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Unit information: Comparative World Archaeology in 2011/12

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Unit name Comparative World Archaeology
Unit code ARCH10003
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Heyd
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit introduces the main thresholds in prehistory from human origins to the Aztecs. Topics include the fate of Neanderthals, plant and animal domestication and the rise of early states in the Old and New World. Assessed by one essay (50%) and one class test (50%).


This unit is designed to give a broad overview of the development of human society and asks you to use your analytical skills by looking for and trying to explain patterns in cultural change between regions. In doing so, you will be asked to critique the efficacy of current explanatory models. For archaeology students, this unit should stimulate your interest in one or more archaeological periods, topics or regions. The options offered in Years 2 & 3 will enable you to build on a particular interest (e.g., human origins, early states) from which you may develop a dissertation topic. For those from other departments, you will leave with an understanding of the basic chronological framework of human social development (and some theories of interpretation) on which to base further study in the arts and social sciences—or simply satisfy your own curiosity.

At a practical level, the methods of assessment and tutorial are designed to develop your writing and analytical skills to familiarise you with literature-based research through the use of the library and web resources.

Intended learning outcomes

You will be expected to know the basic chronological outline of human prehistory from evolutionary origins to the rise of states and to apply this knowledge to the critical evaluation of models of behavioural change. You should become familiar with at least two periods or archaeological issues (e.g., fate of the Neanderthals, origins of food production, rise of states) and be able to make comparisons between regions or periods. The comparative approach asks you to develop an informed opinion about patterns of evolutionary and social change.

Teaching details

Twenty lectures (one hour each, in ten pairs, with a 10 minute break in between each lecture, on Wednesday mornings, 9-9:50 and 10-10:50 am) and small group, 50-minute long tutorials to discuss issues raised in the week’s lectures. There will be six tutorial sessions, all on Thursday between 9:00 am and 3:50 pm, in Rooms SRA, LR2 (43 Woodland Road) and G64 (13 Woodland Road). You will be expected to sign up to one of these groups at the first lecture—the tutorials are a compulsory part of the unit.

Given the scope of the course, several Department staff will be in charge of the actual lectures, according to their respective fields of expertise. The contents of each lecture will be posted in the university’s website as a *.pdf version of the graphics presentation used to visually support the lecture. Make sure you look up your UoB e-mail account regularly in order to obtain links for such files.

Assessment Details

The assessment methods are intended to test your factual knowledge of time and place and to develop your critical analysis skills. Your mark will be based on one essay of 1500-2000 words (50%) combined with a 2-hour written class test (50%). The essay is designed to give you experience in researching and writing and to introduce you to a topic. Please use the essay writing guidelines in the Dept/Faculty Handbook for structuring your essay and for the expected style of referencing. Also, please use examples of sites, objects or fossils as the case may be to support your argument—this is important. Your mark will reflect how well specific case studies are integrated into the topic. We will talk more about this in class, but see the Dept/Faculty Handbook for marking criteria.

Your essay will be marked and returned for discussion in tutorial. The tutorial is an opportunity to develop your writing and research skills further. The deadline for submission of the essay is December 17, 2010, 12:00 am. The marked essay will be returned for discussion on the seminar sessions of January 20, 2011.

The class test consists of writing short comments to the different individual slides projected in a PowerPoint presentation. All answers are equally weighted. Assessment criteria will be the correct identification of the pictured archaeology (artefact, monument, fossil; behavioural or environmental scheme; interpretative theory) as to type, spatio-temporal provenience, history and relevance.

Reading and References

Fagan, B. 2001 (10th ed) or 1998 (9th ed). People of the earth: an introduction to world prehistory. New York: Harper Collins. (GN 740) – (6 copies on Short Loan)

Renfrew, A.C. & Bahn, P. 2000 (3rd ed). Archaeology: theories, methods and practice. London: Thames and Hudson. (4 copies in library on Short Loan)

Wenke, R.J. 1999 (4th ed). Patterns in prehistory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (3 copies in library on Short Loan, and for sale at Blackwells).

Gosden, C. 2003. Prehistory: a short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (£6.99)

Trigger, B. 2003. Early civilizations. Cambridge University Press.

Scarre, C.J. (ed) 1988. Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology. Hammond World Atlas Corp.

Scarre, C.J. (ed) 2005. The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies. London: Thames and Hudson. This is the recommended textbook for the unit.