(ARCH050) Introduction to Archaeological Techniques: Excavation, Science and Theory

Archaeological Dig


Course start date: Monday 23rd September 2024
Course end date: Friday 29th November 2024
Early Bird Price: £135

Tutor: Dr Tina Tuohy
Course Code: ARCH050
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisite Course(s): None
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**: A list of suggested books and websites is provided within the course
Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

Course Content Note: This course contains elements of now retired courses “(ARCH025) Introduction to Archaeological Techniques: Science and Theory” and “(ARCH026) Introduction to Archaeological Techniques: Science and Theory” both also taught by Dr Tina Tuohy, so if you studied either of those two courses with us you may not wish to study this course as it contains material that you have already studied.


Material remains represent the starting point for all archaeological investigation. They include anything created by human activity in the past, such as objects or artefacts, structures, modified landscapes and works of art. The range of techniques to investigate these – adapted from other disciplines and developed by archaeologists – is fascinatingly varied and this is reflected in the course content.

This course provides an introduction to the study of archaeology using the description of archaeological techniques in common practice today. We will begin by looking at how sites are formed and how this is important to excavation techniques, before moving on to study:

  • Field surveys
  • Aerial photography
  • The use of maps and documents
  • Artefact studies including provenancing and microscopy techniques for investigating the manufacture, distribution and use of artefacts.
  • Techniques in dating: Dendrochronology (tree ring dating) and Radiocarbon Dating.
  • Experimental and ethnoarchaeological studies and how they have added to our knowledge.
  • Geophysical surveying, including magnetometry and resistivity
  • And of course more traditional techniques, such as excavation.

Syllabus Plan

Week 1: What is Archaeology?
Week 2: Site Formation Processes and Stratigraphy
Week 3: Field Survey
Week 4: Aerial Photography
Week 5: Geophysical Survey
Week 6: Dating: Radiocarbon
Week 7: Dating: Dendrochronology
Week 8: Excavation
Week 9: Studying Artefacts
Week 10: Experimental and Ethnoarchaeology

Course Content in Depth

Week One: What is Archaeology?

We’ll begin by looking at definitions of the following terms when used in this field of study, so that you can be clear about exactly what they mean in this context:

  • archaeology
  • prehistory
  • history
  • method
  • technique
  • theory

This week’s work will also explain:

  • the nature of archaeology and the range of activities covered by its study
  • why archaeology is not normally thought of as a science
  • the process by which archaeological theories are devised and the importance of continuously striving to create new archaeological theories
  • the limitations of the archaeological record

Week Two: Site Formation

This Unit will:

  • Describe why an understanding of site formation processes is important in archaeology.
  • List and describe the processes of ‘accumulation’ and ‘erosion’.
  • Define the principle of stratigraphy and explain its significance in archaeology.
  • Draw schematic examples of both vertical and horizontal stratigraphy.
  • Recognise and decipher archaeological field ‘context’ record sheets.
  • List the processes by which stratigraphic context can be disturbed.
  • Describe what information can be gained from the discovery of ‘finds’ in context.
  • Describe what information can be gained from the ‘association’ of finds.

Week Three: Field Survey

This Unit will:

  • Describe the history and nature of the NMR.
  • List the information available from SMRs.
  • Design, in theory, their own fieldwalking exercise.
  • Choose the most appropriate method to illustrate the density of artefact scatters.
  • List the possible information to be gained from measuring and recording sites.
  • Describe the basic principles of measurement.
  • Recognise and depict ‘slope’ features using hachures.
  • Recognise and describe the function of the Total Station, the Electronic Distance Meter and the Theodolite.

Week Four: Aerial Photography

This Unit will:

  • Outline the history of the use of aerial photography in archaeology.
  • Explain the difference between vertical and oblique photography.
  • Recognise, list and describe the main type of mark detectable through aerial photography.
  • Describe how trends in modern imaging differ from traditional photography.
  • Indicate how remote imaging will develop in the future.
  • Outline the limitations to archaeological interpretation via aerial photographs.
  • List the reasons why aerial photography has lauded as one of the most important advances in archaeological survey.

Week Five: Geophysical Survey

This Unit will:

  • Explain why it is important to recognise and survey sites before/instead of excavation.
  • Define the ‘Evaluation Process’.
  • List government, commercial and academic agencies currently undertaking geophysical survey work.
  • List and describe the principles involved in the most commonly used scientific, geophysical survey techniques.
  • Compare the uses and limitations of the above techniques.
  • Provide a description of other, less hi-tech, means of estimating underground features.
  • Compare their uses and limitations.

Week Six: Dating: Radiocarbon

Week Seven: Dating: Dendrochronology

Week Eight: Excavation

Week Nine: Studying Artefacts

Week Ten: Experimental and Ethnoarchaeology

Learning Outcomes

By the completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe, providing definitions of terms, a series archaeological methods and techniques.
  • Compare the uses and limitations of one technique over another in different circumstances.
  • Match the appropriate technique to a relevant archaeological issue, question or material type.
  • List which government, commercial or academic agencies provide technical services in archaeology.