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Advanced Studies in How Deep History Shaped the Human World


Admission requirements

  • BA degree (or equivalent) in Prehistoric archaeology or a relevant discipline;

  • Admission to the Research Master Archaeology programme.

This course is relevant to students who are interested in studying key developments in deep history on a global scale from a comparative, broad-picture perspective. It is of interest to students who wish to link such developments from the past to current societal challenges such as the politics of migration, identity and social inequality.


Why is wealth so unevenly spread across the world? Why did social development in one part of the world take such a different route than it did in another? Perhaps surprisingly, social inequality, the human-induced change of the natural world and several other topics that are key concerns of modern society already mattered in Prehistory. Some even can be said to have originated in our deep past.

This course will outline key developments that had a deep impact on the course of human history, such as the shift to a sedentary way of life, Neolithisation of the world, the adoption or rejection of disruptive innovations such as metallurgy, or the wheel.
Special attention will be given to the question why hierarchical societies developed in certain parts of the world, whilst more egalitarian forms of society prevailed elsewhere.

We will discuss such developments from a global perspective, where important differences and similarities between continents and regions will be emphasised, and how they may affect the present.
The course will deepen your knowledge on such Prehistoric developments, but particularly focus on how some of these matter to and affect the present, and how they may be made relevant to modern social challenges.

In an interactive way, you will learn to critically read and analyse theories on what happened in deep history, and evaluate how they may be relevant to the present. Writing short papers on the case studies, you are trained in formulating your thoughts in writing and position yourself in the debates that revolve around crucial developments .
Each week a group of students presents on one specific problem, analysing how it may have affected human history. These presentations will lead to more general discussions on how the deep past may have shaped the present, or how we can use this knowledge to tackle today’s global challenges. RMA-students are expected to start and stimulate discussions in class, and to provide a brief conclusion of the debate at the end of each session.

RMA-students take part in the same sessions as the MA-students, but although sharing the same body of knowledge, RMA-students will approach the issues at stake in a different manner. In their assignments, they are expected to work in an explicitly comparative manner, in which developments that took place in different parts of the world will be analysed and compared in more depth. It will be their task to engage explicitly with current societal debates using this comparative knowledge.
This will be tested in weekly assignment especially designed for RMA-students. RMA’s are also expected to write a final essay that elaborates on one of the issues discussed in the course that gives an overview and analysis of the debate on a (semi-) global scale and provides a new angle to its interpretation.

Course objectives

  • In-depth knowledge of fundamental innovations in Prehistoric Eurasia from the Neolithic to the Iron Age;

  • Knowledge of and insight in interpretative approaches to innovation and adoption of new materials, ideas, and technologies;

  • Insight into the applicability of theoretical models on data;

  • Ability to assess and evaluate different theories and to combine insights on data on a (semi-) global scale;

  • Ability to report such reviews orally and in writing;

  • Ability to quickly combine and assess the opinions of others, evaluate different theories, and use these to formulate original/innovative new directions of research;

  • Ability to start and stimulate discussion;

  • Ability to link knowledge gained form archaeology to today’s social challenges.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Weekly discussion and wrap-up sessions;

  • Weekly assignments;

  • Final essay that compares developments on a (semi-) global scale and has the potential to understand them from a new angle.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 7×2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • Literature and 4 short assignments (750 words) (3 ec);

  • Final essay of ca. 2,000 words (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Written assignments (40%);

  • Presentation in class (weekly wrap-up) (20%);

  • Final essay (40%);

  • Feedback to peers and participation in discussion (used to round off the grade: -0.5 / 0 / +0.5).

A retake is only possible for the final essay, and only if all other requirements have been met, including attendance and submission of all assignments.

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

Reading list

The reading list will be published on BlackBoard.


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 prof. dr. D.R. (David) Fontijn.


Compulsory attendance.