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Digging your own grave: generic skills from an archaeological excavation

Orton, C; (2007) Digging your own grave: generic skills from an archaeological excavation. In: Burke, H and Smith, C, (eds.) Archaeology to Delight and Instruct. left Coast Press: Walnut Creek.

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One of the aims of the new 2nd-year undergraduate core course Research and Presentation Skills in Archaeology is “to give students practical training in the selection, analysis and presentation of data”. This aim is addressed through an archaeological story, the simulated excavation of a large prehistoric cemetery, called Allemenschen and based very loosely on the Iron Age cemetery of Hallstatt. A simple model of the layout and structure of Allemenschen is ‘perturbed’ by imposing random fluctuations upon it. After discussing possible research aims, students work together in small groups, led by the Course Tutor and two post-graduate Teaching Assistants, to devise sampling strategies, and individually select 10% samples from a spreadsheet representing the 500 graves in the cemetery. As the graves are selected, each student’s spreadsheet is populated with the details of the grave they have just ‘excavated’. The information includes the exact location of each grave, its orientation, the osteological sex of the burial, the presence or absence of various classes of grave goods, and a division of the cemetery into broad phases based on artefact categories. Students then meet to decide on the statistical techniques that would be needed to answer a range of archaeological questions, and to allocate different tasks to members of their groups. Questions cover the chronological sequence, the topographical layout, and the gender balance of the cemetery, the possibility of it having a hierarchical structure, and possible chronological changes in burial practice, in terms of ‘wealth’. After each student has analysed their data, the groups meet again to pool their results and prepare a presentation of their findings. Each group then makes a 15-minute presentation to two other groups. Assessment is by means of a portfolio, including: design of sampling strategy; data analysis; critique of another group’s presentation. The course will be evaluated by means of student questionnaires and feedback from the Teaching Assistants.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Digging your own grave: generic skills from an archaeological excavation
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/30561
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