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Archaeological Science Specialisation Course: Material Culture


Admission requirements

  • BA or BSc degree in Archaeology or a closely related discipline;

  • Admission to the MSc Archaeology programme Archaeological Science.


An introductory lecture will be given on theoretical concepts related to Material Culture Studies, which will give the conceptual framework to formulate relevant research questions. This will be followed by 3 lectures on reductive and 3 on transformative technologies respectively.

Analytical techniques will be discussed, especially related to the three specialisations which are possible within Material Culture Studies:

1) microwear analysis (van Gijn)
2) ceramic petrography and technology (Degryse)
3) experimental archaeology (van Gijn)

You can choose one of these directions and proceed with individual tutorials related to the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the analytical work for your thesis topic.

Ad 1) The microscopic study of objects reveals traces of manufacturing, use and treatment of objects that are not visible with the naked eye. You will learn to use stereomicroscopes, incident light and transmitted light microscopy to distinguish these traces and residues, using the extensive reference collection of experimentally used objects made of stone, bone, coral, shell and other raw materials.

Ad 2) Experimental archaeology is crucial for an improved understanding of object biographies. By carrying out experiments in a scientific context, various hypotheses about the production, treatment and use of materials can be tested. The experimental center at Vlaardingen-Broekpolder (a reconstruction of a Stone Age house) and the experimental facilities at the Laboratory for Material Culture Studies in Leiden are at your disposal.

Ad 3) The ceramic petrography course introduces you to the methodology and application of thin section petrography of archaeological pottery. By using principles of optical mineralogy and petrology, archaeological ceramic petrography focuses on provenance issues as well as on the reconstruction of ancient artisanal technology.

Course objectives

  • Familiarity with analytical laboratory techniques used for the description and technological analysis of a range of artefacts;

  • Increased understanding of how analytical laboratory techniques of material analysis can provide detailed information about artefact biographies, the transformations objects may undergo during their life cycle, the mobility of objects and the social and cultural significance of material culture in general.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

  • Formal lectures and class discussions;

  • Practical training in artefact analysis and description and familiarising students with the interconnectivities between different chaînes opératoires;

  • Individual or small-group tutorials in the laboratory as a preparation for the empirical work for the students’ thesis topic;

  • Reading literature relevant to students' specialisations.

Course load

  • Lectures (1 ec);

  • Practicals and lab work (2.5 ec);

  • Paper of 1,500 words (0.5 ec);

  • 140 pages of literature (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Paper about a topic related to one of the lectures presented in class (100%).

A retake of the paper is only allowed when the attendance requirements have been met.

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

Reading list

To be announced.


Registration in uSis is mandatory. You can register for this course until 5 days before the first class.

Registration in uSis automatically leads to enrollment in the corresponding Brightspace module. Therefore you do not need to enroll in Brightspace, but make sure to register for this course in uSis.

You are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time. The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, you are not required to do this in uSis.


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. A.L. (Annelou) van Gijn.


Compulsory attendance.