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Archaeological Science

Archaeological Science



Prof Charles French and Dr Tamsin O'Connell

Other staff teaching on this course:

Dr Preston Miracle, Prof. Martin Jones,  and other staff.


The Course

This MPhil allows students to familiarise themselves with the basic theories and approaches within archaeological science, particularly within the fields of geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, genetics and isotopic and molecular archaeology. You are expected to learn about standard analytical techniques used in archaeological science and environmental archaeology applications, and gain hands-on experience of at least two laboratory techniques that will form the basis of a specialisation and research. With the dissertation you are expected to complete an intensive, self-motivated study of an archaeological science problem, with a high quality of research organisation and presentation.


The Themes

The course discusses major methods and themes in:

  • geoarchaeology and the development of landscapes
  • the applications of soil micromorphology to paleosols and archaeological settlements
  • zooarchaeological investigations, especially concerning food procurement and taphonomic aspects
  • archaeobotany and the origins and spread of agriculture
  • the isotopic analyses of human and animal material, to study palaeodiet and palaeoclimate
  • chemical analyses of archaeological materials, including ceramic residue analyses
  • the roles of ancient and modern archaeogenetic studies

Some cross-cutting themes that link the different analytical approaches include the exploitation of landscapes, agricultural beginnings and intensification, food resources, and the relationships of these to human settlement and landscape change. This course option is appropriate for both students with background in archaeological science and students new to the subject.


The Structure

The structure of this MPhil follows the general structure of the MPhil in Archaeology. For their three modules, students take:

  • Archaeological Science (G10), a seminar-based module which reviews fundamental concepts across a wide range of practices and methodologies in archaeological science. The module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
  • Practical Application of Scientific Methods (G32), to be assessed through two written reports upon practical projects of not more than 4000 words length (50% each).
  • Any other MPhil module(s) within the Division of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil in Archaeology co-ordinator. This allows the student to choose from a wide range of courses, including methodological, other area or period based courses, and thematic courses in museums and heritage.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Archaeological Science. 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 dissertations and project topics in Archaeological Science include:

  • The recognition of agriculture in soils on different geologies
  • The micromorphological and geochemical analysis of floor deposits from a Viking period settlement in western Scotland
  • Avifaunal remains from Pupicina Pec, Croatia
  • Plant macrofossils and charcoal from middle Upper Palaeolithic sites in the Czech Republic
  • Isotopic analysis of Epipalaeolithic subsistence and mobility strategies in Jordan

This MPhil option also has a number of field trips to archaeological sites and landscapes in Cambridgeshire and sometimes offers the possibility of field trips to sites further afield such as Stonehenge and Avebury.


For further information, contact Prof Charles French, co-ordinator for this option, or Prof Marie Louise Sorensen, overall MPhil co-ordinator for the Division of Archaeology.