ARCH20620 People in Prehistory: key themes and problems

Academic Year 2023/2024

From the Last Glacial Maximum (c 20,000 years ago) to the Iron Age, people’s relationships with each other and their material worlds (e.g. places, plants, animals, things) changed significantly across the European continent. Archaeological traces indicate that dramatic transitions & transformations relating to migration, exchange, subsistence, technology, monumentality & identity all occurred.

This module introduces you to the archaeology of prehistoric Europe including the main chronological divisions, key concepts and major debates relating to the complexity of hunter-gathers, the adoption of agriculture (the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition), population mobility and cultural interaction, the appearance of metals and associated social changes.

Particular attention is paid to enabling you to think critically about the approaches taken to understanding human societies within the distant past. Following a broadly chronological order, selected case studies will be drawn from northwest and northern Europe. These enable us to consider the tension between overarching grand narratives and the regional diversity of small-scale societies by examining how widespread developments occurred more locally.

There is a compulsory fieldtrip for this module. In 2024, this will be held at the end of Week 4 (Saturday 17th February, 9.30 to 17.00). Warm and waterproof footwear and clothing are recommended. A packed lunch and drinks should be brought by each student. Toilet breaks are at regular, fixed times as there are no on-site facilities. Access to sites is via partly paved, gravel and unpaved pathways on relatively flat, sometimes uneven ground and can take between two and 10-15 minutes on average to reach. Any students with health or access concerns should discuss this with the module coordinator as soon as possible.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

- Be broadly familiar with the deep history of Europe, the main chronological divisions and technological, social and cultural developments (e.g. burials, rituals, settlements, economic developments, social organization), the nature/variety of archaeological evidence and their regional and temporal variations.
-Have a broad knowledge of major interpretative themes and challenges in understanding how people used material culture to shape their world in the distant past.
- Have detailed knowledge and understanding of selected key issues developments/ debates in European prehistory including how and why interpretations of these have changed.
- Have developed and enhanced your 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 five main blocks. Each block comprises 3 lectures & a discussion seminar
- Introduction, concepts & problems
- Questioning Mesolithic hunter gatherers
- Examining Neolithic Worlds
- Exploring Chalcolithic transitions
- Considering Bronze Age Relationships

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)


Field Trip/External Visits


Project Supervision




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Lectures that include active/task-based learning.
Critical thinking & writing skills developed through final assessment (essay). 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ARCH20200 - Stone Age & Megalithic Europe, ARCH20540 - Celtic & Mediterranean Europe

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Essay: Critical Essay: 2000 words Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Project: Use the archaeological evidence to discuss the activities conducted at a specified Neolithic site (1500 words) Week 6 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, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• 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 in Weeks 5 & 11. Week 6 Project: written individual feedback & Group/class feedback provided 3 weeks after submission deadline. Week 12 Essay: written individual feedback provided 3 weeks after submission deadline

Cline, E. (ed.). 2010. The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cunliffe, B. 2011. Europe between the Oceans, 9000 BC – 1000 AD. Yale University Press.

Fokkens, H. and Harding, A. (eds). 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fowler, C., Harding, J. & Hoffman, D. (eds). 2015 The Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gosden, C. (2018). A very short introduction to Prehistory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jones, A. (ed.). 2008. Prehistoric Europe: Theory and Practice. Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology 12, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lemos, I. and Kotsonas, A. (eds.). 2020. A Companion to The Archaeology of Early Greece and the Mediterranean. Chichester; Wiley-Blackwell. (FULL TEXT ONLINE)

Scarre, C (ed.). 2013. The Human Past. World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies. Thames & Hudson, 3rd edition
Name Role
Professor Joanna Bruck Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Barry Molloy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Rob Sands Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Graeme Warren Lecturer / Co-Lecturer