ARCH20520 How Archaeologists Think: an introduction to archaeological theory

Academic Year 2021/2022

This module builds on themes of archaeological study and interpretation introduced in prior modules by examining the ways in which archaeologists make sense of the past: the kinds of questions we ask, how we answer them, and why we ask these sorts of questions. This is because the ways in which we think about the past directly influences what (we think) we know about it.

The module is designed to teach you the basics of archaeological theory. Together, we examine the history of archaeological thought: introducing the key thinkers in archaeology from the nineteenth century to the present, examining how they developed and transformed the approaches of their predecessors. We explore the ways in which different philosophers and thinkers influenced these developments in the theory and practice of archaeology, as well as their broader social and economic context.

You will be encouraged to participate actively in understanding how archaeological thought changed over time and to also confront your own ideas about human culture. Particular attention is paid to enabling you to critically reflect on the approaches taken to the study of the human past, especially how you personally approach archaeological evidence. This will equip you for all your subsequent Archaeology modules and assist you in relating issues of archaeological interpretation back to key debates in the wider humanities and social sciences.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, you will be able to:
1. Identify major shifts in traditions of archaeological interpretation and place these in their historical context
2. Characterise the key debates that shape archaeological thinking, and compare different schools of thought within archaeology
3. Apply different archaeological approaches to the interpretation of archaeological evidence and appreciate the value of these to understanding the human past
4. Recognise and question the theoretical assumptions underlying the interpretations you encounter
5. Demonstrate competencies in a wide range of transferable skills, such as comparing and contrasting different forms of archaeological information, investigating interpretations and articulating your observations and arguments about these

Indicative Module Content:

The module is divided into 6 blocks relating to different schools of thought or particular themes:
1: Culture Historical approaches
2: New/Processual Archaeology
3: Post-Processual Archaeology: Interpretative & Symbolic
4: Agency, Materiality, Phenomenology, Gender, Colonialism & Rascism
5. Posthumanism and new materialism

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Lectures will include active/task-based learning and peer-discussion. As a key component of the course you will be required to work in small groups and present interpretations of an archaeological site/problem from a particular interpretative perspective.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ARCH20020 - Interpreting Archaeology

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Journal: Due Week 13: you need to select your three best logbook entries based on your readings and add a self critical reflection showing how your thinking about archaeology has changed during the module Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Portfolio: You will be required to write up a portfolio of a selection of three of your four interpretations of the Tell Machus site based on your workshop tasks in Wks 2, 4, and 6. Total word count c. 2500 word Week 8 n/a Graded No


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

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Peer review activities
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

UCD School of Archaeology uses grading rubrics to provide feedback in Brightspace for all modules. Feed forward details are provided to help you think about how you to improve your approach in future assignments. Self-assessment activities: students complete self-assessment prior to submission of assignments. Week 8 Portfolio: written individual feedback & Group/class feedback provided 3 weeks after submission deadline. Week 13 Journal: written individual feedback provided 3 weeks after submission deadline

Crellin, R.J., 2020: Change and archaeology, London: Routledge

Harris, O & Cipolla, C. 2017. Archaeological theory in the new millennium. Introducing current perspectives. London & New York: Routledge.

Hodder, I (ed.) 2012 Archaeological Theory Today (Second Edition). Cambridge. Polity

Johnson, M. (multiple editions) Archaeological theory: an introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Trigger, B. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge University Press.

Name Role
Professor Joanna Bruck Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Neil Carlin Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Ms Angela McAteer Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Graeme Warren 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) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Fri 12:00 - 13:50