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Reconstructing artefact biographies: Theoretical concepts and methodologies


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

Admission to the an MSc-programme in Archaeology (this course can be used as the Supporting Discipline for MSc Archaeology students).


Objects are intimately connected with the social and ideational aspects of society, and their biographies reveal a great deal about their past significance. The reconstruction of these biographies forms the focus of this course, from the conception of the object, its manufacture, use or treatment tot its ultimate discard or deposition.
For each stage in the artefact’s trajectory current theoretical concepts and approaches will be discussed. At the same time we will examine what kind of analytical techniques are available to test these explanatory models. Thus, the course does not only intend to give a theoretical introduction to the MSc-programme Artefact Studies, but also briefly introduces analytical techniques that will be fully discussed in the course Techniques of Artefact Analysis.
In block 2 we will address a central research theme which will be the focus for students’ individual presentations.

Course objectives

  • Insight into the various research questions that can be asked regarding the meaning of material culture for past societies;

  • Knowledge of the various theoretical concepts that are important in material culture studies, and the ability to discuss them in a critical manner;

  • Basic knowledge of the analytical techniques available to operationalise these concepts, especially regarding the reconstruction of the life history of artefacts;

  • Ability to apply the concepts to a case study and presenting this in class.

Ects distribution

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 28 hours of lectures/seminars (2 ects);

  • 210 pages of literature (1,5 ects);

  • Paper, 3,000 words (1,5 ects).


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

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures (block 1);

  • Seminars with student presentations (block 2).

Assessment method

  • Paper (50% of final grade);

  • Presentation and participation in discussions (50% of final grade).

Assessment deadline

The paper needs to be handed in by 15 January 2013.

Reading list

  • A. Jones, “Archaeometry and Materiality. Materials-based Analysis in Theory and Practice” (2004) in: Archaeometry 46(3), pp. 327-338;

  • D. Stout, “Skill and Cognition in Stone Tool Production; An Ethnographic Case Study from Irian Jaja” (2002) in: Current Anthropology 43, pp. 693-722;

  • J.P. Warnier, “Technology as Efficacious Action of Objects… and Subjects” (2009) in: Journal of Material Culture 14/4, pp. 459-470;

  • Recently published articles, to be announced.


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

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

Contractonderwijs: all information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudents is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).

Contact information

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