Archaeology is the study of the human past by means of the physical residues of past human behavior: for example, pottery, stone, and metal tools, and the remains of ancient dwelling sites. An archaeologist explains how human society has changed and developed over time using such physical evidence. Archaeology employs techniques from the physical sciences to build a more detailed picture of the human past. Students explore the worlds of the past through hands-on applications of physical science techniques in a diverse range of fields, including chemistry, metallurgy, biology, and material science, applying these disciplines in a novel and challenging context.
Notes about this immersion:
This immersion is closed to students majoring in sociology and anthropology who have chosen the archaeology track.
Students are required to complete at least one course at the 300-level or above as part of the immersion.
Archaeology is the study of the human past, from the origin of our species through to the development of modern, industrial states by means of the physical remains of past human behavior. In studying the past, archaeology seeks to explain how we, modern humans, came to be. This course investigates how archaeologists study the past, explains how human society has changed over time, and presents an overview of world prehistory. Specific topics include the evolution of modern humans, the peopling of the world, the development of agriculture, the rise of state-level societies, and associated social and material technologies such as writing and urbanism. Case studies will be used throughout to demonstrate how archaeological research is conducted and how archaeologists use their research to formulate explanations of the past that have relevance for the present.
Field Methods in Archaeology
This course introduces students to the methods of archaeological fieldwork. The course begins with the student’s development of a research question and design. We then explore the feasibility of this research through the examination of sampling techniques, site survey, and excavation. Field methods of recording, photography, and artifact conservation will also be discussed. Students will be able to analyze the usefulness of the field techniques in light of the archaeological scientific methods for dating, and organic and inorganic analyses. Students should emerge from the course understanding the values of the techniques necessary for proper archaeological excavation towards the reconstruction of the past and the development of an understanding of our present.
Archaeology & Cultural Imagination: History, Interpretation, and Popular Culture
People have been interested in their ancestors and the lives of past people likely for as long as we have been human. But this interest has rarely been disinterested. People have exploited, destroyed, or ignored the remains of previous societies. And how the past is understood has profound effects that ripple through all of society, at different times influencing group identity, political philosophy, art, architecture, literature, and film. The emergence of scientific archaeology in the last 150 years has created its own cultural references, including Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Each semester this course is offered, a specific topic will examine the cultural context in which archaeologists do their work, what is made of their efforts, and how these are related to larger issues in society.
Themes in Archaeological Research
One of the most fascinating dimensions of archaeology is the discovery that people have done essentially the same things in different places and different times, independently of developments elsewhere. Agriculture, writing, urbanism, complex economies, and so on, all have been independently invented multiple times in different parts of the world. This fact raises some intriguing questions about what it means to be human. By comparing how these developments occurred in different places and times, archaeologists can, in a sense, perform experiments on the past. Each semester this course is offered we will focus on a separate theme in archaeological research, such as the transition to agriculture; production, trade, and exchange; the origin of writing; imperialism, colonialism, and warfare; pseudoscience/pseudoarchaeology; or human evolution. We will study competing theoretical perspectives and different world regions to gain a broad understanding of the theme and how both theory and data are used to create a comprehensive understanding of the human past.
Since the first humans set out from Africa nearly two million years ago, our ancestors and relatives managed to settle in almost every continent. Wherever they went, they left traces of their lives that are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years deep. We call these traces the archaeological record. Almost everywhere our ancestors settled, they did many of the same things, such as inventing agriculture, cities, writing, and state-level societies. However, they did this in ways unique to each region and time. This course examines the archaeology of a specific region, such as the Middle East, Mesoamerica, North America, or East Asia, in detail. We examine the geography, culture, archaeological record, and significance of the region to various key themes in archaeological research with respect to other world regions.
People Before Cities
More than half the global population today lives in densely populated urban areas, which are further surrounded by complex networks of smaller communities. Yet, the earliest cities appeared less than 6,000 years ago, a small fraction of time since our species’ first appearance. The characteristics that define us as human were forged in radically different social universes from those of today. We lived our lives among not much more than 20-30 other people at any one time, hunting and gathering our food, and occasionally moving from place to place. This lifestyle was so successful and adaptable it endured pressures from more complex societies well into the 20th century. Understanding what life was like in such these small-scale societies is important because the material and social world in which they lived is the foundation for societies where food production, social hierarchy, and occupational specialization are the norm. This course will examine both the ethnographic and archaeological record of hunter/foragers from around the globe in an attempt to understand how it proved to be such a versatile and resilient way of life and how its successes, in fact, laid the foundation for social inequality, complexity, and food production.
