Archaeology and Prehistory

Course Basics

Anthropology 155-00
Fall 2019

Instructor Information

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Up-to-date contact information (including office hours) is available here

General Policies

You are required to read Dr. Carter’s Policies. You are responsible for understanding and following these policies. If you have a question, please ask in class as your fellow students will benefit.

Course Description

The world we know is very different from that in which our bodies evolved. A little more than 10,000 years ago all humans lived in small groups that consisted of mainly family members. They lived in temporary structures and spent much of their time socializing and worshiping. Authority was vested in elders, but they had only the power of persuasion and no way to enforce their decisions. There was no writing, no pottery, no permanent structures. Their lives were very different than ours. And yet, ours grew out of theirs. The transition from scattered bands of hunters and gatherers to settled urban “civilization” is one of the key events in human history. Two major “revolutions” have been described that brought about civilization, the Neolithic Revolution and the Urban Revolution. The first reflects the transition from hunting/fishing and gathering to farming. The second is the development of cities. Because both of these revolutions occurred before people wrote down history, archaeology is the only way to access these changes that fundamentally underpin who we are today. Archaeology is primarily about putting any fragments of data together that we can find to reconstruct and interpret the past.

Course Objectives

In terms of content, students will be able to:

  • Situate archaeology within the context of anthropology.
  • Understand the development of archaeology as a profession.
  • Discuss the importance of temporal and spatial context to archaeology.
  • Identify different methods of finding new sites and locating them in the landscape.
  • Describe different dating methods and decide when to use them.
  • Articulate how stone tools and ceramics are made through hands-on practice.
  • Recognize the permanency of different materials and the effects of taphonomy.
  • Understand how hunting and gathering was the most successful adaptation for humans
  • Identify the causes for the shift to farming and to cities even though both resulted in a decrease in the standard of living.
  • Discuss how different cultures have adapted to agriculture and cities in different ways.
  • Demonstrate how different social hierarchies and heterarchies developed.
  • Discuss the role of religion in the maintenance and contestation of power differentials
  • Recognize that the archaeological record is non-renewable and that archaeologists have a responsibility to protect it.
  • Analyze a specific archaeological question through the use of data and argumentation.
  • Describe the centrality of analogy in the archaeological process.
  • Utilize and assess the appropriate use of analogy.

In terms of general skills, students will be able to:

  • Apply the scientific method.
  • Differentiate between faulty and well-supported arguments
  • Improve their ability to read critically.
  • Present a well-considered argument to the class.


Required Textbook: None. That’s right, none!

*** All readings will be available via Canvas. ***

Class format

For each class you will be assigned reading that you are expected to complete prior to our class session. For most of these, you will also have a assignment which also must be completed prior to class. Class will be a combination of lecture and discussion. I have a strong preference for the latter, but lecture is appropriate at times.

This course is divided into three sections. First, we will discuss the techniques of archaeology and how they provide information about the past. Second, we will examine the two ‘revolutions’ mentioned above. Third, we will investigate some of the ‘mysteries’ that can be addressed through an archaeological perspective.


Distribution of assessments

  • Homework and Activities- 25%
  • Labs- 10%
  • Two exams- 20%
  • Final exam- 10%
  • Archaeological Mysteries Paper- 20%
  • Archaeological Mysteries Presentation- 5%
  • Class Participation- 10%

Homework and Activities: Homework will include a variety of possibilities. All of these are required for full participation in class. I will check them. Activities may include reading questions or in-class short free-write activities while others are much more involved. Each homework or activity will be weighted depending upon the amount of time and effort required. You will learn more about these as the class progresses. Reading questions and a few other items will be checked for completion. These will be graded with a check plus (a “10 ” will be entered in Canvas), check (9), check minus (8) or 0.

Laboratory Activities: You are required to participate in two laboratory activities designed to give you hands-on experience with archaeological materials. These are scheduled outside of class time (and thus contribute to the “fourth hour”). You will receive more information about these in class.

Exams: Exams will be an approximately equal combination of objective (i.e. multiple choice, etc.) and open-ended questions that require short, but thoughtful, responses. These are intended to both assess basic knowledge and your ability to understand the more complex issues.

Final exam: Yes, it is cumulative. This is intended to assess your ability to utilize the material from the class and put them together to achieve an improved understanding of the complexity of human prehistory and of the methods we use to reveal it.

Archaeological Mystery Paper and Presentation: You will analyze multiple arguments about an intractable archaeological mystery and identify which are non-scientific and which are supported with evidence. You will also briefly present your paper to the class as a whole. You will receive more information on this assignment as the class progresses. You will have a partner, but the paper is individual. The group is only used for your presentation. For this project, you will turn in a bibliography, outline, rough draft and final draft.

Participation: You are required to participate in each and every class. This will be assessed to the best of my ability. There are a few basic principles to remember to ensure a good grade.

First, COME TO CLASS. Is there any question why this is important? This class is NOT about memorizing a set of facts, but engaging with complex ideas and being able to deploy appropriate facts and methods in support (or not) those ideas.

Second, READ all of the required material. That does not mean look at each and every word on the assigned pages. It means actually try to understand everything that is written. This is not a quick process. Expect to spend a significant amount of time reading!

Third, THINK. I will present you with a large amount of material. You need to think about it. If you regurgitate what I say, you will likely pass. If you think about what I say and ask probing questions, you will learn (and likely get a much, much higher grade!).

Fourth, SHARE. The more you contribute to the class conversation, the more everyone will learn. It’s just that simple. This means that I encourage you to take risks. Ask that “stupid” question- it could be really important and it is probably NOT “stupid.”

 Class LMS (“Learning” Management System)

For this course, we will be using our Learning Management System (LMS) known as Canvas. Our schedule and many course materials live on Canvas. You will turn in most assignments via Canvas. Canvas provides excellent online documentation for nearly anything. Here is a link to the Student Guide. However, even Canvas representatives have encouraged us to just Google “canvas lms” and whatever you want to do (e.g., find calendar).


Your official calendar is in Canvas. I highly encourage you to download the app (just Google “Canvas lms” along with your platform, e.g., “IOS” or “Android”) and/or synchronize your Canvas calendar with your calendar on your phone/computer using the iCal feed (Click here for instructions; note that what you do on your phone depends upon your device, but it is pretty straight forward).