nl en

Archaeological Theory (BA3)


Admission requirements


A dual - “foundational” vs. “applied/topical” - structure for this course has been chosen. The course stresses foundational/theoretical matters which are illustrated by means of various case studies.
Along the way, archaeology will be resituated within the broader, emphatically interdisciplinary, framework of a four-fields anthropology, with special attention for the promise and problems of a closer connection to evolutionary anthropology.

A major issue regarding conceptual/theoretical foundations is the great divide between explanatory natural science approaches and interpretive humanities approaches (cf. processual and post-processual archaeology, respectively). This divide will be introduced in the first meeting (cf. the article by Jan Bransen) in connection with the theory-laden character of much, if not all archaeological observation - on a deeper level than the BA1 and BA2 years.

The role of paradigms (conceptual foundations) and their methodological implications will be at stake continuously in the case studies addressed during the course. The first case study comprises (paradigms in) lithic analysis (meetings 2 and 3, prof. Corbey).
Subsequently, in the second part of the course (dr. Geurds), three topical subjects will be presented, showing how such paradigms feed into (“theory-laden”) observation and styles of arguing, even implying views of what constitutes a coherent argument.
This second part of the course will review the theoretical landscape of archaeology beyond the three major notions of culture history, processual and post-processual archaeology.

We will investigate what happened to these three strands, discussing: the critique on dualisms; notions of practice theory in archaeology; why Marx is still around; and the contemporary relevance (if any) of archaeology.

Interconnected topics that will be touched upon, which may also serve as possible themes for the essay assignment, include:

  • Environmental humanities, the “Anthropocene”, human-animals- things-landscapes as agents.

  • Embodied cognition in cognitive archaeology (and its issues with mainstream cognitive neuroscience), c.q. human action in and interaction with the world: practice and landscape.

  • Historical contexts of people: matters of identity, agency, and intentionality.

  • Material ties to people: the materiality and entanglement debate.

  • More than human: symmetrical archaeology and new materialisms.

  • The third science revolution in archaeology, including Big Data and aDNA studies.

  • Decolonising archaeology: implications of a shift toward inclusiveness and engagement.

The course will be concluded with a look ahead to possible conceptual considerations for future archaeology, asking the question: Where does archaeology end?

Course set-up

There are 7 meetings of two hours each, featuring interactive lectures and, where feasible, class discussions.

Course objectives

Ability to:

  • make explicit and critically reflect on your own theoretical presuppositions;

  • identify and explain the main developments and trends in archaeological theory, as discussed in this class;

  • illustrate the historical context in which these theoretical trends developed;

  • understand and summarise texts written by influential archaeological thinkers;

  • appreciate and criticise the current relevance of these texts and the theoretical trends they belong to, both in spoken word (debate) and written word (essay);

  • Apply relevant theoretical perspectives to your own research and write a scholarly essay on your topic.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

Lectures with considerable interaction.

Course load

  • 7 classes (1 ec);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ec);

  • Final essay of 1,200 words (1 ec);

  • Final exam (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • One final essay of 1,200 words (30%);

  • Written exam with essay questions (70%).

Submit your essay through Turnitin.

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA3 examination schedule.

Reading list

  • Bransen, J. 2001. "Verstehen and Erklären: The Philosophy of – " in: N.J. Smelser & P.B. Baltes (Eds.) 2001, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd., pp. 16165-16170 (15 pages);

  • Corbey, R. 2001. A Note on Hilary Putnam. Unpublished manuscript. (10 pages);

  • Corbey, R. et al. 2016. "The Acheulean Handaxe: More Like a Bird's Song Than a Beatles' Tune?" in: Evolutionary Anthropology 25: 6-19;

  • Gosden, C. 2012. "Post-Colonial Archaeology" in: Archaeological Theory Today, edited by I. Hodder, pp. 251-267. Polity Press, Cambridge. (16 pages);

  • Hussain. S.T. 2019. The French-Anglophone Divide in Lithic Research: A Plea for Pluralism in Palaeolithic Archaeology. PhD thesis, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University. (50 pages);

  • Joyce, R.A. 2005. "Solid Histories for Fragile Nations: Archaeology as Cultural Patrimony" in: Embedding Ethics, edited by L. Meskell & P. Pels, pp. 253-273. Berg, New York. (20 pages);

  • Malafouris, L. 2013. How Things Shape the Mind. MIT Press, Cambridge. pp. 169-177. (8 pages);

  • Nilsson Stutz, L. 2018. "A Future for Archaeology: In Defense of an Intellectually Engaged, Collaborative and Confident Archaeology" in: Norwegian Archaeological Review 51(1) 48-56. (8 pages);

  • Olsen, B. 2003. "Material Culture After Text: Re-membering Things" in: Norwegian Archaeological Review 36(2) 87-104. (17 pages);

  • Robb, J. 2010. "Beyond Agency" in: World Archaeology 42(2) 493-520. (27 pages);

  • Silliman, S. 2010. "Indigenous Traces in Colonial Spaces" in: Journal of Social Archaeology 10(1) 28-58. (30 pages);

  • Thomas, J. 2015. "Why “The Death of Archaeological Theory”?" in: Debating Archaeological Empiricism: The Ambiguity of Material Evidence, edited by C. Hillerdal & J. Siapkas, pp. 11-30. Routledge, London. (18 pages);

  • Witmore C. 2014. "Archaeology and the New Materialisms" in: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1(2) 203-224. (21 pages).


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.

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


For more information about his course, please contact prof. dr. R.H.A. (Raymond) Corbey.


Compulsory attendance.