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Archaeological Theory (MA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the Master Archaeology programme.


Do we need archaeological theory, or is our ‘common sense’ enough in order to assess the past? This fundamental question once posed by Matthew Johnson in his textbook Archaeological Theory (2010) now seems to be answered positively: we do need it!
One reason is that we no longer accept an empiricist point of view, the facts do not speak for themselves. No archaeologist can think about the past independent of his/her own preconceived notions, socio-cultural background, national context, etc., so it is better to accept that they influence thoughts and to clearly identify these elements in our scholarly endeavours.
Perceived in this way, archaeological theory is not just about the past, it may even be more about the present.

Moreover, if archaeology claims to be a scholarly activity embedded in society, it will have to confront its results with contemporary fundamental discussions about the nature of society. These days we find ourselves in a situation where there is no longer a single paradigm guiding all of the archaeological interpretative work. The postmodern ‘anything goes’ seems to be the prevalent stance in the ongoing theoretical debate, but is archaeology satisfied with this state of affairs?

So, we are left with fundamental questions: What theory to use? How can theory be related to my potsherds, bones, stones, postholes, or architectural remains? Should I be a value-free scholar; can I be a value-free scholar? How can we overcome conceptual challenges posed by archaeology? And how feasible is it, intellectually, that archaeology is changing from being part of the Enlightenment project towards being part of the industry of identity politics? Have these trajectories been elapsing differently in different parts of the world? If so, why and how may they be approached?

This course gives an overview, selective and by no means exhaustive, of what archaeological theory is currently about. You will read and reflect upon a recent handbook and readings that provide something of a ‘state-of-the-art’ of the philosophy of science. Note, however, that the handbook chapters are conceived here as points of departure for the individual lectures and associated readings that may wander in very different directions across the contemporary theoretical scape.

Set-up of the course

  • Lecture 1: General introduction to the course & Questions of Burials, Death and the Dead

  • Lecture 2: Questions of Landscape

  • Lecture 3: Questions of Exchange

  • Lecture 4: Questions of Matter

  • Lecture 5: Questions of Time

  • Lecture 6: Questions of Image

  • Lecture 7: The place of theory in your research – students preparing a ca. 3-minute pitch on how they plan to apply theory to their research project, followed by class discussion.

Please note that each lecture requires the readings (often different for MA and RMA students) especially related to the topic; the list of readings will be posted on BlackBoard in due time).

Course objectives

  • Critical view on the main theoretical approaches and debates in current archaeological theory;

  • Critical evaluation of the adaptability and relevance of these issues and debates for one's own research;

  • Ability to assess and evaluate different theories and use these to formulate original/innovative new directions of research.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Class discussion.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 6 x 2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • Ca. 500 pages of literature (4 ec).

Assessment method

Written exam (100%) with 10 questions, related entirely to the content of:
1) textbook (Okasha textbook);
2) lectures;
3) assigned weekly readings.

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

Reading list

  • Okasha, S. 2016, Philosophy of Science. A Very Short Introduction. (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press (compulsory reading);

  • Weekly readings to be announced on Blackboard.


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.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. A.T. (Andrzej) Antczak.


  • Compulsory attendance.

  • This course is taught in blocks 1 and 3. If you are starting your programme in September, you take this course in block 1. If you are starting your programme in February, you take this course in block 3.
    Please note that small changes in programme between blocks can result from the activities related to the week that opens the academic year 2019-2020, in block 1.