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Advanced Archaeological Theory


Admission requirements


The Dynamics of Ancient Exchange Networks

In archaeological research, theoretical frameworks can be (and are often) applied as a filter through which complex or incomplete, multi-regional or local datasets can be interpreted. Different frameworks offer different perspectives on specific data and wider contexts alike, and contribute to an increased understanding that is based on the tangible remains of the human past.

Theoretical frameworks can also be applied in a more top-down manner, as a starting point for selecting relevant data, or as an interpretative hypothesis that subsequently needs to be proven or disproven through the study of relevant archaeological objects, sites and materials.

In this Master course, we explore a theoretical approach that combines both these types of frames. The class will be a ‘theoretical laboratory’ that aims to determine whether and/or how network and dynamics theory are
a) applicable to archaeological studies as a bottom-up methodology that enhances our specific interpretations of sites and datasets;
b) relevant as a wider theoretical framework to enhance our understanding of ancient human processes on an epistemological level.

Concretely, in this course we will discuss examples of ongoing archaeological studies related to the project ‘Routes of Exchange, Roots of Connectivity’ with focus on sites from the wider Indian Ocean region (ranging from East Africa to India) that were nodal points in ancient exchange networks.

One part of each lecture focuses on the overarching theoretical scope of dynamics and networks and will engage students in in-depth theoretical debate, as well as introduce them to the basics of network theory.
The second part focuses on specific examples, e.g. ancient objects from relevant sites where the fluidity of dynamic exchange becomes visible in the fusion of techniques, materials, styles, and the blurring of so-called cultural containers. Here, questions of materiality, innovation and craftsmanship also come into play.

As such, core concepts explored by the course are networks dynamics, unpredictability and non-linearity as an epistemological basis for studying the human past – all inherent to the process of exchange. At the same time, students are encouraged to explore such conceptual ideas through the object-focused analyses of ancient materials and artefacts.

Additionally, while the main aim of the course is to explore frameworks for a better understanding of the human past (i.e. the workings of dynamic exchange networks in Antiquity), the course will also pay attention to the relevance of such studies to our understanding of modern-day global networks and the impact of globalisation processes.

Course set-up

The course consists of seven lectures in which the relevant theoretical background is explored, explained and discussed. Each lecture is divided into two parts; one focused on the theoretical framework, one focused on an object-based case study.

Assignments include peer review among students, class debate, and hands-on participation with selected case studies.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of theoretical frameworks related to network theory and dynamic systems theory, as applied to archaeological research;

  • Knowledge of and insight into key archaeological materials;

  • Understanding how to assess and evaluate different theories and how this affects archaeological reasoning;

  • Understanding of archaeology as a scientific approach to better understand the human past;

  • Ability to write academic prose concerning complex theoretical frames as well as specific archaeological examples;

  • Ability to define research questions and one's own line of inquiry;

  • Ability to participate in group discussion and peer review;

  • Ability to link hands-on experience with materials to theoretical scopes.


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

  • Inquiry-based learning;

  • 21 hours of interactive lectures;

  • Group debate and discussion;

  • Weekly readings – interactive documents;

  • Peer-review;

  • Hands-on interaction with materials.

Assessment method

  • There will be three weekly assignments, assessed through peer review and class debate, as well as regular grading (the assignment average is 30% of the grade);

  • Final essay (2,500-3,000 words) (70% of the grade).

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

To be announced.


For lectures, tutorials, and exams, enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.
You are also required to confirm your exam in MyStudymap. No confirmation = no participation!

General information about registration can be found on the Course and Exam Enrolment page.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. M.E.J.J. (Marike) van Aerde.


Compulsory attendance.