Universiteit Leiden

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Archaeological Science (MSc)

Part of
Archaeology (MA/MSc)

Scientific methodology is an important approach in modern archaeology and it is at the heart of archaeological science. Hypotheses, data, theory, experiments, observations, as well as presentation and interpretation, are all key to our understanding of our past.

Archaeological Science is an MSc specialisation that delves into the specifics of these methods and techniques. Working with cutting-edge techniques and facilities, you will be participating in projects all over the world, from the Caribbean to Russia. The combination of hands-on field experience and laboratory work offers a challenging and rewarding research environment.

Master of Arts or Master of Science

If you specialise in Archaeological Science you’ll receive a Master of Science degree in Archaeology. For the other specialisations (World Archaeology, Heritage and Society) you’ll receive a Master of Arts degree in Archaeology.

Modules for Archaeological Science

This module will give you a fascinating and detailed insight into the methods used to study human bones and teeth in physical anthropology and archaeology. In addition to giving you an understanding of the histology of skeletal tissues, morphological variations, and changes that come with age and/or sex, it will also provide a solid foundation in skeletal and dental anatomy.

The module also considers diseases that can be diagnosed from bones and teeth and explores the palaeo-epidemiological insights that can be drawn from them. Furthermore, you’ll be introduced to the methods and standards associated with ancient DNA and isotope analysis.
You will also learn the procedures for excavating skeletonised human remains, along with the protocols that must be followed for documenting them. Finally, special attention will be paid to taphonomic changes that can take place in the grave. If possible, the osteological laboratory will organise its own excavation.

Material Studies explores how we analyse the cultural biographies of all sorts of material objects, from flint axes to pottery and from houses to monument structures. The aim is to reconstruct technological processes by examining the interconnectivity of different chaînes opératoires. This gives us a better understanding of the varied relationships between people and things.

The module deals with current approaches in material culture theory, analytical methods and the techniques used to study artefacts and in experimental archaeology. Experiments are key to both our research and teaching. These are conducted in an experimental laboratory, as well as in an experimental outdoor location called Huize Horsterwold. The latter is a Stone Age hamlet we have constructed these past few years and which we use as an experimental station.
In June 2016 we started constructing another experimental Stone Age house, in Vlaardingen, near Rotterdam. Here, we specialise in the provenance studies of various raw materials, wear trace, and residue analysis, using primarily microscopic and chemical analytical techniques. You will be taught these techniques in laboratory tutorials.

The Material Studies module also takes in several architectural research projects, which are currently being conducted at the Faculty. This includes the study of monumental architecture, which is approached as a topic in itself and placed in a larger landscape context. As you’ll certainly come to appreciate, Material Studies combines physical and theoretical approaches to landscape and object-oriented studies and contexts.

Digital Archaeology, as its name suggests, covers the area of digital data in archaeological research, and the computational methods and tools required to collate, analyse and manage it.

The use of computers in archaeology dates back to the 1960s, and today archaeology is one of the most digitised of the historical and social sciences. Computer-based tools, such as spatial analysis, 3D modelling, simulation and image analysis, have opened up new avenues of archaeological research and have significantly broadened our understanding of our past. Our expertise in surveying, remote sensing, spatial analysis and data management covers the whole workflow of archaeological research.

In this module you will learn how to collect digital data in the field, using state-of-the-art surveying equipment. You’ll also be shown how to process, visualise, analyse, interpret, manage and present digital data in our computer laboratory. Thanks to our network of national and international partners, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get some hands-on training.

See the programme structure for more information on how to integrate these modules into your master's programme.