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Research Seminar: Taphonomy


Admission requirements

  • BA or BSc degree obtained with an emphasis on a scientific background;

  • Admission to the Research Master Archaeology programme.


Taphonomy includes the processes that operate on potential fossils on route to their incorporation into fossil assemblages. This seminar will initially focus on a general introduction into the taphonomy of different fossil types (botanical and zoological – hominin, human and animal).
After this you will be asked to develop an investigation of how macroscopic plant remains may potentially be incorporated into a fossil assemblage in a lacustrine setting.
Plant macrofossils offer the opportunity to put archaeology into a detailed, local context. A lake setting has been chosen because many Palaeolithic sites are situated at the margins of lake basins in North-Western Europe.

Once you have produced a proposal you will be expected to undertake field work, process samples in the laboratory, generate botanical data, analyse the data with a view to answering the research questions set out in your proposal. This will lead to the production of an academic type paper fit for submission to an international, refereed journal.

Course objectives

  • Thorough knowledge and understanding of taphonomic processes and the ability to put specific archaeological research questions and related botanical data in a broader scientific multidisciplinary context/framework (A1/A2/A3);

  • Thorough working knowledge and understanding of a wide range of taphonomic issues encountered in the bioarchaeological record and the ability to interpret data obtained from fieldwork; (B1/C1);

  • Ability to independently develop a research proposal which includes creative and original ideas. The student will be responsible for the organisation, management and execution of the research. They will be expected to use the available time and resources effectively (C2/C3);

  • Firstly, the ability to report on one's taphonomic research in an archaeological context orally to an audience of international specialists and peers (E7), secondly, ability to produce a structured and concise academic paper fit to be submitted to an international, refereed journal (E6).


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

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures with practical exercises and some fieldwork;

  • Discussion meetings;

  • Assignments;

  • Reading list.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 14 × 2 hours of laboratory exercises, lectures and discussion meetings and practical exercises (5 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ec);

  • 1 proposal and paper presenting the results of a case study assigned to the candidate (3 ec).

Assessment method

  • Participation in discussions (30%);

  • Presentations (20%);

  • Assignments (research proposal and paper) (30%);

  • Laboratory exercise (20%).

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

Reading list

To be compiled by the students.


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 dr. M.H. Field.


  • Compulsory attendance;

  • This course will take place in blocks 3+4. Agreement on the time slot will be made with the student.