ritual and representation through archaeological evidence, focusing on current approaches to the analysis of mortuary evidence and funerary monuments, and interpretative themes such as social reconstruction, identity and personhood, death ritual, status, power and cosmology. These themes are examined with reference to the wide range of anthropological, sociological and historical perspectives that underpin the inter-disciplinary character of the archaeology of death.
The module is organised in four sections, beginning with an introduction to the nature of the evidence, the diversity of mortuary practices and how funerals and the treatment of dead bodies can be interpreted (using examples from all round the world and all periods). The second part looks at the significance of the dead in the early medieval period, ranging from saints‟ relics to royal burials. The third section focuses on cemetery studies and the celebration of diverse person-kinds in Classical Greek and Roman burials. The last section examines body symbolism and ritual in early prehistory in relation to ideas of ancestors, spirit worlds and sacrifice. Common themes that run through all these sections include elite funerary display and identity. By the end of the module you will be able to analyse burials and monuments from a range of perspectives, and critically assess how the evidence is used for interpretative purposes in all kinds of cultural contexts.
Seminar – Virtual Worlds
From computer games to gadgets; from laser scanning to 3D modelling; from Virtual Reality to Virtual Museums! In this seminar you will use some of the latest technology for creating and working with digital 3D objects, sites and landscapes. You will use laser scanners to create virtual artefacts, and will use gaming technologies to create and move within virtual environments. There are tremendous opportunities provided by new technologies for studying the past, and the practical experience that you will gain will be useful well beyond the life and limits of your degree.
Seminar – Religion and Ritual: Archaeology, Anthropology and History
This seminar will explore ritual and religion from an inter-disciplinary perspective, focusing on recent approaches to ritual action and belief in Archaeology, Anthropology and History. There will be introductory sessions on the key theoretical and interpretative frameworks (rooted mainly in anthropology, sociology and cognitive psychology), and on the origins and global history of religion. The main focus of the course will be on a series of thematic seminar topics concerned with particular kinds of practice, representations, and beliefs in supernatural beings, forces and sacred domains. These include: rites of passage; ritual drama and theatre; sacrifice; ritual violence; magic and shamanism; pilgrimage; animism and totemism; ancestor-worship; deism and theism; symbolism and iconography; cosmography; religious communities; cult, shrines and ceremonial architecture; and power and ideology.
The approach in each case is comparative and cross-cultural, drawing on a wide range of archaeological and historical case studies. These range from prehistoric Europe (Palaeolithic cave art to Iron Age human sacrifice), pre-classical and classical Greece, the western Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, to Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica and Inca Peru. These are combined with numerous ethnographic and modern case studies from Britain, Europe, Africa, India, Polynesia, Australia, Siberia and North and South America. The themes explored in this seminar are relevant to all periods of study and all cultural contexts, and are applicable to other modules and individual research (e.g. for study tours and dissertations).
Seminar – The Roman Army as a Community
This seminar looks at the ‘real life’ experience of being a soldier in the Roman army in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and also the experience of other members of the wider military community such as servants, slaves, women, children, traders. It lays emphasis on using the direct, physical evidence produced by the Roman army. Sometimes this is in the form of the forts and buildings of the army, sometimes objects used by different members of the community, and often it is written evidence produced by the Roman army including inscriptions or administrative documents (such as the Vindolanda tablets from northern Britain). All this evidence will be available in English, whether it comes from Britain or elsewhere, even if it was originally in Latin.
Questions that will be addressed will include:
How did the Roman army turn a spotty 18-year-old into a Roman soldier?
How did the Roman military community mark itself out as different and special through such things as dress, speech, law?
What was the career path of a Roman soldier from enlistment to retirement?
What informal social and power structures existed within the army alongside the formal command hierarchy?
What is the evidence for women and children (especially in view of the ‘ban’ on marriage for serving soldiers) and for others such as traders and the native population?
Were Roman forts really the isolated, all-male world of traditional scholarship?
How did soldiers relate to the wider world in the provinces in which they served?
The overall aim is therefore to try to understand the ‘reality’ of the day-to-day life of the Roman military community when there was no fighting (i.e. most of the time) and to appreciate the wide range of evidence we have for Roman soldiers and the Roman army other than ‘emperors and battles’ histories.