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Computational methods in archaeology


Admission requirements

BA or BSc degree in Archaeology or a closely related discipline, plus the BA2 courses Data analysis and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (or other undergraduate courses in Digital Archaeology deemed to be equivalent by the instructor).


This course will provide an in-depth treatment of one of the sub-fields of Digital Archaeology presented in the Digital data acquisition and analysis course. It will contain both theoretical lessons and practical exercise, and will enable students to solve a self-defined research question in this sub-field.

In the academic year 2016-2017, the topic of this course will be “Modelling and simulation in archaeology”.
In recent years, the modelling and simulation of human behaviour, human-environment interaction, and other complex issues in the past have proven their enourmous potential to gain insights into ancient societies.
Computational techniques and methods are required to acquire, process and analyse the data necessary for this approach. This course provides a hands-on introduction to modelling and simulation in archaeology that allows participants to work with and build computer simulations of complex social and natural systems. These skills will be taught within an e-learning environment, using a newly developed small private online course (SPOC) for the purpose.

Course objectives

The objective of the course is to provide students with a deep understanding of the possibilities and limitations of modelling and simulation as a tool in archaeology and to teach them the basics of computer programming, enabling them to create new models and simulations for research purposes. At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • identify and translate implicit, conceptual models (scientific hypotheses formulated in natural language) into formal explicit models in a wide range of social and environmental research contexts;

  • build simulation systems to run, test and expand such models following best scientific practice;

  • develop intermediate programming skills with the ability to independently develop and test computer code;

  • interpret simulation results and assess their validity in archaeological and implementation terms;

  • understand the role of simulation techniques in modern scientific practice and appreciate both the potential and the challenges of the method.
    These skills will be highly transferable to other disciplines in which modelling and simulations also play a major role.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Online presentations;

  • Self-guided tutorials;

  • Practical assignments;

  • Reading assignments.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 14 hours of online lectures (1 ects);

  • 40 hours of practical work (2 ects);

  • 140 pages of literature (1 ects);

  • Essay of 1,500-1,800 words (1 ects).

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments (practical) (50%);

  • Final assignment (practical and written report) (50%);

Only the final assignment can be retaken.

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

Reading list

  • M.W. Lake, “Trends in Archaeological Simulation” (2014), in: Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21, 258–87;

  • L.S. Premo, “Agent-Based Models as Behavioral Laboratories for Evolutionary Anthropological Research” (2006), in: Arizona Anthropologist 17: 91–113;

  • I. Romanowska, “So You Think You Can Model ? A Guide to Building and Evaluating Archaeological Simulation Models of Dispersals” (2015), in: Human Biology 87(3). Human Biology Open Access Preprints, paper 79.


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. K. Lambers.


This is an on-line course without contact hours in the classroom. The teachers will be available online weekly at predefined hours. For further interaction the course will provide an online platform (discussion forum, video conferencing and other formats).