Course syllabus


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Lecturer (sem2)/Course Coordinator: Associate Professor Ethan Cochrane - - Social Sciences Building (201E), 720 - office hours: Thursdays, 10-11 am

Lecturer (sem1): Prof Peter Sheppard - - Social Sciences Building (201E), 719

Course Time/Room: see Student Services Online


This course introduces students to the theoretical literature in archaeology or that which typically addresses how explanations are crafted. Our most important intellectual goal is the development of critical analytical skills.

We tend to simply to accept what we read. In fields such as archaeology, one cannot proceed very far on this basis without going mad. The lack of any common language for writing about theory has resulted in a literature that is composed of logically coherent (when you are lucky) articles taken in isolation, but which, when taken as a unit, are inconsistent, contradictory, and often impossible to integrate. The ability to accept or reject what you read on your own account, to dismiss nonsense as nonsense, and to unravel word games in the professional literature is not only essential to using the archaeological literature, but a valuable skill in all of the social sciences.

The course will engage you in the foundational theoretical archaeological literature. Before this, we will develop a common set of concepts to analyse this literature. Our analytical concepts will be rooted in unit formation (ie, classification or systematics) and its relationship to theory. We will then chronologically examine major ‘schools’ of archaeological theory, and some debates, during the first semester. During the second semester we will examine different theoretical approaches to several research domains or ‘big questions’ in archaeology.

Course Goal

The single over-riding goal for this course is for you to learn how knowledge of various kinds is constructed and to use your learning to analyse and evaluate the construction of archaeological knowledge.

Course Format

The course is structured as a ‘semi-seminar’. Much of our meeting time will be taken up with discussing the readings assigned for that day. For this to work and for you to gain from this course

you must complete all the assigned readings before we meet.

Typically, you will want to read the assigned articles in chronological order. Your lecturer will do most of the talking during the first seven weeks of the course. This is necessary to develop a set of tools for critical analysis and demonstrate their use. After this you will be using these tools on your own to an increasing degree.

The minimum required reading for each class meeting is given in the Reading Lists (and labelled "essential") in Modules (organize by week). Modules also contain other information pertinent to the week. If an assigned reading has to be changed, you will be given plenty of advance notice. Additional subject-based readings (some labelled "Further Resources") are provided for you to explore the theoretical literature on specific topics. Further reading beyond the weekly reading list will be necessary to satisfactorily complete the assessments.


The assignment due-dates are listed below with links to the assignment descriptions. Individual presentation topics and order will be determined after the mid-semester break in semester 1 with presentations beginning in the last weeks of semester 1, at the earliest. The due date for the written paper to accompany a presentations is one week after the presentation is given.

Participation & Engagement (PE) assignments occur almost weekly. See the link for a description of this component of the course.

Marking of assignments generally follows the Arts Faculty General Examinations Guidelines and marking rubric on the last page. Failure to submit a good-faith attempt on any of the assingments (except individual PEs) will result in a Did Not Complete (DNC) for the course mark. Essays submitted late will incur a penalty following these regulations.

Course summary:

Date Details