ANTH 2339: Principles of Archæology

Prof. Karl Petruso, Program in Anthropology
Spring Semester 2008


      This course introduces the methods and theories of archaeology, the branch of anthropology that is concerned with understanding past cultures through their material remains. Students will learn how archaeological sites are formed and discovered, and will study the techniques of recovery, dating, analysis and interpretation of artifacts and organic remains. Principles of archaeological inference will be illustrated with reference to selected ancient cultures. The course will be partly problem-oriented: several exercises based on typical site data sets will give students the opportunity to grapple with the fragmentary nature of the archaeological record.


Prof. Petruso's office
University Hall 416
Office hours
No scheduled hours, but I am available most days by appointment
University Hall 430 (SOCI/ANTH Dept. office)
Course website

The most efficient way to communicate with me is by email. Please note that I will write and respond only to your official UT Arlington email address, so make sure to check the inbox to that account regularly.


Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods and Practice (Thames and Hudson, 2007).
In addition, a reader for this course (also required) will be available for purchase in the Copy Center in the basement of the main library.
       There are thousands of websites on archaeology, not all of which are reliable. An excellent resource is Archnet, hosted by Arizona State University. It contains hundreds of useful links on archaeological topics, and is an excellent starting point for students who want to explore the discipline on the web.


Assignments: Readings are to be completed before their associated lectures, and you should be prepared to discuss them in class.
• You are responsible for all material presented and discussed in class even if you are absent. If you must miss a session, be sure to arrange to read a classmate's notes, and contact me if you have any questions about the material.
Grading: Your final grade in the course will be calculated as follows:

Problems (4 @15% each)
Exam nos. 1 and 2: 10% each
Exam no. 3
Reading summaries: 1% each

Attendance: Roll will be taken with a sign-in sheet which will be passed around at the beginning of each class session. You are expected to arrive for class on time. If you arrive late, it is your responsibility to sign the sheet at the end of class. A student who misses more than five class sessions will have his/her final grade lowered by one letter.
• Drops: Faculty cannot drop students for nonattendance. Should you wish to drop this course, you must do so by Friday, March 28. All students enrolled after that date will receive a letter grade.
No make-up exams will be administered except under the most unusual and dire of (documented) circumstances. A missed exam will receive a grade of zero.
No incompletes will be granted except under the most unusual and dire of (documented) circumstances. It is to your advantage to finish this and all courses at the end of the semester, with an earned grade.
• Any workbook problem submitted after the class session at which it is due will be docked one letter grade. Any reading summary submitted after the class session at which it is due will not be read.
• Aside from the four workbook problems, five readings summaries and three exams, no other written work will be necessary, and none will be accepted for extra credit or in lieu of missed assignments.



Cellphones are to be turned off during class time. If your phone rings, I will assume it is an emergency and will ask you to leave the room to attend to it. You will not be permitted to return to class that day.
• Although this is primarily a lecture course, interruptions in the form of questions and discussion relevant to the topic under consideration are invited at any time.
• Although I do not keep regular office hours, I am in my office every day. I am happy to meet with you at your convenience, but I would request that you call or email me beforehand instead of dropping in unannounced.

     As should be clear from the way grades are weighted, the heart of this course is the problems rather than the exams: my goal is to teach you to think archaeologically and to develop a critical understanding of the meaning of archaeological data. Successful students will apportion their time accordingly throughout the semester on the readings and written assignments; little advantage is to be gained by cramming for the three exams.
      You should make an effort to keep up with the readings, which are from a new abridgement of a well-respected upper-level undergraduate and graduate-level textbook. I am not particularly interested in lecturing on archaeological methods and techniques (which are, truth be told, fairly dull), and I will expect you to master the nuts and bolts of methodology through careful reading of the textbook. Rather, class sessions will concentrate on how these methods and techniques contribute to what can be learned about the archaeological past (often in the context of selected case studies) and, equally importantly, the limitations of these methods and techniques.


Whether or not modifications are made to the lecture schedule, the exam dates and the due dates for submission of the workbook problems are firm and will not change.
      You will be provided with hard copy of this syllabus. Please note that it is printed from the course website, and that it contains links which might not be evident on paper. Since the syllabus will be updated periodically throughout the semester and links might be changed or added at any time, it is recommended that you bookmark the page and peruse it frequently.

RB = Renfrew and Bahn textbook, Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods and Practice
Reader = Readings packet for this course (required), available for purchase at the copy center in the basement level of the main library

Written assignments and important dates in the tale below are in bold red or bold blue. Links to reading assignments are in blue.

