Introduction to Archaeology & Prehistory

Course Number: ATH 102
Transcript Title: Intro Archaeology & Prehistory
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: June 6, 2017
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 40
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 0
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: Yes
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit
Repeats available for credit: 0


MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121.

Course Description

Explores archaeological methods and techniques used to recover, analyze, and reconstruct ancient cultures and societies, including the ethics and issues of looting, collecting, and preservation of artifacts. Provides a survey of world prehistory while emphasizing the development of social complexity and the origins of agriculture. Prerequisites: MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Prerequisite/concurrent: WR 121. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Apply archaeological research, survey, and excavation methods.
  2. Identify ongoing ethical issues in archaeology.
  3. Differentiate between absolute and relative dating techniques and methods.
  4. Use prehistoric material culture to reconstruct past behavior and human interaction.
  5. Appreciate the range and diversity of past human societies.

Alignment with Institutional Core Learning Outcomes

In-depth 1. Communicate effectively using appropriate reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. (Communication)


2. Creatively solve problems by using relevant methods of research, personal reflection, reasoning, and evaluation of information. (Critical thinking and Problem-Solving)
3. Extract, interpret, evaluate, communicate, and apply quantitative information and methods to solve problems, evaluate claims, and support decisions in their academic, professional and private lives. (Quantitative Literacy)


4. Appreciate cultural diversity and constructively address issues that arise out of cultural differences in the workplace and community. (Cultural Awareness)


5. Recognize the consequences of human activity upon our social and natural world. (Community and Environmental Responsibility)

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Tests, research papers, discussion, quizzes, homework, group projects, and other forms of assessment all may be used for this course at the instructor's discretion.

Course Activities and Design

Lectures, discussion, group activities, service learning are some of the potential activities that instructors may use at their discretion in this course.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

Themes, Concepts, and Issues

  1. Theoretical concepts: cultural history, processual, ethnoarchaeology, post-processual, gender and agency views of the past.
  2. Museum involvement in the curation of archaeological artifacts.
  3. Ethical issues: heritage rights, CRM, curation, artifact conservation, looting.
  4. Importance of "context" in the archaeological record.
  5. Archaeology as a destructive process.
  6. Low, Middle, and High Range theory (processual and post-processual).
  7. Methods employed by archaeologists in the past and changes through time.
  8. Research design construction, pre-excavation research, and modeling.
  9. Field techniques: survey strategies, sampling, remote sensing, flotation, digital imaging, and GPS/GIS.
  10. Statistical sampling and distribution of features and sites.
  11. Relative dating techniques: seriation and battleship curves, association, stratigraphy.
  12. Absolute dating techniques: C14, K-Ar, dendrochronology, TL, obsidian hydration, ESR.
  13. Prehistoric site distribution patterns.
  14. Site taphonomy and deposition events.
  15. Prehistoric technologies: lithic, bone, shell, clay, wood, and fiber tool traditions.
  16. Typologies and/or classification of prehistoric artifacts and material identification.
  17. Experimental archaeology.
  18. Prehistoric art, its social significance and mnemonic function in the studies of social complexity.
  19. Site formation processes: erosion, topography, depositional layers and soil sample analysis.
  20. Past environments: pollen and phytolith sampling, soil and climate data, and zoological, marine, and botanical data.
  21. Major components of the geologic/archaeological timeline.
  22. Innovation and diffusion of major culture traits throughout human prehistory.
  23. Geological age and locations of the earliest fossil evidence of Homo sapiens.
  24. Continuity and replacement models of human origins, human migrations.
  25. Paleolithic, Mesolithic and early Neolithic peoples.
  26. Evidence for the transition from food collecting to food-producing societies.
  27. Evidence for the origin of domestication of plants and animals.
  28. State-level societies in Africa, Middle East, Mediterranean, India, China, and the Americas.
  29. Craft-production and specialization, long-distance trade, land ownership, hereditary elites, wealth accumulation, and rise of warfare.

Competencies and Skills

The successful student should be able to: 

  1. Identify basic methods of archaeological inquiry, including research, survey, and excavation processes.
  2. Define controversial aspect of archaeology such as heritage rights, salvage, conservation, and looting.
  3. Provide examples of at least two absolute and two relative dating techniques or methods.
  4. Describe how artifacts can be used to infer past human interaction with the environment or other people.
  5. Explain the probable causes of shifts in human population size and density through time.