Environmental Archaeology

Module summary

Module code: ENVI1173
Level: 5
Credits: 15
School: Engineering and Science
Department: Natural Resources Institute
Module Coordinator(s): Bruce Haggart



Environmental Archaeology is a relatively new named discipline, emerging only in the last 30 years or so and can be defined as the study of people and their relationship with the environment through time.

The module aims to provide an introduction to the study of past human-environment interactions, an integrated and multidisciplinary subject at the interface between archaeology, botany, zoology, geology, geography, anthropology and ecology.

The module will introduce the student to integrated approaches to the interpretation of stratigraphic sequences, the analysis of plant and animal remains, the importance of accurate and precise dating and integrated case studies at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

The relationship between humans and their environment in the past was complex and bi-directional. Understanding this two-way process will enable students to reflect on the past, a prerequisite for understanding current and future issues concerned with human-environment interactions.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

1. Appreciate the scope and scale of environmental archaeology and its relationships with other disciplines.
2. Understand the various techniques and methods used in environmental archaeology and how they contribute to an integrated assessment of the relationship between humans and their environment.
3. Understand the relationship of humans and their environment at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.
4. Be familiar with current research and debates within the subject area.

Indicative content

The history and scope of Environmental Archaeology and its relationships with other related disciplines.
Taphonomy, the transition from life assemblage to death assemblage to preservation and study.
Integrated approaches to stratigraphy: geoarchaeology and stratigraphic analysis
Bioarchaeology: analysing plant and animal remains.
Dating techniques including radiocarbon dating and thermoluminescence dating
Integrated case studies at a variety of spatial and temporal scales:

Site scale:
• The Palaeolithic site at Boxgrove, the Mesolithic site at Star Carr.
• Bog bodies and ice men, the study of preserved human remains and their environmental context

Regional scale:
• the adaptation of early humans to their environment and the ancient human occupation of Britain and north-west Europe.
• the domestication of plants and animals and the spread of agriculture into north-west Europe.
• the collapse of societies in marginal environments with case studies from Bronze Age Britain, the collapse of the Classic Maya civilisation and the Norse in Greenland

Teaching and learning activity

The module is designed around 12 contact periods of three hours' duration. All lectures will use PowerPoint presentations and are supplemented by summary notes, PowerPoint handouts and suggested further reading via the student portal.

Further reading around the subject in relevant scientific journals will be expected.


Seminar: 50% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Learning Outcomes: 3 & 4.
Outline Details: 15 minute seminar presentation on recent developments in an area of Environmental Archaeology.

Exam: 50% weighting, 40% pass mark.
Outcomes assessed:1-4. Outline Details: Seen 1.5 hour examination.

Formative Assessment:
Comments on a draft seminar presentation and revision session on exam.