M Jan 14
Introduction to the course. Goals and objectives. Expectations. Policies. None
W Jan 16
Overview and brief introduction to the discipline of archaeology. Pre-quiz (not graded). Small-group exercise. RB pp. 8-11
Bring a Scantron form 882-E and a pencil to class
M Jan 21
Class will not meet
W Jan 23
History of archaeology, part 1: origins to the 1960s RB pp. 13-26
M Jan 28
History of archaeology, part 2: 1960s to the present

RB pp. 26-35
"Archaeologies that Hurt" (Reader)

W Jan 30
Varieties of archaeological evidence, part 1: context, cultural and natural formation processes. Discussion of "Repton Barrow"

RB pp. 37-47
Read "The Repton Barrow" (Reader) and be prepared to discuss how you might approach the data provided to solve the problem

M Feb 4
Varieties of archaeological evidence, part 2: organic materials, special environments RB pp. 47-57
W Feb 6
Finding and evaluating archaeological sites: reconaissance and surface survey RB pp. 58-83.
"Cemetery of Bilj" problem due
M Feb 11
Excavation and related fieldwork. Conservation and restoration RB pp. 84-95
W Feb 13
Chronology, part 1: Context. Understanding change. Relative dating: stratigraphy and seriation RB pp. 97-105
M Feb 18
Chronology, part 2: Absolute/chronometric dating: radiocarbon and other techniques RB pp. 106-129
W Feb 20
EXAM no. 1, covering all lectures and readings through February 18
Bring a Scantron form 882-E to class
M Feb 25
Settlement archaeology, burials, monuments RB pp. 131-152
W Feb 27
Ethnoarchaeology. Archaeology of identity, inequality and gender. Agency RB pp. 152-161.
"Petristan" problem due.

Summary due: Janet Spector, "What This Awl Means" (Reader)
M Mar 3
Environmental archaeology, part 1: Reconstructing past environments RB pp. 163-177
W Mar 5
Environmental archaeology, part 2: Hunter-gatherers. The origins of agriculture RB pp.177-193
M Mar 10
Artifacts, part 1: Materials and technologies
RB pp. 203-217
W Mar 12
Artifacts, part 2: Trade and exchange
RB pp. 219-230
M Mar 17
Class will not meet
W Mar 19
Class will not meet
M Mar 24
Cognitive archaeology: symbolmaking. Mapping the world RB pp. 219-230
W Mar 26
Archaeology of religion: mapping the cosmos. Understanding and reconstructing ancient religions
RB pp. 230-233.
Summary due: Colin Renfrew, "The Archaeology of Religion" (Reader)
M Mar 31
EXAM no. 2 covering all lectures and readings from February 25 through March 26
Bring a Scantron form 882-E and a pencil to class
W Apr 2
Archaeology of people, part 1: preservation. Diet and disease. Understanding ancient populations
RB pp. 236-245
M Apr 7
Archaeology of people, part 2: The Iceman (video) RB pp. 52-53.
"Latreia" problem due
W Apr 9
Archaeology and language: the Indo-European example. Deciphered and undeciphered ancient scripts. Relationship between archaeology and history RB pp. 233-235; handouts
M Apr 14
Change in the archaeological past: models. The "rise of civilization." Explaining collapse RB pp. 247-262
Summary due: "The Mysterious Fall of Nacirema" and "Lost Vegas" (Reader)
W Apr 16
Archaeology and ideology: Nazi archaeology. Marxism and archaeology. Unravelling Hitler's Conspiracy (video)

RB pp. 262; 269-272
Wente, Patterns in Prehistory, pp. 22-24 and 305-311 on Marxist archaeology

M Apr 21

Doing archaeology under water. The Ancient Mariners (video)

RB pp. 89-90

W Apr 23
Who owns the past?, part 1: What's so bad about pothunting? UNESCO legislation. Archaeology and the art market.
Honors presentation by Kallie Mitchell: The Case of the Euphronios Krater
RB Ch. 10.
"Kurgans of Nalevo" problem due.
Summary due: Kent Black, "The Case of the Purloined Pots" (Reader)
M Apr 28

Who owns the past?, part 2: NAGPRA. The saga of Kennewick Man
Honors presentation by Cristina Crisp: New Theories about the Peopling of the Western Hemisphere

RB Ch. 10. "Special Report: A Battle over Bones"; and Secretary Babbitt's disposition, 9/21/2000

W Apr 30

The archaeology of us: Potpourri. Garbology. Misreading and burlesquing the ancient past: archaeology in popular culture. Post-quiz (not graded)

Summary due: William Rathje, "Garbology: The Archaeology of Fresh Garbage" (Reader); The Hokes Archives: click on Archeology > "The Aazudians" and "Centaur from Volos": view all the images

Monday, May 5
11:00 am
FINAL EXAM (comprehensive, but emphasizing lectures and readings from April 7 through April 30)
Bring a Scantron form 882-E and a pencil to class


You will write summaries of five articles from the Reader (due dates designated on syllabus above). Most of these articles will be read after midterm, by which time you should have absorbed enough disciplinary context to read them analytically and discuss them critically in class.

