ATS3277 - Making sense of archaeological sites through their cultural objects - 2017

6 points, SCA Band 1, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.




Dr Bruno David

Unit guides



  • First semester 2017 (Day)


Archaeologists understand archaeological sites by the artefacts they contain. This unit examines how archaeologists analyse collections of different kinds of artefacts excavated or collected from archaeological sites, and how histories of the past can be written from these finds. Such objects can include the spectacular, such as status objects and religious icons; and more mundane objects such as ancient food remains, stone artefacts and domestic pottery such as cooking wares. Students will work with real archaeological artefact assemblages and be shown how these can be made sense of as evidence of past cultural practices. They will compare archaeological artefacts with reference materials and systematically apply established methods of analysis developed internationally. These methods, and their implications for understanding the past, will be discussed through case studies drawn from current archaeological projects in the Australia-Pacific region. Students will be expected to attend a weekly 2 hour seminar that includes hands-on discussions of archaeological materials. A film of an archaeological excavation will be shown in one of those seminars, after which students will discuss how artefacts have enabled the archaeologists to work out that site's history.


Upon successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate in writing an appreciation of the broad methodological issues relating to how cultural objects have enabled archaeologists to make sense of the past;
  2. demonstrate an understanding of key theoretical approaches through which archaeological objects are analysed and the history of archaeological sites is written;
  3. describe different ways of analysing stone artefacts, faunal remains (ancient bones, shells), pottery and other major kinds of archaeological remains;
  4. demonstrate in writing how to interpret the different layers of archaeological sites and write an archaeological site report, using information recorded by others during archaeological excavations coupled with artefact analyses undertaken in the laboratory;
  5. critically examine how Indigenous cultures and identities tend to be represented through artefact descriptions and interpretations;
  6. reflect on how artefacts can raise, and answer, various kinds of questions about archaeological sites.


Within semester assessment: 100%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. A unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

Chief examiner(s)

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study


Twelve credit points of first-year Arts units.