ARHM001 Archaeological theory in the AD 21st century


Archaeological theory is the essential basis for any study of archaeology, whether in the Mediterranean or outside 'the pond'. The powers of theory-teaching to put students off theory for life are legendary, so this introductory module seeks to present a light digest of current approaches to archaeological theory - closer to Matthew Johnson than to David Clarke. The teaching is divided into three parts: 5 sessions on the history of archaeological thought (1800s to 1980s) (the 'deep' past); 5 sessions on the 1980s to 2000 (the recent past); and 5 sessions on the development of theory in the 21st century (the present past). The way to make theory palatable is to intermix concepts with examples, so there will be a lot of examples drawn from a wide range of times and places (even some from the Mediterranean).

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Balkan And Eastern Mediterranean Archeology (In English)


Assoc. Prof. Boyan Dumanov, PhD
Assoc. Prof. Biliana Kostova, PhD

Course Description:


Students who complete this course:

11) Know:

- After participating in this course, the student should have (i) gained a good general knowledge of the development of archaeological thought over the last 200 years; (ii) developed an appreciation of all of the main currents of archaeological thought in this period; (iii) gained insights into the key changes in theoretical frameworks in the early 21st century; and (iv) increased their skills at integrating appropriate archaeological theory with their own specific archaeological interests.

2) Be able to:

- critically approach most important archaeological theories.


Full-time Programmes

Types of Courses:

Language of teaching:


  1. Session 1: The Three Ages and the era of Scandinavian innovations (1830s - 1880s) Content: from Antiquarianism to the Age Systems - the impact of Thomsen's Three Age system - early inter-disciplinary archaeology in Denmark - the reaction to Thomsen across Europe - Oscar Montelius, typology and the Scandinavian Bronze Age - from burial archaeology to settlement archaeology.
  2. Session 2: The 'Deep Sleep' and who disturbed it (1880s - 1960s) Content: Colin Renfrew - the Rip Van Winkle of archaeological theory? - Gustav Kossinna and Kulturkreise - Gordon Childe and cultural archaeology - Graeme Clark, economy and ecology - Gordon Willey and settlement archaeology.
  3. Session 3: The 'New Archaeology' - what's new about it? Content: the problems with cultural archaeology - 1968 - the year of the revolution (Lewis Binford's 'New perspectives in archaeology' and David Clarke's 'Analytical archaeology') - aims, methodology and epistemology - what was new? - what was old hat?
  4. Session 4: Processual developments (1): understanding the social Content: what is 'social archaeology'? - hierarchies in the 'Age of Stonehenge' - systems theory in the Aegean Bronze Age - a Prestige Goods model for the European Iron Age - exchange models in prehistory.
  5. the spatial Content: David Clarke and the spatial paradigm - the macro-, the semi-micro and the micro (with examples) - Janusz Kruk and the Neolithic in Little Poland - the Glastonbury Iron Age Lake Village - early perspectives on household archaeology.
  6. Session 6: Structuralist and symbolic archaeology Content: the problems of New / Processualist archaeology - the 1981 Cambridge Conference (SSA) - aims and methods - from structuralism to post-structuralism - the role of ethno-archaeology - the centrality of context.
  7. Session 7: How the past became political Content: Reprise - Gustav Kossinna's Kulturkreise - Thracian archaeology in Bulgaria - Marxist archaeology in Hungary - USA / Western Europe opens its eyes - Shanks, Tilley and the role of ideology - Michael Dietler and nationalist archaeology in France.
  8. Session 8: the emergence of gender archaeology Content: Marija Gimbutas and Old World Europe (her influence and her critics) - 'What this awl means?' (Janet Spector's story) - Engendering archaeology (1991) - making the invisible visible - the task differentiation model and its limitations - Rosie the Riveter, the Princess of Vix and powerful women.
  9. Session 9: the significance of personal agency Content: systems theory and people - recognising people means recognising 'the Other' - the agency of individuals - recognising 'individuals' in the past - the analysis of row cemeteries.
  10. Session 10: Processualists fight back - alternatives to Interpretative archaeology. Content: the empirical shift in scientific archaeology - advanced systems theory - Colin Renfrew and Cognitive-Processual archaeology - the battle over 'evidence'.
  11. Session 11: the ontological turn - multiple agencies in play Content: what is the 'ontological turn'? - how is human agency different from the agency of trees, pottery, stone circles, cattle and wheat? - Ian Hodder and the concept of 'entanglement' - domestication and an entangled Catalhoyuk – network analysis and connectivity.
  12. Session 12: enchaining objects, places and people Content: the notion of 'enchainment' - what are 'object biographies'? - the earliest hominins, their places and fragmented things - Palaeolithic exchange networks, the 'absent present' and enchained hand-axes - fragmentation at the landscape scale - the Breton megaliths and the movement of decorated rocks - the 'fragmentation premise' - marine shells at Varna, Durankulak and Dimini - the Hamangia fragmented figurines.
  13. Session 13: sex, gender and LGTB in archaeology Content: what is the difference between 'sex' and 'gender'? (perspectives of Judith Butler, Lynn Meskell and Diane Bolger) - Queer theory and its implementation in archaeology - beyond task differentiation towards the Maintenance Model - comparing Japanese Jomon and Balkan Neolithic figurines - categorical analysis in the mortuary zone.
  14. Session 14: integrating archaeological science and humanistic archaeology Content: bridging the divide with new research questions - Andy Jones and the Neolithic of Orkney - Alasdair Whittle & Alex Bayliss on the TOTL Project ('The Times Of Their Lives') - the promise of aDNA on an Eurasian scale (the debate) - the Stonehenge festival (an island-wide festival with isotopes).
  15. Session 15: Summary: exploring a new theoretical landscape Content: what has changed since 2000 ? - what can we trust enough to build on? - how can we become involved in cutting-edge research?


