ARCH20500 Archaeology of Things

Academic Year 2023/2024

We live in a material world, with objects communicating things about us and our communities. In the modern world we are also increasingly surrounded by things, our relationships to these things mostly classed as that of consumers rather than producers. ARCH20500 aims to help you look differently and critically at objects from the past (and the present) and to appreciate the huge importance material culture holds for understanding human society. Much, much older than the written record, objects are a major category of archaeological evidence and a vital tool for the archaeologist.

At the core of the module is a review of key artefact assemblages from prehistory through to the medieval period. While there is a general focus on Irish artefacts, we will also consider things from Britain and continental Europe. We will explore such topics as object classification (typologies), the scientific analysis of archaeological materials, and the contribution of experimental archaeology. Alongside this, we will examine the many different roles and functions that objects had in the past and how these often diverge from our modern views and practices. We will explore concepts such as ownership and wealth, object deposition and discard, and the life-cycle of objects.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Recognise a range of artefacts and types of artefacts from prehistoric and historic Ireland and beyond

2. Assess the main approaches used in artefact research in archaeology and discuss their strengths and weaknesses

3. Appreciate the wide range of symbolic, practical and functional roles that objects have for people, both in the past and the present

4. Demonstrate increased skill in comparing and contrasting different forms of archaeological information, investigating interpretations and articulating your own arguments about these interpretations

Indicative Module Content:

The module includes:

A consideration of things made from different materials e.g. stone, clay, wood, leather, and metals.
These are drawn from several periods Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, early medieval, Viking.
We will consider these from a variety of analytical and theoretical perspectives.

Over the course of the trimester, you will be provided with the opportunity to have a go at making an object based on an archaeological example, supported by an on-campus workshop. This exercise will allow you to engage practically with material and in turn provide a focus for potentially thinking differently about the archaeology.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning








Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module is taught through a combination of lectures, class discussion, and hands on engagement with material.

Learning is supported through three low stakes MCQs as the module progresses - these support engagement across the lecture sessions. You will be asked to provide a short critical review that will provide essential engagement with the background reading necessary to undertake your practical engagement with materials. The final assessment draws these elements together in a combined critical and reflective project/journal. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ARCH20120 - Studying material culture, ARCH20640 - Archaeology of Things

Additional Information:
Archaeology PhD students (DRHSC001 Z117, DRHSC001 Z118) may audit only

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Multiple Choice Questionnaire: A series of three MCQs testing knowledge of archaeological objects (completed online in Brightspace). Throughout the Trimester n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% No


Assignment: 1500-word critical review of approaches to interpreting an archaeological object (due first week of mid-trimester break) Week 7 n/a Graded No


Journal: 3000-word Journal reflecting on the making of replica archaeological object (due in Week 13) Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Online automated feedback

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

UCD School of Archaeology uses a standard format to provide feedback in all modules. This format also contains feed forward details - this will help students think about how they could improve their approach in future assignments. Within ARCH20500, online automated feedback is provided for the MCQs. The written assignments receive formal written feedback via standard forms no later than 20 working days after the submission deadline. Work submitted late will receive formal written feedback staggered accordingly. Feedback on the 'critical review' is designed to help improve the final assignment. Written assignments also have rubrics attached to them in Brightspace that can help you determine what aspects of the task we will be considering in our evaluation. All tasks are provided from the start of the module.

General Texts
Caple, C., 2006, Objects, Reluctant Witnesses to the Past, London and New York, Routledge
Hurcombe, L. M., 2014, Perishable Material Culture in Prehistory: Investigating the Missing Majority, London, Routledge
Hurcombe, L. M., 2007, Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture, London and New York, Routledge (Key text)

Selection of other readings - introduced to support individual sessions:

Becker, K., 2009, Iron Age Ireland - finding the invisible people. In: Cooney, G., Becker, K., Coles, J., Ryan, M. & Sievers, S. (eds.) Relics of Old Decency: archaeological studies in later prehistory. 353 - 361. Bray: Wordwell
Carlin, N., 2018, The Beaker Phenomenon? Understanding the character and context of social practices in Ireland 2500-2000 BC, Leiden, Sidestone Press.
Doyle, M., 2014, Dress and ornament in early medieval Ireland: exploring the evidence. In: Kelly, B., Roycroft, N. & Stanley, M. (eds.) Fragments of Lives Past: archaeological objects from Irish road schemes, Proceedings of the NRA Public Archaeology Seminar, 22 August 2013. 67–80. Dublin: National Roads Authority.
Cooney, G., 2015, Chapter 27: Stone and Flint Axes in Neolithic Europe. In: Fowler, C., Harding, J. & Hofmann, D. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Edwards, N., 1996, The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland, London, Routledge
Fontijn, D., 2008, Everything in its Right Place? On Selective Deposition, Landscape and the Construction of Identity in Later Prehistory. In: Jones, A. (ed.) Prehistoric Europe: theory and practice. 86–106. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Harris, O. J. T. & Cipolla, C., 2017, Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: Introducing Current Perspectives (1st ed.). Routledge
Karsten, A., Graham, K., Jones, J., Mould, Q. & Walton, P., 2012, Waterlogged Organic Artefacts Guidelines on their Recovery, Analysis and Conservation Swindon, English Heritage
Needham, S., 2012, Putting capes into context: Mold at the heart of a domain. In: Britnell, W. J. & Silvester, R. J. (eds.) Reflections on the Past: Essays in honour of Frances Lynch. Welshpool: Cambrian Archaeological Association
O'Sullivan, A., McCormick, F., Kerr, T. R. & Harney, L., 2014, Early medieval Ireland, AD 400-1100: the evidence from archaeological excavations, Dublin, Royal Irish Academy
Rowley-Conwy, P., 2007, From Genesis to Prehistory: The Archaeological Three Age System and Its Contested Reception in Denmark, Britain, and Ireland, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Smyth, J. & Evershed, R. P., 2014, Milk and molecules: secrets from prehistoric pottery. In: Stanley, M., Danaher, E. & Eogan, J. (eds.) Creative Minds: production, manufacturing and invention in ancient Ireland. Dublin: NRA
Waddell, J., 2010, The prehistoric archaeology of Ireland, Bray, Wordwell
Warren, G., 2022, Hunter-Gatherer Ireland: Making Connections in an Island World, Oxford, Oxbow Books.
Woodman, P. C., 2015, Ireland's first settlers: time and the Mesolithic, Oxford, Oxbow Books
Name Role
Dr Rob Sands Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32 Fri 13:00 - 13:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32 Wed 15:00 - 15:50