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Advanced archaeological theory


Admission requirements

Degree students (including Dutch BA graduates): BA degree (or equivalent) in Archaeology or a relevant discipline. Knowledge of archaeological theory on BA3-level is required.


Do we need archaeological theory or is ‘common sense’ enough? This fundamental question once posed by Matthew Johnson in his textbook Archaeological Theory seems to be answered now positively: we do need it. One reason is that we do no longer accept an empiricist point of view, the facts do not speak for themselves. No archaeologist can think about the past independent of his/her own cultural background, political perspectives, national context. So it is better to accept that they influence thoughts and to identify them. Thus archaeological theory is not just about the past, it may even be more about the present.

Moreover, if archaeology claims to be a scholarly activity embedded in society it will have to confront its results with contemporary fundamental discussions about the nature of society. These days we find ourselves in a situation where there is no longer a single paradigm guiding all of the archaeological interpretative work. The postmodern ‘anything goes’ seems to be the prevalent stance in the theoretical debate.
So we are left with fundamental questions: what theory to use? How does theory relate to my pottery, postholes and architectural remains? Should I be a value-free scholar, can I be a value-free scholar? And how feasible is it, intellectually, that archaeology is changing from being part of the Enlightenment project towards being part of the industry of identity politics?

This course will give an overview, by no means exhaustive, of what archaeology theory is about. Students will have to read and reflect upon a recent handbook that provides something of a ‘state of the art’. Each week chapters of the handbook will be discussed, commented and elaborated upon in the lectures. Note however that the handbook chapters will only form a point of departure for the individual lectures.

Course objectives

  • Development of in-depth knowledge of the most important issues and debates in current archaeological theory;

  • Ability to situate these in broader, more global developments, or contextualise these in social-historical discussions;

  • Critical view on these issues and debates in current archaeological theory;

  • Critical evaluation of the relevance of these issues and debates for one’s own research;

  • Ability to assess and evaluate different theories and use these to formulate original/innovative new directions of research.


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

Mode of instruction


Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures (1 ects);

  • 560 pages of literature (4 ects).

Assessment method

Essay-type exam (100%).
The exam for RMA-students will be different from the MA-exam; the literature will be different and the exam questions more demanding.

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

Reading list

To be announced on BlackBoard.


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.

Registration ‘Contractonderwijs’

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


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. J.C.A. Kolen.


  • This course is taught in blocks 1 and 3. If you are starting your programme in September, you take this course in block 1. If you are starting your programme in February, you take this course in block 3.

  • Compulsory attendance.