Institute of Archaeology

The Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials


This course provides a general foundation and introduction for those taking the MSc Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials. It is intended to place the specific specialist training provided by the option courses within a broad archaeological context, and to provide basic training to the scientific techniques employed throughout the year.

The course is organised along three strands:

a) Technology within Society

This strand will provide an overview of current issues in studying the social significance of technology and materials. Students will be introduced to anthropological, archaeological and materials science approaches to the study of technology and material culture, using case studies from a wide range of periods and cultures. We will be considering aspects such as raw materials provision, organisation of production, distribution and trade, consumption and disposal, as well as broader concepts such as agency, materiality, craft specialisation, technological choices and innovation. This is an issues-based strand, where students will be expected to actively participate through discussion.

b) Research Design and Materials Analysis

This strand will begin with a consideration of current topics in archaeomaterials and an introduction to basic materials science, before moving to the theoretical foundations, and practical applications, of a range of instrumental techniques employed in the study of archaeological materials. We will introduce techniques such as XRF, XRD, ICP, SEM-EDS, EPMA, NAA and others, assessing their potentials and limitations, together with issues such as sampling, data quality, data presentation and interpretation. These lectures will be followed by an increasing number of practical sessions at the laboratory, where the students will be trained in the preparation of samples and the use of equipment such as optical and electron microscopes, or the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer.

c) Seminar Series: Archaeological Analysis and Interpretation

This seminar series will use case studies from current archaeological projects to consider how the study of archaeological assemblages can be used to address wider research questions. Students will be asked to work in teams as specialists and design cohesive projects. The seminar series will encourage a critical consideration of the problems and the potentials of integrating the analysis of diverse materials, analytical procedures, and traditions of artefact analysis within a single research design. The precise choice of issues, sites and materials will be defined in consultation with students and staff.

Introductory reading

  • Bowman, S. (ed), 1991. Science and the Past. London: British Museum Press.
  • Brothwell, D. R. and Pollard, A. M. (eds), 2001. Handbook of Archaeological Sciences. Chichester, New York, Weinheim, Brisbane, Singapore, Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  • Caple, C. 2006.   Objects : reluctant witnesses to the past  Abingdon: Routledge
  • Henderson, J. (ed), 1989. Scientific Analysis in Archaeology and its Interpretation. (Monograph 19; Archaeological Research Tools 5). Oxford and Los Angeles: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology and UCLA Institute of Archaeology
  • Henderson, J. 2000. The science and archaeology of materials: an investigation of inorganic materials. London: Routledge.
  • Hurcombe, L. M. 2007. Archaeological artefacts as material culture. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Kingery D.W. 1996. Learning from Things: method and theory of material culture studies Washington, D.C.; London : Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Lambert, J. B., 1997. Traces of the Past: Unraveling the Secrets of Archaeology Through Chemisty. Reading ( Mass.): Helix Books and Addison-Wesley.
  • Miller H. M-L. 2007. Archaeological approaches to technology. London and Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press.
  • Pollard, A. M. and Heron, C. 1996. Archaeological Chemistry. (RSC Paperbacks). Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Pollard, A. M., Batt, C. M., Stern, B. and Young, S. M. M. 2007. Analytical Chemistry in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Schiffer M. B. 1999 The Material Life of Human Beings: artefacts, behavior, and communication London: Routledge.
  • Tilley Ch., Keane, W, Kuechler, S., Rowlands, M. and Spyer, P. (eds), 2006. Handbook of Material Culture. London: SAGE.

Aims of the course

This course aims to bridge the gap between archaeology and science by integrating a solid background in the anthropology of technology with an introduction to scientific techniques used for the analysis of inorganic archaeological materials. More specifically, the course aims:

  • To provide a wide-ranging and challenging introduction to the role of artefact studies and materials analysis in modern archaeology.
  • To encourage students to think about technology from an anthropologicallyinformed perspective that focuses on how and why people make and use artefacts and materials.
  • To engage with current debates about the collection, analysis, interpretation, reporting and curation of archaeological materials.
  • To introduce students to the principles and practice of the archaeometric analysis of inorganic materials, including issues of sampling, data quality, reporting and interpretation, as well as practical training in the use of some of the most common analytical instruments.
  • To encourage an interdisciplinary approach to artefact and materials studies that considers how to develop


Upon successful completion of this course, students will, among other objectives:

  • Be familiar with a wide range of recent archaeological, anthropological, and broad theoretical debates about the role of material culture and technology within society.
  • Have an overview of practical approaches to the study of materials in relation to wider archaeological research questions.
  • Be able to debate the role of archaeometric studies in archaeology, including the potential advantages and constraints inherent within different approaches to artefact analysis.
  • Have the ability to critically assess reports and publications deriving from archaeometric work, as well as to propose analytical projects with archaeological relevance.
  • Have the basic skills necessary to acquire, process, report and interpret archaeometric data from a number of techniques.

Teaching Methods

Teaching for the course is through formal lectures, seminars, artefact handling sessions, and laboratory practicals. These varied formats are combined in order to provide you with a broad introduction to appropriate literature, the opportunity to engage actively in debating these issues yourself, the chance to handle artefacts and analyse arcaheological materials. The lectures, seminars and practical sessions will largely be conducted by UCL staff, with the addition of occasional guest speakers.

Course information

  • Code: ARCLG107
  • Credits: 30
  • Coordinator: Marcos Martinón-Torres
  • Prerequisite: There are no formal prerequisites for this course.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students


  • Not Running in 2016-17

Bookmark and Share