Introduction to Archaeology

Discipline: Anthropology
Instructor: Six
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1425
End: 1540
Field Work: Day 1 - Wednesday, 24 September | Ireland Download Syllabus

Archaeology is the study of material culture – those things inhabited and acted upon by people in the past and the present. Material culture has been defined by anthropologist Leslie White as humankinds “extra-somatic means of adaptation” and includes everything from a stone-age tool found in Africa to a space age landing strip at Cape Canaveral. The study of material culture is a complicated endeavor, often entangled with historiography, politics, individual and collective memory, and production of present-day identities. The only scientific discipline with a past grounded in treasure hunting, today archaeology is an increasingly holistic field incorporating aspects of humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. This class introduces the multidisciplinary nature of archaeology, both in theory and practice. Through assigned readings, class lectures and field trips to important archaeological sites in various ports-of-call, students will become acquainted with both the history of the field as well as archaeological methods and theory. By the end of this course students will have a strong understanding of: 1) the relationship between Archaeology and Anthropology; 2) a range of material culture recovery and analysis methods; 3) prehistory and the rise of modern civilization; and 4) ethical and legal concerns and constraints associated with the practice of archaeology.

Field Work

Country: Ireland
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 24 September

Over 5,000 years ago Neolithic farmers began building a complex of stone features on the landscape.  Circular ditches known as henges were dug as defensive mechanisms to keep intruders out and precious livestock in. Over time these henges took on a more important role as they were modified to become astronomical timekeepers – telling famers when the longest and/or shortest day of the year had arrived.  The most famous of these is Stonehenge where once a year the upright stones mark the passing of the Summer solstice – the longest day of the year.  Newgrange - a World Heritage site - is older and larger than Stonehenge and equally as important.  Comprised of passage graves and chamber tombs these constructed “timekeepers” were also used to house the dead establishing a legacy of ownership in and on the landscape. Understanding when to plant and when to harvest was important to these early agriculturalists and the Neolithic site of Newgrange is aligned with the Winter solstice – an equally auspicious day.  In addition to visiting the site of Newgrange, we will also be visiting the lesser known Brú na Bóinne (Palace of Boyne) tomb complex and the Hill of Tara.  Under the constant threat of development, the Hill of Tara – one of the four royal hill complexes in Ireland - was listed as one of the 15 must-see endangered cultural treasures in the world by the Smithsonian in 2009.  Archaeologist Conor Newman has spent 18 years of his life excavating the Hill of Tara and surrounding Neolithic complexes.  In 2010, he conducted a geophysical survey of the site using noninvasive remote sensing techniques to virtually peel back the layers of time and unlock the mysteries of these Neolithic monuments and their continued use over time. Through first hand observation, students will come to better understand the range of archaeological survey and excavation techniques. Academic Objectives:

  1. Learn about a range of traditional archaeological excavations techniques
  2. Think critically about representation and tourism at World Heritage Sites
  3. Learn about noninvasive geophysical techniques such as remote sensing to locate buried features such as tombs