For each written assignment, you should prepare a single-spaced one-page maximum typed summary of the author's argument(s). Your summary should end with one question or topic inspired by your reading which you would like discussed in class. The summaries are to be handed in at the beginning of class. They are not to be emailed to me. (You are encouraged to bring a copy for yourself, as well as the article, to refer to in the discussion.) The summaries will be graded plus (1 point) or minus (0 points). In the aggregate, they are worth half a grade point on your final grade, and thus should be taken seriously and composed carefully.


The workbook problems are open-ended. Few have absolutely correct answers; rather, your solutions will be more or less compelling, more or less defensible analyses and interpretations of the evidence you are provided with. Logic and common sense—rather than a sophisticated understanding of archaeological method and technique—will be your main tools in tackling them. It is hoped that these exercises will give you the flavor of archaeological fieldwork and especially of inference, inasmuch as archaeological data are always fragmentary, often ambiguous, and occasionally contradictory, and the degree to which they represent the cultures that produced them and permit us to generalize about lifeways in the past is never entirely clear. I expect that, in the process of working these problems, you will develop an appreciation for the problematic nature of the archaeological record and an ability to live with ambiguity. If you like working puzzles, you are likely to find these problems enjoyable.

Your answers are to be presented as typed essays, stapled at the upper left (no report covers, please; I hate report covers). They are due at the beginning of class and will be considered late if not handed in at that time. They are not to be emailed to me. They should be composed in paragraphs consisting of complete sentences rather than, e.g., bulleted lists. Illustrations (sketches, tables, graphs) should be included as necessary to explicate your answers. Most essays, if not all, will benefit from a supplementary chronological chart (chronological charts should read from the bottom up, in the manner of archaeological stratigraphy). Your illustrations need not be fancy, but they should be clear and readable, and their purpose should be obvious. You will be provided with a poopsheet to guide you for each problem, and we will discuss each briefly in class approximately a week before its due date.

Be sure to proofread your essays carefully (or have someone else do it) before you hand them in. Organization, syntax, spelling, and overall clarity of presentation are important, and will be taken into account in grading. Outside research (in sources other than your textbook) should not be necessary to complete these exercises, but if you wish to consult other sources, they should be referenced appropriately and cited in a bibliography.

Be advised that completing these problems satisfactorily requires some cogitation, reflection, trial and error, and attention to organization and production. The problems are not particularly difficult, but they will require some investment of time. Some problems require a fair amount of of busywork (e.g., cutting and pasting, for "Petristan"). Be sure to get started on them as far in advance of their due date as possible. Finally, these assignments are not collaborative projects; it is expected that your submissions will be your work exclusively.

The problems have been assigned such that the tools you will need to solve them will be covered in class at least a week before the problems are due. You are encouraged to read the problems over in advance (together with the associated poopsheets) so that you can ask questions about them in class. When time permits, we will analyze them and compare our results in class.

Please visit me if you need guidance on these exercises, and feel free to send questions at any time by e-mail.


Embarrassing bomb threat policy and other important mandatory boilerplate from the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska, slightly edited to correct infelicities of syntax:

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): If you are a student who requires accommodations in compliance with the ADA, please consult with me at the beginning of the semester. As a faculty member, I am required by law to provide "reasonable accommodation" to students with disabilities, so as not to discriminate on the basis of that disability. Your responsibility is to inform me of the disability at the beginning of the semester and provide me with documentation authorizing the specific accommodation. Student services at UTA include the Office for Students with Disabilities (University Hall 102), which is responsible for verifying and implementing accommodations to insure equal opportunity in all programs and activities.

Student Support Services: The University supports a variety of student success programs to help you connect with the University and achieve academic success. They include learning assistance, developmental education, advising and mentoring, admission and transition, and federally funded programs. Students requiring assistance academically, personally, or socially should contact the Office of Student Success Programs at 817.272.6107 for more information and appropriate referrals.

Academic Honesty: Academic dishonesty is a completely unacceptable mode of conduct and will not be tolerated in any form at The University of Texas at Arlington. All persons involved in academic dishonesty will be disciplined in accordance with University regulations and procedures. Discipline may include suspension or expulsion from the University.

"Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, collusion, the submission for credit of any work or materials that are attributable in whole or in part to another person, taking an examination for another person, any act designed to give unfair advantage to a student or the attempt to commit such acts." (Regents' Rules and Regulations, Part One, Chapter VI, Section 3, Subsection 3.2., Subdivision 3.22)

Bomb Threats: Anyone tempted to call in a bomb threat should be aware that UTA will attempt to trace the phone call and prosecute all responsible parties. Every effort will be made to avoid cancellation of presentations/tests caused by bomb threats. Unannounced alternate sites will be available for these classes. Your instructor will make you aware of alternate class sites in the event that your classroom is not available.