AR3S16-Holocene Climate Change and Human Society

Module Provider: Archaeology
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Prof Dominik Fleitmann


Summary module description:

Over the last 20 years paleoclimatologists have developed precise records of climate change for many key-regions. By comparing these records with archaeological and historical data, mounting evidence exists that human societies respond in a variety of ways to climatic changes, including adaptation, demise, collapse, migration and invention of new technologies. Prominent examples for responses of societies to climate are the spread of agriculture at the beginning of the Holocene, increased societal complexity and urbanization in the mid-Holocene, the collapse of the Akkadian empire in Mesopotamia at around 4.2 kyr BP, the fall of the classic Mayan civilization in Central America between 750 and 950 AD, outbreak of diseases (e.g., the Justinian plague in 541 AD and Black Death in 1348) and the invention of ingenious water management systems in the Middle East. Although still the subject of controversial discussions (“climate determinism”), changing climate is now considered as one of the most important factors in societal transformations. This module aims to provide an overview of how climate and environment have varied over the course of the Holocene (the last 10,500 years before present). It aims to encourage students to appraise critically the influence of climate and environmental change on past societies and their environmental context.


The module aims to provide students with an improved understanding of the climatic changes and events that took place during the Holocene. Students will learn how palaeoclimate data can be obtained from various geological (sediments, stalagmites), physical (ice cores) and biological archives (trees, corals), and how these records can be used in the interpretation of archaeological findings. Furthermore, by presenting and discussing examples for climate-human relationships students will be encouraged to engage more fully with interdisciplinary research.

Assessable learning outcomes:
At the end of the module you should:
-Have developed a good understanding of major palaeoclimatic and –environmental transitions and events during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene.
-Be familiar with the most important palaeoclimate records from key-regions (e.g., Europe, Mediterranean, Near East and Northern Africa).
-Have built up a profound knowledge of case study examples for climate-human relationships from the research literature.
-Have knowledge of the complex and multiple interacting processes and scales that steer/affect the emergence, sustainability or collapse of societies during the Holocene.
-Have developed understanding of the methods employed in palaeoclimate science and in the appropriate presentation of its data.

Additional outcomes:

Students will gain profound additional knowledge in:

- Synthesizing palaeoclimatological and archaeological datasets.

- Interpretation of environmental and societal data over various temporal and spatial scales.

- Use of modern graphical software packages and web-based data archives.

Outline content:
The module comprises a series of introductory lectures providing an overview of the most prominent climatic transitions and event, with a focus on their forcing factors (e.g., solar activity, volcanic eruptions, and internal climate variability). Further lectures aim to provide an overview of late Pleistocene and Holocene climate records from key-regions, such as the Near East, Europe, the Mediterranean and Northern Africa. Finally, prominent examples for climate-human interactions will be presented and discussed.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
After an introductory lecture (10 hours), sessions (10 hours) take the form of guided seminar discussions based on prepared reading, directed and independent research.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Project Supervision 2
Guided independent study 178
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:

One essay of 2.500 words (60%), article critique of 1500 words (40%)

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:
    No exam.

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Resubmission of coursework on dates set by the Department.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 31 March 2017

    Things to do now