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Course content

The MSc in Archaeological Science is designed to provide a broad theoretical and practical understanding of current issues and the techniques archaeologists use to investigate the human past. Its purpose is to provide a pathway for archaeologists or graduates of other scientific disciplines to either professional posts or doctoral research in archaeological science. It focuses particularly on the organic remains of humans, animals and plants which is a rapidly developing and exciting field of archaeometry. Major global themes such as animal and plant domestication and human migration and diet will be explored integrating evidence from a range of sub-disciplines in environmental and biomolecular archaeology Students taking this course will study and work in a range of environmental, DNA, isotope and dating laboratories alongside expert academic staff.

The aim of this programme is to equip students to:
-Devise and carry out in-depth study in archaeological science
-Analyse and interpret results
-Communicate scientific results to a variety of audiences
-Develop the inter-disciplinary skills (cultural and scientific) to work effectively in archaeology

Students will gain a critical understanding of the application of scientific techniques to our study of the human past, and receive intensive training in a specific area of archaeological science. Students will examine the theory underpinning a range of scientific techniques, as well as the current archaeological context in which they are applied and interpreted. This will be achieved through a broad archaeological framework which will educate students to reconcile the underlying constraints of analytical science with the concept-based approach of cultural archaeology. Students will therefore examine both theoretical and practical approaches to particular problems, and to the choice of suitable techniques to address them. They will learn how to assess the uncertainties of their conclusions, and to acknowledge the probable need for future reinterpretations as the methods develop. Following training in one specific archaeological science area of their choice, students will be expected to demonstrate that they can combine a broad contextual and theoretical knowledge of archaeology with their detailed understanding of the methods in their chosen area, through an original research dissertation.

Course Structure

The course consists of four taught modules of 30 credits each and a 60 credit research dissertation. Students will study two core modules in Term 1 and two elective modules in Term1/2 followed by a research dissertation.
Core Modules:
-Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science
-Topics in Archaeological Science
-Research Dissertation

Optional Modules:
In previous years, optional modules available included:
-Themes in Palaeopathology
-Plants and People
-Animals and People
-Isotope and Molecular Archaeology
-Practical Guided Study

Learning and Teaching

The programme is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials and workshops and practical classes. Typically lectures provide key information on a particular area, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate among archaeologists in a specific area or on a particular theme. Seminars and tutorials then provide opportunities for smaller groups of student-led discussion and debate of particular issues or areas, based on the knowledge that they have gained through their lectures and through independent study outside the programme’s formal contact hours.

Practical classes and workshops allow students to gain direct experience of practical and interpretative skills in Archaeological Science with guidance from experienced and qualified scientists in Archaeology. Finally, independent supervised study enables students to develop and undertake a research project to an advanced level. Throughout the programme emphasis is placed on working independently outside the contact hours, in order to synthesise large datasets and to develop critical and analytical skills to an advanced level.

The balance of activities changes over the course of the programme, as students develop their knowledge and the ability as independent learners and researchers. In Terms 1 and 2 the emphasis is upon students acquiring the generic, practical skills and knowledge that archaeological scientists need to undertake scientific study in archaeology whilst examining and debating relevant archaeological theory and the 'big questions' to which scientific methods are applied. They also study a choice of specific areas creating their individual research profile and interests.

Students typically attend three hours a week of lectures, and two one hour seminars or tutorials each week. In addition, they may be required to attend three-four hours a week of workshops or practicals based on lectures. The practical work complements desk-based analytical skills which are intended to develop skills applicable within and outside the field of archaeology. Outside timetabled contact hours, students are also expected to undertake their own independent study to prepare effectively for their classes, focus their subject knowledge and develop a research agenda.

The balance shifts into Term 3, as students develop their abilities as independent researchers with a dissertation. The lectures and practicals already attended have introduced them to and given them the chance to practice archaeology research methods within specific fields of study. Students have also engaged with academic issues, archaeological datasets and their interpretation which are at the forefront of archaeological research. The dissertation is regarded as the cap-stone of the taught programme and an indicator of advanced research potential, which could be developed further in a professional or academic field. Under the supervision of a member of academic staff with whom they will typically have ten one-hour supervisory meetings, students undertake a detailed study of a particular theme or area resulting in a significant piece of independent research. They also interact with scientific lab staff as they carry out their research.

Throughout the programme, all students also have access to an academic adviser who will provide them with academic support and guidance. Typically a student will meet with their adviser two to three times a year, in addition to which all members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet with students on a ‘drop-in’ basis. The department also has an exciting programme of weekly one hour research seminars which postgraduate students are strongly encouraged to attend..

Visit the Archaeological Science (MSc) page on the Durham University website for more details!





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