Theory in Archaeology

Module code: AR2029

Module co-ordinator: Dr Oliver Harris

  • What kinds of critical tools are out there to help us understand the past?
  • What was gender like in the past?
  • How are politics and the past entwined?
  • How was the past different from the present?
  • How does archaeology make us think differently about the present?

These are some of the key questions posed by this exciting module, which will make you think about precisely how and why we study archaeology. How do we go from a small pile of pot sherds to a model of a whole civilisation? How can we understand a discipline like archaeology that involves everything from physics to hardcore philosophy? This module is not just about how we think about the past, but about how by thinking critically about the past we transform how we understand the present.

We will cover the history of archaeological thought and look at some of the current debates in the discipline. You will discover how material things are more than simply functional objects but actually part of the way we become human; how different complex and multiple kinds of gender can exist; how identity can be fluid and changing depending on the context in which people find themselves.

Ranging from evolutionary biology to phenomenological philosophy this module challenges and transforms the understandings we have of both past and present. The teaching is delivered by staff engaging in these questions in their research on a daily basis, and who regularly publish on the topics we will be debating.

Topics covered


  • 10 one-hour lectures
  • 10 one-hour seminars


  • two essays: 3,000 words each (50% + 50%)