Archaeology of the Americas
Other staff teaching on this course:
Dr John Creese
This MPhil contains two regional courses, taught in alternate years:
- Ancient South America is a survey of the peoples and cultures of the Andes, covering the time span from the initial peopling of the continent until European contact in the 16th c. AD. Special emphasis is placed on understanding and explaining the emergence of complex societies (e.g., Moche, Chimor, Tiwanku, Wari, and the Inka empire). This course will next be offered in 2009-10.
- The Archaeology of North America and Mesoamerica covers the rise of complex societies in two areas of North America (the Southeast US and the American Southwest) and the archaeology of Mexico and Central America (including the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, and Aztec polities). This course will next be taught in 2010-11.
Key themes covered in both courses include:
- the origins and spread of agriculture
- the emergence of social inequality and leadership
- the rise of states and their internal organisation and dynamics
- monumentality and its significance for power and authority as well as for defining more corporate forms of social organisation
- evidence for craft production, exchange, and elite interaction
- ideology and its materialisation
- current theoretical debates about hierarchy, heterarchy, and the nature of socio-political structures
Cross-cutting themes include material culture, the social aspects of technology and economy, symbolism, the nature of power and authority, social identity, gender, and ethnicity in past societies.
This course option is appropriate for students with some background in American archaeology and for students new to the subject.
This MPhil follows the general structure of the MPhil in Archaeology (link to MPhil in Archaeology page). For their three modules, students take:
- Archaeology of the Americas (G08). This module includes the courses described above that provide an overview of the Archaeology of the Americas and is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%). This module is lecture-based, but also includes seminars, practical sessions, and small-group discussions
- Core Archaeology (G02) is a seminar-based module shared with most other MPhil in Archaeology students which reviews fundamental concepts in archaeological theory and practice and provides a shared basis for approaching archaeology. This module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
- Any other module taught within the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil in Archaeology co-ordinator. This allows the student to take a wide range of modules, including courses in archaeological techniques and analyses, other area or period based courses, or thematic courses in museums and heritage (see here for complete list of modules offered in the MPhil in Archaeology).
In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in American Archaeology. The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff; some are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature.
Recent MPhil Dissertations
Some recent MPhil dissertation topics on the Archaeology of the Americas have included:
- An evaluation of models of camelid exploitation in North-Central Peru
- Reconstructing pre-Hispanic Prosopis forests of the Peruvian south coast
- The representation of hallucinogenic plants in pre-Hispanic South American art
- The significance of the use of moulds in Moche pottery production
- A performance-based analysis of Chaco Canyon's built environment
This MPhil option also offers the possibility of practical work with the extensive American collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.