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Environmental History of the Near East


Admission requirements

This is a seminar with a limited amount of participants (20 students), for Archaeology students exclusively.


This course provides an introduction to the way humans in the past exploited their environment. This includes both the factors that are determined by the environment, and factors that are associated with economy and health in particular.

Basic concepts that are discussed include: origin and development of agriculture, domestication, climate and soil (related to irrigation and manuring), food and fuel, yield, storage and transport, and labour in relation to agricultural practices and food preparation.
Special attention will be paid to the crop and food processing, including food preservation and the interaction between crop selection and technology.

The course also deals with the way archaeo-botanical research can contribute to the reconstruction of the former landscape, and how humans changed the landscape. The aspects mentioned above will be studied within the context of environments and developments in the Near East (South-West Asia).

The course also provides an introduction to the description, identification, and interpretation of plant macro remains that are retrieved from excavations. Special attention will be paid to the seed and fruit concept and the description of fragments produced by crop processing.
This will be illustrated by different plant families, including the Grass family (Poaceae), the Pea family (Fabaceae), and the Cabbage family (Brassicaceae).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the central concepts and ability to explain causal relationships between these concepts in relation to the exploitation of the landscape;

  • Knowledge of models that provide insight in the origins of agriculture, the selection of crops, and sampling strategy in relation to the reconstruction of agricultural practices;

  • Ability to evaluate theories related to agriculture and food economy based on archaeo-botanical evidence;

  • Basic skills in identification and interpretation of recent and subfossil plant macro remains.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA2 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, with student participation.

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 × 3.45 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 420 pages of literature (3 ec);

  • Essay (1,500-1,800 words) (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Essay (1,500-1,800 words) (100%).

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA2 examination schedule.

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

  • R.T.J. Cappers & R. Neef, 2012. Handbook of Plant Palaeoecology. Groningen: Barkhuis.


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.

  • Start registration for the BA2 seminars:
    Series 1: 14 September 2020, 07:00 hrs
    Series 2: 11 January 2021, 07:00 hrs
    Series 3: 22 February 2021, 07:00 hrs

  • 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. R.T.J. (René) Cappers.


Compulsory attendance.