Experimental Approaches to Forensic and Archaeological Investigations (ARC3510)

StaffProfessor Linda Hurcombe - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 45 credits of Forensic Science or Archaeology modules at level 2
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will provide you with a sound grounding in experimental approaches within forensic and archaeological sciences. In particular, the module focusses on actualistic, simulation and reconstruction experiments, both as a method of scientific investigation and an approach to communicating evidence to courts and the wider public. You will gain an understanding of experimental approaches within the context of the philosophy of science and gain skills in sound experimental design. They will gain knowledge of a wide range of case studies through lectures, seminar discussions and practical workshops. Topics will include both long-term and short-term experiments addressing issues such as taphonomic processes, trauma and pathology, use of tools and weapons, site formation processes and methods of presentation through reconstruction. The module provides useful generic skills as well as being particularly useful to you conducting experiments as part of dissertation work, or who are interested in further postgraduate study in experimental archaeology or forensic anthropology.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Show understanding of how experiments can enhance forensic and archaeological investigations
  • 2. Demonstrate skills in archaeological and forensic experimental design
  • 3. Know a wide range of ways in which experiments have been applied with the two disciplines

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Show knowledge of how evidence is created on archaeological sites and crime scenes
  • 5. Show understanding of the importance of clear presentation of evidence to courts and the public

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Engage in critical discussions of complex issues
  • 7. Write clearly and concisely in good English
  • 8. Show understanding of key components of good research design

Syllabus plan


The place of experimentation within the philosophy of science and the logic of discovery


Exploration of different types of experiments and the history of experimentation in archaeology and forensic science


The essentials of good experimental design: materials, protocols, controls, data handling, safety and ethics


Taphonomic simulations (including ‘body farm’ type programmes)


Experiments relating to trauma, tool use and material culture         


Experiments to aid the development of evidence recovery in archaeological and forensic contexts


Discussion of forensic and archaeological case studies of short-term and long-term experiments


Experimental reconstruction in court room and public presentation


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities33Lecture classes with some discussion; Seminar discussion of case studies; Practical workshops
Guided independent study117Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Contribution to class discussionContribution in seminars, as appropriate6Verbal, in class
Contribution to group abstract writingWithin class1, 3-7Verbal and peer-assessed
Contribution to practical workshopsworkshops as appropriate 1-5Verbal, in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Scientific abstract 30500 words1, 3-7written
Project proposal702000 words1,2,4,5,7,8written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Scientific abstractScientific abstract 500 words1,3-7Referred/deferred period
Project proposalProject proposal 2000 words1,2,4,5,7,8Referred/deferred period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Boddington, A. and Garland, A.N., 1987. Death, decay, and reconstruction: approaches to archaeology and forensic science. Manchester University Press.

  • Coles, J 1979. Experimental Archaeology. London: Academic Press

  • Cunningham, P., Heeb, J. and Paardekooper, R. (eds.) 2008. Experiencing Archaeology by Experiment. Oxford: Oxbow.

  • DiMaio, D. and DiMaio, V.J., 2001. Forensic pathology. CRC press.

  • Evis, L. 2016. Forensic Archaeology:The Application of Comparative Excavation Methods and Recording Systems. Oxford: Archaeopress.

  • Haglund, W.D. and Sorg, M.H. (eds.) 2001. Advances in forensic taphonomy: method, theory, and archaeological perspectives. CRC Press.

  • Sorg, M.H. and Haglund, W.D. (eds). 1996. Forensic taphonomy: the postmortem fate of human remains. CRC Press.

  • Kuhn, T.S. 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions  Chicago: University of Chicago Press

  • Mathieu, J.R. (ed.) 2002. Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviours and Processes. Oxford: Archaeopress.

  • Outram, A.K. 2008. Introduction to Experimental Archaeology. World Archaeology 40(1), 1-6.

  • Popper, K. 1959 The Logic of Scientific Discovery  London: Hutchinson

  • Reynolds, P.J. 1999. The nature of experiment in archaeology, in A.F.Harding (ed) Experiment and Design: Archaeological Studies in Honour of John Coles. Oxford: Oxbow, pp.156-62

  • Stone, P.G. and P.G. Planel (eds.) 1999. The Constructed Past:  Experimental Archaeology, Education and the Public. London: Routledge.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Forensic Science International, Journal of Archaeological Science

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Experiment, Archaeology, Forensic, Reconstruction