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How Deep History Shaped the Human World


Admission requirements

  • Admission to the Master Archaeology programme;

  • Bachelor's 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 for 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 human-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 of human history, 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 given 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 emphasised, and how they may affect the present.
The course will deepen your knowledge on such Prehistoric developments, but particularly focus on how some of these matter to and affect the present, and how they may be made relevant to modern social challenges.

In an interactive way, 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.

Course objectives

  • In-depth knowledge of fundamental developments in world Prehistory;

  • 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 report such reviews orally and in writing;

  • Ability to quickly combine and assess the opinions of others, evaluate different theories, and use these to formulate original/innovative new directions of research;

  • Ability to start and stimulate discussion;

  • Ability to link 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

  • Weekly discussion;

  • Weekly assignments;

  • Final essay that compares developments on a (semi-)global scale, and has the potential to understand them from a new angle.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the mode of instruction may change before or during the course.

Course load

  • 7 × 2 hours of lectures (1 ec) online and/or on campus;

  • Literature and 6 short assignments (3 ec);

  • Final essay of ca. 2,000 words (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Written assignments (40%);

  • Presentation in class (weekly wrap-up) (bonus points of up to 0.3 added to final grade);

  • Final essay (60%);

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.

Due to COVID-19 measures in place, and depending on developments in the situation, the assessment method may change before or during the course.

Reading list

To be published on Brightspace.


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


Compulsory attendance.