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Reconstructing artefact biographies: Concepts and methodologies


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

Admission to an MSc or MA-programme in Archaeology. This course is open to all MA and MSc-students.


Objects are intimately connected with the social and ideational aspects of society. The reconstruction of the life history of artefacts will be a central theme, from the conception of the object to excavation and conservation.
The course will include lectures on raw material procurement, production techniques, use and discard and will also include an overview of relevant post-depositional processes. For each stage in the artefact’s trajectory current theoretical concepts and approaches will be discussed. At the same time we will examine what kind of analytical techniques are available to us to test these explanatory models. The course thus not only intends to give a theoretical introduction to the MSc-programme in Material Culture Studies, but also briefly introduces analytical techniques which will be more elaborately discussed in the course Techniques of artefact analysis.

Course objectives

  • Insight into the various research questions that can be asked regarding the meaning of material culture for past societies;

  • Knowledge of the various theoretical concepts that are important in material culture studies, and the ability to discuss them in a critical manner;

  • Basic knowledge of the analytical techniques available to operationalise these concepts, especially regarding the reconstruction of the life history of artefacts;

  • Ability to apply the concepts to a case study and to present this in class.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Seminars.

Assessment method

  • Paper (50% of final grade);

  • Presentation (50% of final grade).

Assessment deadline

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

  • A. Jones, “Archaeometry and Materiality. Materials-based Analysis in Theory and Practice” (2004) in: Archaeometry 46(3), pp. 327-338;

  • D. Stout, “Skill and Cognition in Stone Tool Production; An Ethnographic Case Study from Irian Jaja” (2002) in: Current Anthropology 43, pp. 693-722;

  • J.P. Warnier, “Technology as Efficacious Action of Objects… and Subjects” (2009) in: Journal of Material Culture 14/4, pp. 459-470;

  • Recently published articles, to be announced.


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

Exchange and Study Abroad students: please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contractonderwijs: all information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudents is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).

Contact information

For more information about this course, please contact mw. prof. dr. A.L. van Gijn.