nl en

SPOC Modelling and Simulation in Archaeology


Admission requirements

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

  • Admission to the MSc Archaeology programme Archaeological Science;

  • Knowledge and skills in Field Techniques and Geographic Information Systems on a level corresponding to the Leiden BA courses on these topics, or equivalent computational knowledge and skills.


This online course will provide an in-depth treatment of modelling and simulation in archaeology. It will contain both theoretical lessons and practical exercises with a focus on Agent-based Modelling (ABM), and will enable you to solve a self-defined research question in this sub-field.

In recent years, the modelling and simulation of human behaviour, human-environment interaction, and other complex issues in the past have proven their enourmous potential to gain insights into ancient societies.
Computational techniques and methods are required to acquire, process and analyse the data necessary for this approach.

This course provides a hands-on introduction to modelling and simulation in archaeology that allows participants to work with and build computer simulations of complex social and natural systems.
These skills will be taught within an e-learning environment, using a small private online course (SPOC) for the purpose.

Set-up of the course

The course will be taught over two blocks (14 weeks) in order to admit external participants. The weekly set-up is as follows:

  • 1 online session (1 hour);

  • Guided self-study based on online learning material;

  • Advice and exchange via online forums;

  • Weekly assignments (tests and practical exercises);

  • Final assignment.

Course objectives

The objective of the course is to provide students with a deep understanding of the possibilities and limitations of modelling and simulation as a tool in archaeology, and to teach them the basics of computer programming, enabling them to create new models and simulations for research purposes. At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • identify and translate implicit, conceptual models (scientific hypotheses formulated in natural language) into formal explicit models in a wide range of social and environmental research contexts;

  • build simulation systems to run, test and expand such models following best scientific practice;

  • develop intermediate programming skills with the ability to independently develop and test computer code;

  • interpret simulation results and assess their validity in archaeological and implementation terms;

  • understand the role of simulation techniques in modern scientific practice and appreciate both the potential and the challenges of the method.

These skills will be highly transferable to other disciplines in which modelling and simulations also play a major role.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Online interactive sessions;

  • Self-guided tutorials;

  • Practical assignments;

  • Reading assignments.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 14 hours of online lectures (1 ec);

  • 40 hours of practical work (2 ec);

  • 140 pages of literature (1 ec);

  • Essay of 1,500-1,800 words (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments (practical) (50%);

  • Final assignment (practical and written report) (50%);

The final grade will be the average of the partial grades of the weekly assignments and the final assignment. Only the final assignment can be retaken.

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the MA and MSc examination schedule.

Reading list

  • M.W. Lake, “Trends in Archaeological Simulation” (2014), in: Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21, 258–87;

  • L.S. Premo, “Agent-Based Models as Behavioral Laboratories for Evolutionary Anthropological Research” (2006), in: Arizona Anthropologist 17: 91–113;

  • I. Romanowska, “So You Think You Can Model? A Guide to Building and Evaluating Archaeological Simulation Models of Dispersals” (2015), in: Human Biology 87(3): 169-192.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.


For more information about this course, please contact ir. F. (Fulco) Scherjon.


  • Compulsory attendance.

  • There is a maximum of 10 participants. More students will be admitted via a waiting list in case there are fewer external participants than expected. Preference will be given to MSc students.