Institute of Archaeology
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Issues in the Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East


This core course comprises twenty sessions exploring current issues in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. We will chart a broad chronological path from the end of the last Ice Age to the first millennium BC, working across traditional regional and chronological boundaries in order to understand the continuous unfolding cultural processes in time and space. Each week students will attend a lecture followed by a seminar in which key readings and case-studies are discussed. Detailed comparative analysis and the study of cross-cultural interaction will be integral to the treatment of major topics, which include:

  • Conceptualising East-West relations, past and present
  • Localising the Mediterranean and Middle East past: histories of archaeology
  • Human ecology, routes of transmission and long-term change
  • The significance of the Mediterranean region in Palaeolithic studies
  • Beginnings and spread of farming: global and local perspectives
  • Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies: evolutionary trajectories and cultural diversification
  • Emergence of urban economies and the ancient world system
  • Mercantile enterprise and regimes of value
  • Palatial economies and the social contexts of technological change and cultural transmission in the Middle Bronze Age
  • Transformation of political and sacred landscapes
  • The Bronze-Iron Age transition: continuity, change and current controversies
  • Ethnicity, empire and secondary state formation in the Iron Age
  • Rethinking the 'orientalising' phenomenon in the first millennium BC
  • Early forms of literacy and writing in archaeological and social contexts
  • Law and order in ancient states and empires
  • Exploring identity through objects: 'body techniques' and rituals of the self
  • Economies of sacrifice: the social dispensation of the life and wealth through consumption and burial
  • Looking forwards: long-term perspectives on later antiquity
  • Is there a history of Eastern Mediterranean art?
  • Archaeology, heritage and the politics of the past


On successful completion of this course a student should:

  • have familiarised themselves with major, current issues of interpretation in the archaeology of the study region, and their historical and intellectual background
  • be able to apply comparative and anthropological perspectives to the study of these issues
  • have a sense of the long-term history of the study region, including changing patterns of interaction from prehistory to the present
  • be aware of, and sensitive to, the variety of cultural claims placed on the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern past, both global and local


By the end of the course students should be able to demonstrate:

  • advanced critical analysis of field studies and archaeological interpretations
  • ability to compare and analyse data across traditional regional and disciplinary boundaries
  • deployment of archaeological data to answer questions of wider anthropological and historical significance

It is fully appreciated that no student will have a detailed command of the archaeology of the entire study region, and this is not an aim of the course. The emphasis throughout is on a) developing issues which are more productively addressed in a comparative framework than through regionally isolated studies; b) exploring the potential of inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives for future, innovative work within the archaeology of the regions concerned, including doctoral research.


The course is taught each week through a two-hour afternoon seminar, each of which is preceded by a one-hour lecture on the morning of the same day. The lectures introduce key analytical topics as well as concrete case-studies. Lecture content ranges from general thematic overviews to detailed presentations of current research by specialists in a particular field of study. The seminars which follow provide an opportunity to apply comparative perspectives to material presented in the lectures, and to discuss issues arising in greater depth. Some sessions make use of objects from the Institute's collections. In addition, all seminars have weekly readings, which should allow students to contribute actively to the discussion. In some cases, students may be asked to present their views on a particular text or body of material, or to prepare short exercises (non-examined) in advance of the seminar.

Course information

  • Code: ARCLG155
  • Credits: 30
  • Coordinator: David Wengrow
  • Prerequisite: The course does not have prerequisites, but given its broad range it is strongly advised that students sit in on undergraduate courses, particularly those relating to the archaeology of regions with which they are less familiar.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students


  • Runs every year

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