ARCH20500 Archaeology of Things

Academic Year 2022/2023

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 students 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.

In line with current Covid-19 guidelines, classes are currently planned to be face-to-face. An all-day hands-on artefact workshop in the Centre for Experimental Archaeology & Material Culture, UCD campus is planned for Week 7 (Friday 4th March)

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, these will be compared with material 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. Learning outcomes are tested through three short in-term MCQs, a 1000-word mid-term critical review and an end-of-term learning journal.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Recognise the range 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 their own arguments about these interpretations

Indicative Module Content:

(Note: guest lectures may be subject to change due to faculty sabbaticals)

Topics: Typologies and classifying objects; chipped stone tool technology; Mesolithic and Neolithic stone tools; ground stone tool technology and Neolithic axes (GUEST LECTURE); pottery manufacture; Neolithic and Bronze pottery; metalworking technology; Chalcolithic and Bronze metal objects; metal analysis and object biographies (GUEST LECTURE); deposition and object hoards; ironworking and Iron Age objects; Roman objects and networks (GUEST LECTURE); Viking Age trade and currency; commodity versus gift exchange; dress and identity in Early Medieval Ireland (GUEST LECTURE); relics and shrines in the medieval Irish church

Over the course of the trimester, students will be provided with the opportunity to manufacture a replica archaeological object supported by an on-campus workshop.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Key teaching and learning approaches used in this module include a central spine of lectures delivered by the module coordinator, complemented by four guest lectures on period-specific case studies delivered by experts in their field. There is active/task-based learning in the form of in-class artefact handling sessions and a one-day workshop in the on-campus Centre for Experimental Archaeology & Material Culture. The workshop is led by the co-Director of CEAMC and is facilitated by the module coordinator and a postgraduate demonstrator. Inquiry & problem-based learning is reflected in the assessment strategy, which requires students to focus on a specific archaeological object for further study and critical reflection. Students gain immediate feedback on their developing knowledge of module content via the three in-trimester MCQs. 
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
Assignment: 1000-word critical review of approaches to interpreting an archaeological object (due in mid-trimester break) Week 7 n/a Graded No


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


Multiple Choice Questionnaire: A series of three MCQs testing knowledge of Irish archaeological objects (completed online in Brightspace in Weeks 4, 7 and 10). Throughout the Trimester n/a Alternative linear conversion grade scale 40% 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
• Group/class feedback, 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 'critical review' and 'reflective diary' assessments receive formal written feedback via standard forms no later than 20 working days after the submission deadline (though normal School of Archaeology practice is 15 working days). Work submitted late will receive formal written feedback staggered accordingly. Feedback on the 'critical review' is designed to help improve the 'reflective diary' final assignment and is provided both as class feedback and on the feedback forms.

Name Role
Dr Maureen Doyle Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Barry Molloy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Brendan O'Neill Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Rob Sands Lecturer / Co-Lecturer