Cutting Edge Archaeology


Course Objective

The student who has followed this course will:
- be aware of the theoretical approaches and methodologies to human
mobility and to reflect critically on the ways in which archaeologists
(or historians) have applied them to human mobility;
- be aware of the possibilities and limitations of these theoretical
approaches and methodologies;
- understand better the role of human mobility in societies and its
effect on the archaeological record;
- be able to apply theories and methods regarding human mobility on
specific cases studies in different
periods from prehistory to the present day and in different geographical
- be able to write a theoretically informed paper in which the above
objectives are realized.

Course Content

Mobility is a key aspect of human life. People have always moved, either
voluntarily or involuntarily, to the next village or to another
continent. They do so alone or in small groups, as in the cases of
travelling craftsmen or traders. Or they can move in large groups, as is
the case with colonization, migration and population movements. Mobility
is often political and always cultural. It may lead to conflict, but
also to new artistic trends. In many societies, the movement of people
and ideas is curbed and restricted to specific social groups. However,
people may also proudly show the objects and items that are the result
of travel and a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Considering the importance of mobility in all human societies, it is not
a surprise that the theme plays a role in all fields of archaeology.
From the earliest days, archaeologists have highlighted foreign elements
in the archaeological record. In particular, the influx of new people
has served as one of the most important interpretative paradigms to
explain changes in the archaeological record. Nevertheless, mobility has
proven to be a very difficult and controversial explanatory framework.
For example, it is often not clear how we can distinguish the actual
movement of people from the adoption of foreign material culture by
locals. In recent years scientific techniques such as isotope and DNA
analyses have been added to the repertoire by which archaeologists study
human mobility, but these have also brought in new problems regarding
reliability, and correlation to the archaeological and ethnographic
In this course the topic will be explored from different angles. Because
many ACASA staff members include issues of human mobility in some ways
in their research, we can offer a wide range of case studies. The course
deliberately aims to problematize the topic on a theoretical,
methodological and case-study level.

Preliminary weekly themes (these may change):
- Pots and People. Material culture and mobility: issues of style and
- Barbarian Invasions? Historical sources on peoples movements and the
archaeological record
- Tracing mobility: isotope analysis and DNA
- The archaeology of Migration
- The archaeology of New World slavery
- The archaeology of migrants and refugees in the contemporary world

Teaching Methods

Classes will take place twice a week. After an introduction class in
Week 1 the course will be subdivided into 6 themes, each having a class
and a seminar. In the regular class, the theme will be introduced on a
theoretical and methodological level, illustrated by a case study. In
the seminar, students will be comparing cases from different fields of
archaeology with the help of literature. The course will end with a
paper for all students in which they discuss a case study that derives
from their own specialization.

Method of Assessment

Participation in classroom discussions (20%); end of course essay (80%).

Entry Requirements

This is a compulsory course for students enrolled in the ACASA
Archaeology MA.


Key text:
Beaudry, M. C., & Parno, T. G. (Eds.). (2013). Archaeologies of Mobility
and Movement. Springer Science & Business Media.

Further reading will be supplied weekly as pdfs via CANVAS. A full
reading list wil be compiled and made available in the Course Manual
prior to the start of the course.

Target Audience

This is a compulsory course for students enrolled in the ACASA
Archaeology MA. Suitably qualified MA students from other courses or
universities in the Netherlands may also join the course pending on
registration and all appropriate permissions.

Additional Information

A Course Manual will be uploaded prior to the commencement of the

Custom Course Registration


Explanation Canvas

Course content will be hosted on the VU Canvas site.

Recommended background knowledge

No previous knowledge of human mobilities is assumed, but students
should have some knowledge of archaeology, as stipulated in the
requirements for entry to the ACASA Archaeology MA Programme.

General Information

Course Code L_AAMAARC020
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator prof. dr. J. Symonds
Examiner prof. dr. J. Symonds
Teaching Staff dr. F.A. Gerritsen
prof. dr. J. Symonds

Practical Information

You cannot register for this course yourself; your faculty's education office carries out registration

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar
Target audiences

This course is also available as: