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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.


Introductory lectures will be given on methodological concepts related to Material Culture Studies and materials science, providing the conceptual framework to formulate relevant research questions in the domain. This will be followed by lectures on how to study reductive and transformative technologies respectively.

The focus of this course will lie on methods and techniques from the exact sciences, used to study the life cycle of artefacts, providing the necessary tools and framework to characterise and provenance these archaeological materials. Topics discussed will include:

1) microwear analysis
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.

2) analytical chemistry and material culture
You will be familiarised with the advantages, pitfalls and practical implementation of microstructural and chemical techniques in archaeological research. The lectures address the relation between the material properties of ancient artefacts and the analytical techniques used to study them.

3) petrography and material culture
The ceramic petrography course will introduce 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.

You can choose a focus from these research topics, to proceed with individual tutorials to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the analytical work for your thesis topic.

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 their technology 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;

  • Two 1,000-word preparatory paper assignments;

  • Practical laboratory training in artefact analysis;

  • 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.

Preparatory papers are assigned before the lectures, and will be discussed. Post lecture, extra reading is provided. Practical sessions will introduce laboratory techniques and approaches.

Assessment method

  • Paper (1,500 words) 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, dependent on preparatory paper assignments.


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 Prospective students website for information on how to apply.


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. P.A.I.H. (Patrick) Degryse.


Compulsory attendance.