Institute of Archaeology

Approaches to Artefact Studies


The core course will introduce students to current theories in studying the social significance of technology and material culture as well as a broad introduction to classification, recording and analysis of artefacts. A range of seminars will use case studies to explore how artefact analysis can address major research questions. The course will place the specific specialist training provided by the options within a broad archaeological context.

here are three strands to the core course:

  • Technology within Society This will provide students with an overview of current issues in studying the social significance of technology and materials. Students will be introduced to anthropological, archaeological and material science approaches to the study of technology and material culture from the analysis of raw materials to studying disposal patterns.
  • Approaches to Artefact Studies This course will encourage students to debate how finds specialists select their recording methods in relation to specific research agendas. Major topics covered by this course include: the changing role of finds specialists in museums, archaeological units and universities; the purpose and scope of artefact studies; the presentation and interpretation of artefact analysis; the function of archived materials and reference collections; the potential of artefact studies within education and museums.
  • Seminar Series: Archaeological Analysis and Interpretation This seminar series (which will include the participation of students undertaking the MSc in Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials) will use case studies from current research projects to consider how the study of archaeological assemblages can be used to address wider research questions. 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.

Further seminars and field trips

There will be further seminars related to artefact studies and materials analysis, mainly in the second term. There will also be a number of half day and full day field trips to museums, field-units, and archaeological sites organised in the first and second terms. None of these activities are an obligatory part of the course, but they are organised for the students’ benefit.

Aims of the course

This course will introduce students to a wide range of concepts and ideas used in artefact studies, with a strong critical consideration of the academic and theoretical significance of such research, and a concern for the care, preservation and reporting of archaeological materials. More specifically the course aims:

  • To provide a wide-ranging and challenging introduction to the role of artefact studies in modern archaeology
  • To encourage students to think about technology from anthropologically-informed perspective that focuses on how and why people make and use artefacts
  • To critically consider the changing role of ‘finds specialists’ in relation to commercially funded archaeology, current theoretical debates and research work
  • To engage with current debates about the collection, interpretation, reporting and curation of archaeological materials
  • To encourage an interdisciplinary approach to artefact studies which considers how to develop the relevance of artefact studies and the scientific analysis of materials for wider archaeological


On successful completion of this course a student should:

  • 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 artefacts in relation to wider
  • archaeological research questions.
  • Be able to debate the role of artefact studies in archaeology including the potential advantages and constraints inherent within different approaches to artefact analysis.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the course students should be able to demonstrate/to have developed:

  • The ability to read and listen to a range of different approaches to a topic and to write a reasoned argument as to why they favour one or more of these.
  • The ability to identify relevant data and analytical methods with which to address specific research questions.
  •  The ability to organise and deliver a clear oral presentation and participate in group discussion.
  •  Begun to develop the observational skills needed to identify the material details of an artefact and critically consider what this may mean in relation to the production process or life history of the object.
  • The ability to observe, or read about, analytical procedures and critically reflect on how these procedures will affect the recording and interpretation of data.
  •  Independent Problem-solving based on real data sets.

Teaching Methods

Teaching for the course is through formal lectures, seminars, artefact handling sessions, and laboratory visits. In addition, field-trips and gallery visits will be arranged to give students greater familiarity with the materials and techniques covered in the course. 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 consider a number of different practical approaches to their analysis. The lectures, seminars and practical sessions will largely be conducted by UCL staff, with the addition of occasional guest speakers.

Seminars have weekly recommended readings, which students are expected to have read and thought about prior to the class, to be able fully to follow, and actively contribute to, discussion – most classes will include a period of formal presentation by one or more lecturers and a period of class discussion using the two or three essential readings as a basis from which to discuss the topic and its relation to artefact analysis in archaeology.

Course information

For registered students


  • Not running in 2016/17

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