AEA Working Papers - Teaching
The Teaching of Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education in the U.K. - Working Papers of the Association for Environmental Archaeology No. 1
About this document
Report of the Association for Environmental Archaeology Working Party on the Teaching of Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education, September 1995 - edited by Geraint Coles (1), with the assistance of Terry O'Connor (2) and Peter Rowley-Conwy (3), and contributions by Don Brothwell (4), Sebastian Payne (5), Harry Kenward (6), Susan Limbrey (7) and David Gilbertson (8).
© Copyright: Association for Environmental Archaeology - Printed edition September 1995 (Internet edition May 2000).
The printed version of this document was prepared for publication on behalf of the Association for Environmental Archaeology by Allan Hall, Environmental Archaeology Unit, University of York and printed at the Printing Unit, University of York. The original internet version of this document was prepared by Mark Beech (May 2000).
This document should be cited as follows: Coles, G. (ed.) (1995). The teaching of environmental archaeology in higher education in the U.K. Working Papers of the Association for Environmental Archaeology 1, 22 pp. York: Association for Environmental Archaeology. Working Papers of the Association for Environmental Archaeology 1.
This is a period of rapid change in higher education. Many of the fundamental assumptions of existing Higher Education practice are being called into question. The authors of this report have identified several commonly perceived pressures facing those who teach Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education:
(i) The prospect of the external validation of undergraduate degrees.
(ii) Resultant pressure for common core curricula.
(iii) Teaching quality assessments (which may be viewed as a de facto move towards (i) and (ii)).
(iv) Increasing student numbers and, at best, static resources.
(v) A trend towards the modularisation of degree structures and increasing emphasis upon flexible degree structures coupled with increased student mobility between institutions.
In consequence, the place of Environmental Archaeology within the core curriculum of Archaeology has been called into question. The first outline of what may become the Higher Education core curriculum for Archae-ology was presented in the report of the Standing Committee of University Professors and Heads of Archaeology (Cramp 1987), similar views being offered in the Institute of Field Archaeologists' document which appeared at around the same time. From the perspective of Environmental Archaeology both these documents were a cause for concern since Environmental Archaeology did not merit separate attention, being grouped along with all the other 'archaeological sciences'. Both reports effectively relegated Environmental Archaeology to the position of a scatter of techniques borrowed from other disciplines - a 'bolt-on' extra for archaeology and hence destined to remain a service industry at the periphery of the core discipline.
In response to perceived marginalisation, the AEA established a working party (Table 1) in September 1992 to examine the teaching of Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education.
Graeme Barker School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7NH
Justine Bayley Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB
Martin Bell Department of Archaeology, St Davids University College, Lampeter, Dyfed SA48 7ED
Don Brothwell Department of Archaeology, University of York, Micklegate House, 86 Micklegate, York YO1 1JZ (formerly of the Institute of Archaeology, London)
Tony Brown School of Archaeological Studies and Department of Geography, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7NH
Paul Buckland Department of Archaeology & Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN
Martin O. H. Carver Department of Archaeology, Univ. of York, Micklegate House, 86 Micklegate, York YO1 1JZ
Geraint Coles Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, 19 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ
John R. Collis Department of Archaeology & Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN
Simon Davis Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB.
Keith Dobney Environmental Archaeology Unit, University of York, Heslington, York YO1 5DD
S. T. Driscoll GUARD, Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
John G. Evans Department of Archaeology, School of History and Archaeology, University of Wales College of Cardiff, PO Box 909, Cardiff CF1 1XU
Charlie French Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ
Clive Gamble Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO9 5NH
David D. Gilbertson Research School of Earth Sciences, University College of Wales, Aberysthwyth, Dyfed, SY23 3DB (formerly Department of Archaeology & Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN)
James Greig Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
C. O. Hunt Department of Geographical and Environmental Sciences, University of Huddersfield, Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 3DH
Linda Hurcombe Department of History and Archaeology, Queen's Building, The Queen's Drive, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QH
Rupert Housley Research Laboratory for Archaeology, University of Oxford, 6 Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3QJ
Martin Jones Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ
Richard E. Jones Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
Harry Kenward Environmental Archaeology Unit, University of York, Heslington, York YO1 5DD
Susan Limbrey Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT
Keith Maude Department of Archaeology, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL
Simon Mays Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB
Annie Milles Environmental Archaeology Unit, University of York, Heslington, York YO1 5DD
Steven Mithen Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 2AA
Terry O'Connor Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford. BD7 1DP
Deirdre O'Sullivan School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7NH
Rob Parish Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QN
Sebastian Payne Ancient Monuments Laboratory, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB
Henrietta Quinnell Department of Continuing and Higher Education, Queen's Building, The Queen's Drive, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QH
Julian Richards Department of Archaeology, University of York, Micklegate House, 86 Micklegate, York YO1 5DD
Peter Rowley-Conwy Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, 46 Saddler Street, Durham DH1 3NU
Elizabeth Slater Institute of Prehistoric Sciences, School of Archaeology, University of Liverpool, Brownlow Street, Liverpool L69 3BX
Vanessa Straker Department of Geography, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS
Philippa Tomlinson Institute of Prehistoric Sciences, School of Archaeology, University of Liverpool, Brownlow Street, Liverpool L69 3BX
Marijke van der Veen School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7NH
Trevor Watkins Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, 19 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ
Robert Young School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7NH
The remit of the working party was to report on:
(i) The present situation (who teaches what and where).
The overall objective of the working party was to consider whether there was a desirable core curriculum for the teaching of Environmental Archaeology at the undergraduate level within Archaeology and Archaeological Science degrees.
