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Environmental History of the Near East


Admission requirements

  • World Archaeology 1.2 obtained;

  • This is a seminar with a limited amount of participants (20 students), for Archaeology students exclusively;

  • This is not an optional course for the Archaeology BA3 programme. If you want to take this course as an extra-curricular course in your programme, you should ask permission from the Board of Examiners. You can only be admitted with permission, with proper argumentation, and only if there are spots left.


This course provides an introduction to the way humans in the past exploited their environment. This includes both the factors that are determined by the environment, and factors that are associated with economy and health in particular.

Basic concepts that are discussed include: origin and development of agriculture, domestication, climate and soil (related to irrigation and manuring), food and fuel, yield, storage and transport, and labour in relation to agricultural practices and food preparation.
Special attention will be paid to the crop and food processing, including food preservation and the interaction between crop selection and technology.

The course also deals with the way archaeo-botanical research can contribute to the reconstruction of the former landscape, and how humans changed the landscape. The aspects mentioned above will be studied within the context of environments and developments in the Near East (South-West Asia).

The course also provides an introduction to the description, identification, and interpretation of plant macro remains that are retrieved from excavations. Special attention will be paid to the seed and fruit concept and the description of fragments produced by crop processing.
This will be illustrated by different plant families, including the Grass family (Poaceae), the Pea family (Fabaceae), and the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the central concepts and ability to explain causal relationships between these concepts in relation to the exploitation of the landscape;

  • Knowledge of models that provide insight in the origins of agriculture, the selection of crops, and sampling strategy in relation to the reconstruction of agricultural practices;

  • Ability to evaluate theories related to agriculture and food economy based on archaeo-botanical evidence;

  • Basic skills in identification and interpretation of recent and subfossil plant macro remains.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, with student participation.

Course load

  • 7 × 3.45 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 420 pages of literature (3 ec);

  • Essay (1,500-1,800 words) (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Essay (1,500-1,800 words) (100%).

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

Reading list

  • R.T.J. Cappers & R. Neef, 2021 (2nd edition). Handbook of Plant Palaeoecology. Groningen: Barkhuis.


Registration in uSis is mandatory. You can register for this course until 5 days before the first class.

Registration in uSis automatically leads to enrollment in the corresponding Brightspace module. Therefore you do not need to enroll in Brightspace, but make sure to register for this course in uSis.

You are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time. The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, you are not required to do this in uSis.

Start registration for the BA2 seminars:

  • Series 1: 27 September 2021, 07:00 hrs

  • Series 2: 17 January 2022, 07:00 hrs

  • Series 3: 28 February 2022, 07:00 hrs


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. R.T.J. (René) Cappers.


Compulsory attendance.