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How Deep History Shaped the Human World


Admission requirements

  • Admission to the Master Archaeology programme;

  • BA degree (or equivalent) in Prehistoric archaeology or a relevant discipline.

This course is relevant for students who plan a future career in (applied) archaeology of a particular region with a focus on prehistory or its deep history, but also to those who are more interested in how the past plays a role in present-day society and politics.


Why is wealth so unevenly spread across the world? Why did social development in one part of the world take such a different route than it did in another? Perhaps surprisingly, social inequality, the humanly-induced change of the natural world and several other topics that are key concerns of modern society already mattered in prehistory. Some even can be said to have originated in our deep past.

This course will outline key developments that had a deep impact on the course human history took, such as the shift to a sedentary way of life, Neolithisation of the world, the adoption or rejection of disruptive innovations such as metallurgy, or the wheel. Special attention will be devoted to the question why hierarchical societies developed in certain parts of the world, whilst more egalitarian forms of society prevailed elsewhere.
We will discuss such developments from a global perspective, where important differences and similarities between continents and regions will be emphasized, and how they may affect the present.

The course will deepen your knowledge on such prehistoric developments, but will particularly focus on how some of these matter to and affect the present, and may be made relevant to modern social challenges.

By means of interactive teaching methods, you will learn to critically read and analyse theories on what happened in deep history, and evaluate how they may be relevant to the present. By writing short papers on the case studies, you are trained in formulating your thoughts in writing, and how to position yourself in the debates that revolve around crucial developments.
Each week a group of students will present on one specific problem, analysing how it may have affected human history. These presentations will lead to more general discussions on how the deep past may have shaped the present, and how we can use this knowledge to deal with today’s global challenges.

Course objectives

  • In-depth knowledge of fundamental developments in prehistory across the world;

  • Knowledge of and insight in interpretative approaches to innovation and adoption of new materials, ideas, and technologies;

  • Insight into the applicability of theoretical models on data;

  • Ability to voice one’s properly argumented opinion on the discussed topics;

  • Ability to formulate well-structured arguments orally and in writing;

  • Ability to present ons's results in class;

  • Linking knowledge gained form archaeology to today’s social challenges.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar;

  • Presentations;

  • Discussion;

  • Peer-reviewing.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7 × 2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • Literature and 5 small assignments (500-750 words) (3 ec);

  • Final essay of ca. 1,800 words (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Written assignments (40%);

  • Presentation in class (20%);

  • Final essay (40%);

  • Feedback to peers and participation in discussion (used to round off the grade: -0.5 / 0 / +0.5).

A retake is only possible for the final essay, and only if all other requirements have been met, including attendance and submission of all assignments.

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

Reading list

To be published 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.

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 prof. dr. D.R. (David) Fontijn.


Compulsory attendance.