Essential reading:

Johnson, Matthew 2010. Archaeological theory - an introduction. 2nd edition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell (ISBN 9781405100151 (pbk.) E-text ISBN : 978-1-4443-2608-6)

Harris, Oliver and Cipolla, Craig 2017. Archaeological theory in the new millennium. London: Routledge. (ISBN Paperback: 9781138888715). E-book: 9781315713250

Part 1:

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Binford, L. 1972 An Archaeological Perspective, New York.

Childe, V. G. (1929) The Danube in prehistory. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Clark, J. G. D. (1952) Prehistoric Europe. The economic basis. Methuen, London.

Clark, G. 1953. Star Carr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clarke, D. 1968 Analytical Archaeology, London.

Clarke, D 1977 Spatial information in archaeology, in D. L. Clarke (ed) Spatial Archaeology, 1-32, London.

Deetz, J., 1977, In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. New York.

Díaz-Andreu, M. (2007) A world history of nineteenth-century archaeology : nationalism, colonialism, and the past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Renfrew, C. 1972. The emergence of civilization. London: Methuen.

Renfrew, C. 1984. Social archaeology. Southampton: University of Southampton.

Renfrew, C. (1987) Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins. Jonathan Cape, London.

Rowley-Conwy, P. 2007. From genesis to prehistory the archaeological three age system and its contested reception in Denmark. Oxford; New York : Oxford University Press.

Trigger, B. 1989 A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge.

Part 2:

Adovasio, J. M., Soffer, O. & Page, J. (2007) The invisible sex. Harper-Collins, New York.

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Barrett, J.C., 1987, 'Contextual Archaeology', Antiquity 61, 468-73.

Barrett, J.C., 1989, 'Food, Gender and Metal: Questions of Social Reproduction', in Sorensen, M.L.S. and Thomas, R. (eds) The Bronze Age-Iron Age Transition in Europe, BAR Int. Ser. 483, 304-20.

Barrett, J. C. (1994) Fragments from antiquity. An archaeology of social life in Britain, 2900-1200 BC. Blackwell, Oxford.

Barrett, J. C., Bradley, R. and Green, M. 1993 Landscape, Monuments and Society: The Prehistory of Cranbourne Chase. Cambridge.

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Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bradley, R., 1990, The Passage of Arms. An Archaeological Analysis of Prehistoric Hoards and Votive Deposits, Cambridge.

Bradley, R. 1993 Altering the Earth. Edinburgh, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Bradley, R. 1998. The Significance of Monuments, London.

Bradley, R. 2000 An Archaeology of Natural Places, London.

Bradley, R. 2005 Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe, London.

Brück, J. and Goodman, M. 1999 Making Places in the Prehistoric World: themes in settlement archaeology, London. Various articles (particularly the introduction).

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Clarke, D.V., Cowie, T. and Foxon, A., 1985, Symbols of Power at the Time of Stonehenge, Edinburgh.

Cleal, R., Walker, K. and Montague, R. 1995 Stonehenge in its Landscape. London, English Heritage.

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Dobres , M-A and Robb, J. (2000) (eds) Agency in archaeology. London, Routledge.

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Edmonds, M. (1999) Ancestral geographies of the Neolithic. Landscapes, monuments and memory. Routledge, London.

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Part 3:

Alberti, B. 2013. Queer prehistory: bodies, performativity and matter. In Bolger, D. (ed.) 2013.

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