ANT 112: Introduction to Archaeology

This course introduces students to archaeology and its place within the study of humankind. It covers several topics including the development of the field as a scientific discipline (as well as an overview of humanistic approaches), theories, methods, evidence, and how we put this all together to study past peoples and their cultures. Alongside these topics, it covers human prehistory and important cultural developments over the last 150,000 years.

Here is a link to the full syllabus: 112A_syllabus

Philosophy: Introduction to archaeology is an essential course for students interested in anthropology as a major/minor and career. A complete understanding of the entire field of anthropology and all four subfields–cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistics–is needed to be a successful anthropologist. For students specifically interested in archaeology within anthropology, this course provides basic knowledge of methods, theory, and prehistory. It prepares them for more advanced courses in each of these topics. This course also fulfills part of the social sciences requirement for Wake Forest students as well as the cultural diversity requirement. As a result, each semester the course is taken by a wide range of students with diverse academic and career interests. For all students, I design this course to display the larger themes in archaeology that are useful to all students, regardless of interests. These include, epistemology, middle-range theory, the nature of science, and cultural heritage.

Content: The course is broken into three sections:

  1. Archaeological methods
  2. Archaeological theory
  3. Prehistory and ethics

During the course of the semester, we discuss how archaeology works and big cultural developments throughout human prehistory, such as the rise of agriculture and the rise of the first states. We do this through a combination of lectures, discussions, films, and hands-on exercises, which are discussed in the next section. There are a large number of great archaeological films out there. Here are two examples of films I use in this course:

Innovations: Anthropology is a hands-on field. For that reason, I try to make the introduction to archaeology course as hands-on as possible. Throughout the course of the semester, students complete 10 exercises that require them to analyze a variety of archaeological data and answer questions that mimic real archaeological research. These exercises vary from identifying and examining different types of artifacts to evaluating museum exhibits to using ancient technology, like this:


In addition to the exercises, the course is very example driven. I use a lot of deductive methods, in which students are given information about a site or a study and are required to come up with interpretations. I do this to show them not just what archaeology is, but to give them an understanding of how archaeology actually works. These methods mimic what we do as archaeologists on a daily basis in our own research.

This semester I began class with “focus groups”. To encourage students to read in the past, I often used basic, multiple choice quizzes. They worked and students read, but I felt that students were reading just to do well on the quizzes, not to actually begin understanding the concepts we were discussing. As a result, I replaced them with these focus groups. At the beginning of class, I randomly choose 5 students. I ask them questions about the reading for the day and ask them what questions they have from the readings. To get a perfect score in the focus group, you must answer my questions correctly and ask your own. After one semester of this, I believe it worked much better than my previous attempts. Students were still encouraged to read, but at a deeper level. My questions were more conceptual than any multiple choice question can be, and by encouraging them to think of their own questions, they were forced to read a bit more carefully and think more about what they were reading. I could use their questions to tailor the class as well. If everyone was comfortable with certain concepts from the reading, we did not need to spend a lot of time on it in class. However, if students were confused about or had questions about particular ideas, we could use that extra time to delve more into those less-well-understood topics.

Finally, I am currently exploring the potential for an end-of-the-semester event that would allow students to participate in an archaeological excavation. This would coincide with a community archaeology day, in which the students would also have an opportunity to teach children and other community members about archaeology and cultural resource preservation.

One comment

  1. jonesered

    Now that the first semester of using the focus groups is over, I’d like to reflect a bit on how they worked. I think they worked well to encourage students to read. I also think they helped me become a better teacher. I tend to be too structured, being somewhat obsessed with covering certain topics during certain classes. By getting feedback from the students on what they already understand and what they need some help with, it forced me to be more spontaneous. It also forced me to be more in-tune with what the students need and what they are interested in. I hope both of those made the course better for the students as well. I did mid-semester evaluations that indicated just this. I think they also set a good tone at the beginning of class, one in which we’ll be interacting. I had good advice once from a colleague that if students are lulled into “lecture-mode” at the beginning of a class, it’ll be tougher to get them to have a discussion later. If you start with discussion, they get in the mindframe that the class is going to be more discussion-oriented. I think the focus groups helped in all of these areas. I will definitely use them in this class again, and I am considering using them in other courses as well.