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European Prehistory

European Prehistory



Prof Marie Louise Sørensen

Other staff teaching on this course:

Dr Preston Miracle, Prof John Robb and other staff.


The Course

This MPhil teaches the prehistory of Europe, covering the span from about 10,000 BC through the Roman period. Covering the area from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia and from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic, it traces and discusses the dramatic changes characterising this span:

  • the post-glacial recolonisation of Northern Europe
  • the origins and spread of agriculture
  • the development of broad horizons of material culture, long-distance exchange networks and economic intensification in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC
  • the monumentalisation of the landscape and the rise of new deathways in megalithic cultures throughout Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe
  • the rise of the first states in Europe, and the development of complex relationships with civilisations of the Near East, and, increasingly, the Eastern and Central Mediterranean

Cross-cutting themes linking treatment of periods include material culture, social aspects of technology and economy, symbolism and culture, and social identities and values such as gender, the body, and political status and affiliation. This course option is appropriate for both students with background in European prehistory and students new to the subject.


The Structure

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

  • 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%).
  • European Prehistory (G04) This module includes a foundation course providing a comprehensive, thematically organised overview of European prehistory from the Mesolithic through the Iron Age, as well as discussion of special topics in European prehistory which are rotated annually. This module is lecture-based, but also includes seminars, practical sessions, and small-group discussions. This module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
  • Any other module(s) 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 methodological courses in archaeological techniques and analyses, 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 European Prehistory. 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 topics in European Prehistory include:

  • Stable isotope analysis of diet in human bones from a Neolithic Italian ritual cave
  • Re-analysis of radiocarbon dates and material culture for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Scotland
  • Analysis of Mesolithic micro-fauna from a Croatian cave site
  • Early metallurgy as a social technology in Iberia
  • Neolithic feasting in Britain: a review and social contextualisation
  • Neolithic and Copper Age figurines in Sardinia: style, context and social interpretation

This MPhil option sometimes offers the possibility of field trips to sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as practical work with prehistoric European collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


For further information, contact Prof Marie Louise Sorensen, co-ordinator for this option and overall MPhil co-ordinator for the Department of Archaeology.