Artefact Analysis

Module code: AR2031

Module co-ordinator: Dr Huw Barton

It is an often-quoted saying in archaeology that "the data does not speak for itself." Recording archaeological data is just one part of a web of processes which lead us towards an understanding of the phenomena behind the formation of a particular archaeological record. These phenomena are often the set of human behaviours that we can no longer observe directly.

Any archaeological interpretation involves a set of structural relationships between the properties of the material under study and the context of its recovery. For example we might only need to know roughly where a piece of pottery came from, but the physical and chemical composition of a piece of pottery could still tell us a lot about the source of the clay used by the potter, while inclusions in the pot may provide clues about the particular technologies used in its manufacture.

This module will introduce you to the fundamentals of materials analysis in archaeology. Through a number of carefully worked exercises and case studies, you will gain insight into the structuring and design of programmes of scientific analysis in archaeology. You will also gain hands-on experience in the analysis and interpretation of pottery and stone tools.

Topics covered

  • Structuring an analysis of pottery or other large archaeological assemblages
  • Principal techniques of materials analysis including chemical methods, x-ray and optical microscopy, and micro-XRF (x-ray fluoresence)
  • Forensic approaches to materials analysis
  • Technological analysis of stone tools


There are 10 two-hour sessions which normally consist of an introductory lecture followed by lab work. Sessions involve individual study, hands-on experience, group work and lab demonstrations.


  • data processing exercise (50%)
  • essay, 2,500 words (50%)