The Archaeology of Cities
The long course of the human existence has been marked by a series of revolutions that have profoundly changed society and that ultimately produced the world we live in today. One of the key revolutions that made our world possible was the invention of urbanism. Cities first appeared in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years ago and since then have been independently invented in many different parts of the world. This course focuses on the prehistorical trajectories of urban development in different world regions, the multiple roles of cities, and their impact on the development of complex societies. We attempt to understand and explain how the city has developed and contributed to the constitution of modern society. Throughout the course we will work on developing a working definition of the city that encompasses urbanism in all its many forms.
Humans and Their Environment
Humans and their societies have always been shaped by their environment, but as human societies became more complex, their relationship with their environment changed from one of simple adaptation to one in which they had the power to change their environment. Often, the changes they have wrought have had unintended consequences, forcing societies to adapt to the changes that they themselves have brought about. Although we tend to think that this is a relatively recent phenomenon, humans have been altering their environment since the first human societies made the transition to agriculture over ten thousand years ago, if not longer. In this class, we will use the tools of environmental archaeology to explore the history of human interactions with their environments and to draw lessons on how we could manage that interaction today.
Native American Cultural Resources and Rights
Indian nations have substantial interests in access to and control of their cultural resources. In addition to land, those resources may include objects, traditions, and symbols. Many of those interests may be treated under tribal, federal, and/or international law as forms of property (including access to sacred sites, possession of funerary objects, masks), intangible resources (such as intellectual property of tribal names, symbols, stories), and/or liberty interests (including religious freedom, preservation of tribal languages, customs, Indian arts and crafts). Classroom lectures will be supplemented with roundtable discussions and instructions by museum professionals, guest speakers, and Native American representatives. At the conclusion of the course, students will comprehend the breadth of federal legislation regulating tribal cultural resources as well as the complex legal and social issues facing museums, academic institutions, and the community.
Archaeology is one of the few social sciences that lends itself well to the application of analytical techniques from the physical sciences. This is due to the fact that archaeology relies primarily on physical evidence, artifacts and features, whose origin, composition, age, and manner of production can be elucidated through application of the physical sciences. This course examines the application of physical science techniques to archaeological questions, including the age and origin of materials, how things are made, what people ate, their daily activities, and their state of health throughout their life. The course will include in-class labs in which students have the opportunity to apply some of these techniques and a final research project in which the student picks their own archaeological question to answer.
Exploring Ancient Technology
While it is commonplace to describe the present era as one dominated by technology, humans have always been critically dependent on technology. Many of today’s key technologies such as agriculture, writing, ceramics, woodworking, textiles, glass, and metals were invented before the dawn of recorded history. In this class, we will explore these ancient technologies, how they came to be invented, how they evolved, and how they were integrated into the social and economic life of ancient peoples to become the foundations of modern society. This course features lectures, readings, and hands-on laboratories and projects on ancient technology and experimental archaeology. Laboratories and projects will focus on how scientists create new knowledge about the past by testing hypotheses about ancient technology. The course concludes with either an individual project, such as replicating a particular artifact or process, or a class project, such as building and using a Mesopotamian glass furnace.
The Archaeology of Death
Death and burial are how most individuals enter the archaeological record and one could say that deliberate burial of the dead is the first direct evidence we have for the emergence of ethical and religious systems of thought. Human remains, their mortuary treatment, and associated material culture illuminate past patterns of social organization, economics, belief systems, health, and the negotiation of gender, status, and identity. In this course we explore the scientific and theoretical tools used to analyze and interpret past mortuary practices, how archaeologists create new knowledge about the past through the formulations and testing of hypotheses, survey mortuary practices from their first occurrence in the archaeological record, and what human remains can tell us about changes in the human experience over time and space. We will learn how human remains are identified, how determinations of age, sex, biological affiliation, health, and injury are made, how to interpret formation processes, to interpret associated material culture to understand the negotiation of gender and status; how humans have cared for the deceased members of their societies at different times and places in the human past; and the ethics of studying human mortuary remains.
* At least one course must be taken at the 300-level or above.