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Archaeological Theory (BA3)


Admission requirements

Bachelor Archaeology first year obtained, plus 30 ec from the remaining BA Archaeology programme.


A dual - “foundational” vs. “applied/topical” - structure for this course has been chosen. Along the way, archaeology will be resituated within the broader, emphatically interdisciplinary, framework of a four-fields anthropology.

In the first three meetings you will take a philosophy-of-science/"epistemological" perspective on the various ways you as an archaeologist reason, justify your claims, and try to obtain true knowledge of the world - in particular de-, in- and abduction.

You will also deepen your insight into a major issue regarding conceptual/theoretical foundations, to wit the great divide between explanatory natural science approaches and interpretive humanities approaches (cf. processual and post-processual archaeology, respectively).
This divide will be introduced in terms of the theory-laden character of much, if not all archaeological observation - on a deeper level than the BA1 and BA2 years (cf. the article by Bransen).

The role of paradigms (conceptual foundations) and their methodological implications will be at stake continuously in the case studies addressed during the course. The first case study comprises paradigms in lithic analysis, which will serve as a first case study.

Subsequently, in the second part of the course (by Geurds), 3 topical subjects and more case studies will be presented, showing how such paradigms feed into (“theory-laden”) observation and styles of arguing, even implying views of what constitutes a coherent argument.
This second part of the course will review the theoretical landscape of archaeology beyond the three major notions of culture history, processual and post-processual archaeology.

We will investigate what happened to these three strands, discussing: the critique on dualisms; notions of practice theory in archaeology; why Marx is still around; and the contemporary relevance (if any) of archaeology.

Interconnected topics that will be touched upon, which may also serve as possible themes for the essay assignment, include:

  • Environmental humanities, the “Anthropocene”, human-animals- things-landscapes as agents.

  • Embodied cognition in cognitive archaeology (and its issues with mainstream cognitive neuroscience), c.q. human action in and interaction with the world: practice and landscape.

  • Historical contexts of people: matters of identity, agency, and intentionality.

  • Material ties to people: the materiality and entanglement debate.

  • More than human: symmetrical archaeology and new materialisms.

  • The third science revolution in archaeology, including Big Data and aDNA studies.

  • Decolonising archaeology: implications of a shift toward inclusiveness and engagement.

The course will be concluded with a look ahead to possible conceptual considerations for future archaeology, asking the question: Where does archaeology end?

Course set-up

There are 7 meetings of 2 hours each, featuring interactive lectures and, where feasible, class discussions.

Course objectives

Ability to:

  • Make explicit and critically reflect on your own theoretical presuppositions;

  • Better see the differences between in-, de- and abductive reasoning in your own archaeological (taphonomy, iconography, palaeobotany, etc.) practice and that of others;

  • Identify and explain the main developments and trends in archaeological theory, as discussed in this class, on various levels of abstraction;

  • Understand the historical context in which these theoretical trends developed;

  • Understand and summarise texts written by influential archaeological thinkers;

  • Appreciate and criticise the current relevance of these texts and the theoretical trends they belong to, both in spoken word (debate) and written word (essay);

  • Apply relevant theoretical perspectives to your own research and write a scholarly essay on your topic.


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

Lectures with considerable interaction.

Assessment method

  • Written exam with essay questions;

  • Final essay.

Submit your essay through Turnitin.

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

Reading for lectures by prof. Corbey:

  • Corbey, R. 2001. A Note on Hilary Putnam. Unpublished manuscript (10 pages);

  • The three sections from the English-language Wikipedia on Hilary Putnam’s position during the 1980s/1990s.
    Forget about his earlier and later thought, to avoid confusion. The three sections are:

  • Metaphilosophy and ontology

  • Metaphilosophy and ontology

  • Neopragmatism and Wittgenstein.

  • Anderson, J., web feature “Hilary Putnam’s internal realism briefly explained”, see Phil 101: Putnam's Internal Realism;

  • Bransen, J. 2001. "Verstehen and Erklären: The Philosophy of –" in: N.J. Smelser & P.B. Baltes (Eds.) 2001, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd., pp. 16165-16170;

  • Roebroeks W. & Corbey R. 2008, "Axe Age" (review of the book Axe Age: Acheulian Tool-Making From Quarry to Discard, Goren-Inbar N., Sharon G. (eds.) 2006, in: Lithic Technology 34: 53-59;

  • Corbey, R. et al. 2016. "The Acheulean Handaxe: More Like a Bird's Song than a Beatles' Tune?", in: Evolutionary Anthropology 25: 6-19;

  • Corbey R. 2020, "Baldwin Effects in Early Stone Tools", in: Evolutionary Anthropology 2020: 1-8.

Reading for lectures by dr. Geurds:

  • Binford, L.R. 1962. "Archaeology as Anthropology", in: American Antiquity 28:217–225 (8 pages);

  • Flannery, K.V. 1967. "Culture History vs. Culture Process: A Debate in American Archaeology", in: Scientific American 217: 119–122 (3 pages);

  • González-Ruibal, A., P.A. González & F. Criado-Boado. 2018. "Against Reactionary Populism: Towards New Public Archaeology", in: Antiquity 92:507–515 (8 pages);

  • Gosden, C. 2012. "Post-Colonial Archaeology", in: Archaeological Theory Today, edited by I. Hodder, pp. 251-267. Polity Press, Cambridge (16 pages);

  • Hodder, I. 1991. "Interpretive Archaeology and its Role", in: American Antiquity 56(1): 7–18. (11 pages);

  • Nilsson Stutz, L. 2018. "A Future for Archaeology: In Defense of an Intellectually Engaged, Collaborative and Confident Archaeology", in: Norwegian Archaeological Review 51(1):48-56. (8 pages);

  • Robb, J. 2010. "Beyond Agency", in: World Archaeology 42(2) 493-520 (27 pages);

  • Preucel, R.W. 1995. "The Postprocessual Condition", in: Journal of Archaeological Research 3(2): 147–175. (19 pages).


Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.

General information about registration can be found on the Course and Exam Enrolment page.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to apply.


For more information about his course, please contact prof. dr. R.H.A. (Raymond) Corbey or dr. A. (Alex) Geurds.


Compulsory attendance.