Discovering the Past with Molecular Science (ARCM130)

StaffDr Alex Pryor -
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to introduce students from first principles to the use of stable and radioactive isotopes, residue analysis and genetics in archaeological research. No prior knowledge of the techniques involved will be assumed, and the course will provide a foundational knowledge of the core scientific principles that underpin their application in archaeology. Students will be introduced to a range of case study examples of the application of each technique covering a range of time periods and geographic locations. By the end of the course students will be able to interpret, assess and critique published datasets generated using these techniques.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Know and have a critical understanding of the use of stable and radioactive isotopes, residues and genetics in archaeological research
  • 2. Demonstrate ability to interpret scientific datasets and the implications for understanding the archaeological record.
  • 3. Demonstrate wide-ranging knowledge of examples of the application of techniques presented

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Critically evaluate contribution of archaeological science to current debates

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Understand the key statistical methods for analyzing data
  • 6. Present data and interpretation to peers in seminar/workshop settings
  • 7. Critically assess and synthesise data from qualitative and quantitative sources
  • 8. Write clearly and concisely in good scientific English

Syllabus plan

- Radioactive and stable isotopes and their uses in archaeological research

- Isotopes and diet

- Isotopes and palaeoclimate

- Isotopes and migration

- Genetics and ancient DNA

- Lipid and protein residues analysis

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 Activities18Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities4Seminar discussions and formative student presentations
Guided independent study128Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar presentations10 minute individual presentations, plus class participation1,3,4,6Verbal feedback (lecturer and peers)

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
Essay502000 words1,3,4,5,7,8Written
Data interpretation exercise, using data provided by the lecturer502000 word report1,2,3,4,5,7,8Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay 2000 words1,3,4,5,7,8Referred/deferred period
Data interpretation exercise, using data provided by the lecturerData interpretation exercise, using data provided by the lecturer, 2000 word report1,2,3,4,5,7,8Referred/deferred period

Re-assessment notes

as original assessments

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Allentoft, M.E., Sikora, et al. (2015) Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia. Nature, 522 (7555), 167-172.

Ambrose, S.H. and Krigbaum, J. 2003 Bone chemistry and bioarchaeology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22(3):193-199

Bentley, R.A. (2006) Strontium Isotopes from the Earth to the Archaeological Skeleton: A Review. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory Vol 13 (3) 135-187.

Brothwell, D.R. and Pollard, A.M. (eds.) (2001) Handbook of archaeological sciences. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons.

Brown, T. and K. Brown (2011) Biomolecular archaeology: an introduction Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell

Evershed, R.P. (2008) Organic residue analysis in archaeology: the archaeological biomarker revolution. Archaeometry 50(6), 895–924.

Fu, Q., Posth, C., et al. (2016) The genetic history of Ice Age Europe. Nature, 534 (7606), 200-205.

Leng, M.J. (ed.) (2006) Isotopes in Palaeoenvironmental Research. Dordrecht: Springer.

Pääbo, S. (2014) The Human Condition–A Molecular Approach. Cell, 157 (1), 216-226.

Pollard, M., Batt, C., Stern, B. and Young, S.M.M. (2007) Analytical chemistry in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pollard, A.M. and Heron, C. (2008) Archaeological Chemistry. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

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Key words search

Archaeology, science, isotopes, residues