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Social Complexity and Inequality in the Americas


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Archaeology programme, or equivalent.


Many social researchers argue for varying degrees of 'social complexity' among human societies. This then begs the question, what is social complexity and a complex society? How do scalar, social, economic, and political processes, connections, and divisions fit into social complexity?
This course is aimed at presenting and debating different aspects and perspectives of social complexity by comparing multiple approaches.
We will take a historical and multi-disciplinary approach to examine the changing ways that social complexity is discussed and debated in the archaeological literature. We will compare these theoretical discussions with examples of how social complexity has been argued to manifest in the archaeological record and how it has been analysed.

Examples will be drawn from societies throughout the Americas; from the modern day to the Palaeo-indian period approximately 15,000 years or more in the past. Anyone interested in political archaeology, the rise of hierarchical social and political practices, and the origins and maintenance of the state, will be interested in this course.

Every class will contain a lecture and the discussion on the weekly assigned literature. The second part of the block will also contain short, scheduled presentations where students present findings from their final essay. For the essay, each student will explore one of the course topics, using the knowledge and skills acquired during the course, and drawing on the course’s assigned readings, although external citations will also be expected.

Course objectives

  • Ability to interconnect archaeological, anthropological, and sociological ideas on social complexity and its associated rise (or lack thereof) from, primarily, case studies from the Americas;

  • Improvement of ability to critically assess current research and theoretical literature on social complexity, especially for the Americas;

  • Ability to identify and understand the history of research into social complexity and identify biases that underlie many of these early (and contemporary) conclusions;

  • Improvement of critical reading of academic texts and distill main points for further discussions;

  • Improvement of ability to select a research topic, consult relevant literature, and create, present, and discuss research in front of peers;

  • Improvement of academic writing skills while working on one's final research paper. Students will be expected to connect relevant literature with information and literature provided during the course.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar lectures;

  • Active discussions on the critical analysis of the literature;

  • Presentations by students.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7x2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • Assignments based on 140 pages of literature study (1 ec);

  • Essay of 2,500 words (2 ec);

  • Presentation (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Presentation (25%);

  • Weekly assignments (25%);

  • Final essay (max. 2,500 words) (50%).

Compensation is possible.

A retake is only possible for the final essay, provided that the student has met all requirements, including submission of all assignments and a first version of the essay.

Every week, there will be deadlines for submitting discussion points on BlackBoard and for the presentations (the schedule of the presentations to be arranged in due time).

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

Reading list

The reading list includes various sources, monographs and articles, which will be closely related to the subsequent topics of the course and assigned in advance for every class. The students will have to identify by themselves (library/internet search) the literature necessary for the preparation of the presentations and for the final essay.

All information referred to the assignments and literature will be posted on BlackBoard in due time and thus the use of BlackBoard is compulsory.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.

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

Registration ‘Contractonderwijs’

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


For more information about this course, please contact dr. L.S. (Lewis) Borck.


Compulsory attendance.