ARCH30820 The Archaeology of Collapse

Academic Year 2022/2023

From the earliest written texts 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:

1) Recognise and discuss key material markers widely considered to define ancient collapses.

2) Critically evaluate developments in social organisation that are commonly associated with the collapse of social systems – what does collapse actually mean?

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

4) Write coherently about the impact of social and natural forces such as migration, warfare, climate change or drought on the trajectory of past societies.

Indicative Module Content:

This module deals with broadly relevant theoretical thinking together with specific global archaeological case studies. You will specifically deal with concepts of collapse, resilience and sustainability in ancient societies. A basic introduction to scientific methods relating to climate and environmental change in past societies is provided in order to discuss the potential societal impact. Paradigm case studies of collapse include Mayan and Roman societies. Group work includes case-studies from the Pacific, the Indian sub-continent, south-east Asia and central America. An in-depth exploration of connected collapses in the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean and surrounding lands ca. 1200 BC brings together a rich range of contemporary societies with different forms of social organisation and occupying distinct environmental niches which were closely linked socially and experienced contempoary crises. This includes Egypt, the Levant, Turkey, Greece, the Carpathian Basin and Italy.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)


Conversation Class


Project Supervision




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 an assessed team-designed project. Discussion seminars of published works provide a forum for student-led discussion. Reviews of online video content in a dedicated forum allow exchange of ideas and virtual interaction. Small-group tutorial sessions will allow you to build your team-working skills and prepare you for assessments. You will have the opportunity to develop your reviewing and self-reflection abilities through an excercise in the peer-scholar resource. You will also compile a portfolio which builds on your team-work while allowing you to express individual critical thinking and your ideas on a challenging topic. Face to face learning will be in the form of lectures. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ARCH30640 - Archaeology of Collapse

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Portfolio: A 3,000 word portfolio will be completed. This requires reflection on 10+ academic papers and must be supported by relevant images. This builds on team-work and in-class discussion seminars. Week 12 n/a Graded No


Group Project: Students are placed in groups and are allocated a topic. They design a presentation about this as a team and present this in class. A team grade is awarded meaning all members receive the same grade. Week 7 n/a Graded No


Essay: This is a 1500 word reflective essay which follows up on work conducted for 1) Assessment 1 and 2) Peer- and self-reviews conducted via Peer-Scholar (through Brightspace). Please see Module Handbook. Week 9 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?

Assessment 1 - Group presentation. Feedback is given directly in class following presentation by the Module Coordinator and peer group. This is followed by a peer-review activity whereby students review the presenation of a different group. After this is completed, a further self-review is undertaken to reflect on the activities and product of the student's own group. This provides a resource required for undertaking Assessment 2 which incorporated peer and self-feedback and, following submission, receives written feedback by the Module Coordinator using a rubric agreed upon in class. Feedback for Assessment 3 uses an agreed upon rubric and further narrative feedback is available upon request by the student to the Module Coordinator.

Name Role
Caroline Bruyere Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Helen Lewis Lecturer / Co-Lecturer