ARMO44D-Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

Module Provider: Archaeology
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Dr Mike Simmonds


Type of module:

Summary module description:
Palaeobotany and archaeobotany are major research areas within both Quaternary Science and Archaeology. They employ a range of methods, in particular the analysis of plant microfossils and macrofossils, such a pollen, diatoms, wood, seeds and mosses, which are recovered from geological and archaeological archives, and permit the reconstruction of vegetation history, climate change and past economies and diet over a range of spatial and temporal scales. This module seeks to provide a detailed account of the theoretical and practical approaches employed, and will demonstrate through lectures, laboratory practical classes, seminars and a field trip how palaeobotanical and archaeobotanical records provide information on the human environment, resource exploitation and subsistence.

To develop detailed knowledge and understanding of the theoretical framework and main practical approaches used to reconstruct vegetation history, climate change, and past plant economies and diet, using sub-fossil micro- and macroscopic plant remains.

Assessable learning outcomes:
By the end of the module, it is expected that the student will be able to:
•Critically evaluate palaeobotanical evidence for natural vegetation succession, human interference in vegetation succession and climate change
•Critically evaluate archaeobotanical evidence for human utilisation of plants
•Understand current theoretical issues and debates in palaeobotanical and archaeobotanical research
•Demonstrate in-depth knowledge and understanding of palaeobotanical and archaeobotanical methods through fieldwork, laboratory work and seminars
•Identify, describe, interpret, integrate and present palaeobotanical and archaeobotanical information in the form of a scientific report

Additional outcomes:
Laboratory analyses will require the students to familiarise themselves with specific scientific apparatus, technical identification guides and reference collections. Seminar presentations will provide additional training in communication and IT skills.

Outline content:

This module will outline the theoretical framework and main practical approaches used in palaeobotany and archaeobotany, and demonstrate how botanical information generated from geological archives (e.g. peat bogs, lakes) and archaeological archives (e.g. cesspits, hearths) can be integrated to provide improved understanding of vegetation history, human interference in vegetation succession, climate change, and past economies and diet. To illustrate these themes, case studies will be used from NW Europe and the Mediterranean. The laboratory practical classes will focus on three classes of sub-fossil plant remains: pollen grains and spores (practical classes 1 to 3), and waterlogged and charred plant macrofossils (practical classes 4-6). The classes will involve microscopy and statistical analysis (Stratigraphically Constrained Cluster Analysis). The one-day field trip will introduce the students to practical approaches used for studying the evolution of British heathlands. Seminars will involve discussion of key issues; for example: (1) Analysis of charred and waterlogged plant remains from archaeological contexts; (2) Analysis of fossil pollen from geological contexts.. 

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module comprises 9 lectures (each lasting 1 hour), 5 seminar sessions (each lasting 1 hour), and 18 hours of laboratory-based practical work (6 sessions, each lasting 3 hours). Each seminar session will involve a PowerPoint presentation (1-2 students depending upon class numbers) followed by a class discussion. In addition to the classroom and laboratory based teaching, the students will attend a one-day field trip (8 hours). 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 9
Seminars 5
Practicals classes and workshops 18
Fieldwork 8
Guided independent study: 160
Total hours by term 38
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Report 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:
Five laboratory practical reports (each 15%), each approximately 1000 words (total, 5000 words; total, 75%); PowerPoint seminar presentation (10%); Field trip notebook (15%).

Formative assessment methods:
Laboratory analyses will require the students to familiarise themselves with specific scientific apparatus, technical identification guides and reference collections. Seminar presentations will provide additional training in communication and IT skills.

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:
Requirements for a pass: 50%

Reassessment arrangements:
Re-submission of coursework in September

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: 10 April 2019


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