ARCH30640 Archaeology of Collapse: Understanding crises and resilience in ancient societies

Academic Year 2021/2022

From the earliest written works to popular culture today, the collapse of ancient civilisations has been a concern for societies all over the globe. Cycles of growth and collapse are embedded into our understanding of the human story. These crises regularly punctuate the real and imagined past – the destruction of Atlantis, the sack of Troy, the Biblical Exodus, the Fall of the Roman Empire, the Maya collapse, the demise of complexity on Easter Island (Rapa Nui), the end of Communism in Europe. While endings are emphasised in such narratives, continuity and cultural resilience are also hallmarks of these horizons of change as people negotiate and adapt to new situations. The very idea of collapse as being a catastrophic turning point may well be seen as hyperbolic, particularly when practices, ideas or networks survive and demonstrate cultural resilience. Taking a broad approach to prehistory and early history, this module explores the forms of crises that were commonly experienced by a variety of societies and how these were responded to. We will be assessing the impacts of climate change, natural disasters, socio-political change, migrations and wars, amongst other factors. The outcome will be for you to have a better understanding about the varied responses to crisis and change as they unfolded in past societies. Through this, we will consider how these archaeological case studies can inform us about challenges we face in the world today.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Recognise and discuss the key material markers generally considered to define ancient collapses.

Critically evaluate developments in social organisation that are commonly associated with the collapse of social systems.

Have demonstrable knowledge of the factors defining change in range of specific case-studies and to implement this knowledge to explore recurring patterns in ancient times and in academic discourse.

Identify and write coherently about the impact of social and natural catastrophes on the trajectory of past societies.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
You will have the opportunity in this module to participate in group work and peer-based learning activities, which integrates a task based learning activity in the form of the design and presentation of a poster. There will be an assessed critical writing exercise, which includes a reflective component based on the experience of the poster assessment. Face to face learning will be in the form of lectures. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Assignment: A 2500 word essay reflecting on the concept of collapse in archaeological discourse. Week 12 n/a Graded No


Group Project: Poster design and oral presentation with written report Week 8 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

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

UCD School of Archaeology use standard feedback sheets for all modules. Your feedback is provided on this form - the form also contains feed forward details - this will help you think about how you could improve your approach in future assignments. This module combines group and individual assessed components and feedback will be integrated into the development of assessments. For the first assignment, you will be organised into groups and will design a poster together and present this to your classmates during a regular lecture session. Following this group presentation, feedback will be provided face to face in class to the group on the poster and the oral presentation of this. An individual assessed component will follow, building on the experience of the first assessment, and feedback for this will be on an individual basis. A second assignment will be a critical essay. Feedback for this will be on an individual basis.

Guy Middleton. 2017. Understanding Collapse. Cambridge University Press
Scott Johnson. 2016. Why Did Ancient Civilizations Fail? Routledge
Eric Cline. 2014. 1177BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed. Princeton University Press (available online through UCD library).
Joseph Tainter. 1988. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press
Jared Diamond. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin
Name Role
Dr Neil Carlin Lecturer / Co-Lecturer