Institute of Archaeology


Comparative Archaeologies of the Americas II: Empires, states and settlement

This module is a continuity and compliment to Comparative Archaeologies of the Americas I (ARCL0172) but may be selected as a stand-alone option choice.

The module takes a broad comparative approach to the archaeology of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, from c. 1500-500 BC (depending on the region) to the European colonial period. It will cover demographic processes of sedentary societies, the development and variations of socio-political complexity in different regions of the continent, and long-distance contact between pre-Columbian societies of the Americas. Topics for discussion are likely to include material culture, art and technology; links between environmental dimensions of subsistence systems, climate change, and landscape history; variability in socio-political organisation in the late Holocene Americas; the relevance of centralization, bureaucratic control, militarism, and writing systems in complex, stratified societies of the Americas; relationships between archaeological reconstruction, linguistic and ethnographic evidence, and ethnohistorical accounts; and the role of archaeological evidence in cultural heritage and contemporary identity construction.

Aims and Objectives

  • To introduce evidence from archaeology, epigraphy, ethnography, linguistics and a range of sciences on the culture and history of the indigenous peoples of the American continent as well as those displaced by the forces of colonialism. The timeframe stretches from c. 1500 BC to the European colonial period.
  • To introduce students to the most important current topics in the history and evolution of indigenous societies of the Americas, to debate these issues, and to inform student choice in their research and future careers.
  • To raise awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of research traditions in different regions and periods of analysis, and encourage the development of new research

Learning Outcomes

Students will read about and discuss some of the most important topics in the Archaeology of the Americas, looking at a continent-wide perspective on different archaeological trajectories, to develop a nuanced understanding of the landscape of the Americas and engage with key research question that can be examined through archaeological research in the Americas.

Upon successful completion of the module students will have:

  • gained a detailed understanding of recent theoretical perspectives in the field;
  • acquired an understanding of approaches to the analysis and interpretation of data (archaeological, ethnographic, historical, linguistic) used to study states, empires and colonialism in the Americas
  • Undertaken a literature review and written a synthetic essay on an aspect of American Archaeology

Teaching Methods

The module will be a directed-reading course based around a combination of lectures and seminar discussions. The module will also include short one-on-one tutorial meetings with each student and visit to a museum collection (e.g. British Museum).

Module information

  • Code: ARCL0188
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Elizabeth Baquedano 
  • Prerequisite: This module does not have a prerequisite.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students


  • Running in 2021-22