ARMAMA-Applications of Micromorphological Analysis

Module Provider: Archaeology
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded: ARMIAM Introduction to Applications of Micromorphological Analysis
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Rowena Banerjea


Type of module:

Summary module description:
This module provides students with an in-depth knowledge and critical understanding of new interdisciplinary approaches to the study of past environments and human ecology and society. It focuses on the application of high-resolution microstratigraphic approaches to investigation of human environments and communities, and thin-section micromorphological analysis in particular.

A range of samples and case studies are examined to develop skills in identification and evaluation of buried land surfaces, the impact of agriculture and land management strategies on soils, and spatial and temporal variation in deposits in archaeological sites from temperate and semi-arid environments. Key issues and debates examined include: human-environment inter-relations; plant taphonomy and use; early agriculture; material culture, architecture and the built environment; and site formation processes, post-depositional alterations and management.

Courty, M. A., P. Goldberg and R. I. Macphail. 1989. Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goldberg, P. and R. I. Macphail with contributions by W. Matthews. 2006. Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. Oxford: Blackwell.

This module aims to provide students with practical knowledge and critical understanding of the application of micromorphological techniques to current interdisciplinary study of landscapes and settlements.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able:

  • to use an optical polarising microscope to identify and record the microscopic characteristics of key rocks and minerals, biological components, artefacts, architectural materials, and micro-stratigraphic indicators of depositional and post-depositional processes in archaeological soils and sediments in laboratory worksheets and notes
  • to synthesise and evaluate interdisciplinary multi-scalar data and information from varied sources
  • to appraise critically key scientific issues and problems in the study of archaeological landscapes and settlements and to evaluate applications of micromorphology to these in seminar discussions and a written article critique
  • to organise material and evaluate research questions effectively through self-directed research in writing an assessed practical report

Additional outcomes:
This module promotes the development of problem-solving skills in dealing with diverse bodies of archaeological and scientific data. Structured group discussions, laboratory observations and a project topic encourage independent learning, as well as personal responsibility, communication skills and teamwork.

Outline content:
This module begins with an introduction to applications of micromorphology to the study of archaeological soils and sediments. Most practical sessions comprise an introductory lecture followed by microscopic analysis of related deposit and context types. Techniques of field sampling, sample preparation, optical microscopy and micro-analysis are discussed with reference to various on- and off-site contexts.

The practical sessions will progress from step-by-step introduction to different depositional components, contexts and stages in thin section description, to independent analysis of aspects of a microstratigraphic sequence of individual choice in a final project. We will examine field photographs of these contexts, and photomicrographs of each deposit type. We will discuss the relevance of each category of observation to a range of archaeological contexts and questions. The deposit and context types and issues examined will include: a) an introduction to microscopy of rocks and minerals; b) soils and sediments in buried landsurfaces and palaeoecological sequences; c) site formation processes and occupation deposits with analysis of architectural materials, plant remains, coprolites, and pottery production residues, and d) post-depositional alterations and site preservation and management. In each practical we will examine a range of key examples in group discussions and analysis, before specific attributes of selected examples are described individually in standard laboratory worksheets. At the end of the module each student will independently analyse aspects of one microstratigraphic sequence of their choice, based on the exercises and skills learnt in the preceding sessions, and write a report on this.

Analysis of these deposits and subject areas will provide skills in analysis and evaluation of a wide range of materials and soils and sediments in landscapes and settlements in temperate and semi-arid environments. The periods and sites examined in class seminars and practicals range in date from the Palaeolithic, to the Neolithic, Bronze, Roman and Medieval ages, and in geographical range from Britain to Europe and the Ancient Near East.Key issues and debates to which micromorphology has been applied will be examined in structured group discussion and separate seminars. These will include examination of key papers and debates in study of : human-environment inter-relations; plant taphonomy and use; early agriculture; material culture, architecture and the built environment; and site formation processes, post-depositional alterations and management strategies.

Global context:
The periods and sites examined in class seminars and practicals are global in context. They range in date from the Palaeolithic, to the Neolithic, Bronze, Roman and Medieval ages, and in geographical range from Britain to Europe and the Ancient Near East including Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Illustrated lectures, microscope practicals, structured group discussion requiring some preparatory reading. Students will write one assessed project report with related laboratory observation sheets as a separate assessed appendix, which will be returned in individual tutorials. Recognition of deposit composition and formation processes will be assessed in a short written test based on visual images and related questions.

This is a 20 credit module, which means that it is intended that you conduct 200 hours of work. This will include work in: laboratory classes, seminar preparation, background reading, writing an article critique, writing an report in the form of a journal article and revision for one short test in class. With regard to this the kind of workload that you should expect might be as follows:

30 hours contact hours in formal teaching sessions
20 hours engaged in background reading for each formal teaching session
5 hours seminars
10 hours engaged in reading for seminars
10 hours writing an article critique based on one of the papers read for a seminar
50 hours in independent microscope work
70 hours in reading, preparation and writing the laboratory report as a journal article
1 hour in a short class test, usually in Week 8
4 hours revising for the short test

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 7
Seminars 8
Practicals classes and workshops 20
Guided independent study 165
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 10
Report 80
Class test administered by School 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:

Penalties for late submission:
Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information:

Assessment requirements for a pass:
An overall mark of 50%

Reassessment arrangements:

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: 20 April 2018


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