To this end, a questionnaire was circulated to all Archaeology Departments and other interested parties and individuals; this was followed by a one-day meeting held at the University of York on the 5th June 1993. This document reports the results of the survey and to outline the results of the working party meeting. It concludes with a number of provisional recommendations to the AEA Committee on the future role of the Association in the promotion and development of Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education.
1.1 - Response to the questionnaire
The questionnaire was sent to all university Archaeology Departments in the United Kingdom and a number of other interested parties at the close of 1992. A total of 40 detailed responses were received.
Of the 22 institutions in the UK offering single honours degrees in Archaeology, staff from 18 responded to this survey. In addition four Geography departments offer course units which include substantial elements of 'Environmental Archaeology'. In general, a single member of staff from each department responded to the survey giving the departmental position; however notable clusters of individual responses were received from two departments (Table 1). This provided a valuable check on the overall consistency of the responses as a reflection of departmental teaching activities.
Responses were (not surprisingly) dominated by academic staff (80%), the vast majority being Lecturers/Senior Lecturers (38%), Readers (10%) and Professors/Heads of Department (17%). The remaining responses where dominated by workers in central Environmental Archaeology and Dating Laboratories (15%), with only a scatter of independent contract workers and unit staff (5%; Tables 2 and 3).
The personal research interests of the respondents were varied (Table 4), dividing into two main groups-those describing their interests as archaeology/prehistory with subsidiary interests in economy/palaeo-economy, agriculture, etc., and those that gave a specific methodological or subject interest; archaeo-botany, archaeozoology, palynology, etc. These broad camps where equally divided and, upon analysis, no one specific interest (in period or technique) dominated the responses, although a general bias of research region towards temper-ate Europe and the Mediterranean was noted.
In short, although the number of responses was relatively small, the ranges of departments, academic status, and interests, are sufficiently broad and varied to suggest that the sample is sufficient to give a representative idea of the present state of Environmental Archaeology in Higher Education in the U.K.
When faced with the range of responses given, it is tempting to report that 'Environmental Archaeology is what Environmental Archaeologists do'! However, upon closer examination the definitions given (listed in full in Appendix A) showed a tendency to divide into two camps:
First, those that regard Environmental Archaeology as 'a set of techniques used in Archaeological Science addressing the nature of past environments (and in particular human behaviour in its environmental context)' or 'a range of methods used to analyse ancient plant and animal remains'.
Second, those that gave a more holistic view of Environmental Archaeology as a distinct discipline concerned with 'the ecological study of the human past' and 'the study of man's relations and interaction with the environment in the past through Archaeology and related disciplines'.
Several respondents made strong representations against the reductionist 'set of techniques' view of Environmental Archaeology, warning that it will lead inevitably to us remaining 'largely a service industry'; in the words of one contributor:
'It should be: the assessment/investigation of the relationship between the human and the non-human aspects of the environment through time, but it often appears to be: the scientific examination and interpretation of organic material from archaeological contexts'.
There is therefore a gulf between what Environmental Archaeology could be and how it is presently defined and (in some ways more importantly) widely perceived at present. The comparison of the definitions of Environmental Archaeology offered with the interests of respondents is revealing, suggesting that archaeologists tend to be more inclined to think of Environmental Archaeology as a 'set of techniques', although contract research workers were also not adverse to pragmatic definitions.
Differences in how Environmental Archaeology is perceived is therefore a problem of importance in addressing how we present a case for Environmental Archaeology being part of any Archaeology core curriculum.
If the definition of Environmental Archaeology remains elusive, the subjects with which Environmental Archaeology is most closely associated are more clear cut (Table 5). Links with Archaeology and Geography dominated, with a moderately high percentage linking Environmental Archaeology with Biology-the Life Sciences in general, and Botany and Zoology in particular. Similar links were widely perceived with Geology, Geomorph-ology and the Earth Sciences. Surprisingly few linked Environmental Archaeology with Ecology and its relative, Palaeoecology.
The pattern of responses suggests a relatively coherent view of Environmental Archaeology as a 'bridge discipline' between Archaeology and the Biological and Earth Sciences; however, several contributors dissented, suggesting that Environmental Archaeology was not a discipline as such, but was simply 'an area of overlap between Archaeology, Biology and Geology'.
We concluded that there appeared to be little or no disagreement over where the strongest intellectual and methodological links of Environmental Archaeology lie, but considerable doubt as to whether Environmental Archaeology should be seen as a 'discipline' in its own right or only as a part of other subjects.
The view of the core working party was that we should seek solace in analogies with other scientific disciplines. Organic Chemistry, for example, is clearly seen to be a distinct discipline (being taught in its own right, having an identifiable body of practitioners, having its own journals and learned societies, etc.) yet is also an integral part of the subject of Chemistry. We feel that Environmental Archaeology can make claim to disciplinary status on similar grounds. The demarcation of Environmental Archaeology as a distinct discipline is no bar to regarding it as an integral part of the subject of Archaeology. Environmental Archaeology would clearly not be the only discipline in this position within Archaeology and similar cases can be made for most specialist areas such as pottery analysis ('ceramo-archaeology') with nested specialisations like 'Roman Pottery', 'Samian Ware', etc.
All institutions offering undergraduate qualifications in Archaeology teach some form of Environmental Archaeology within the core of the degree program (see Section 4 below). The institutions participating in this survey offer a range of first degree qualifications in Archaeology (Table 6), the majority being three-year single honours BA degrees (14 institutions), with a substantial minority also offering a similar B.Sc. (7) or B.Sc. in Archaeological Science (2)-in some cases with a very significant environmental component.
Integrated single honours degree courses with an explicit link to Environmental Archaeology were rare, only two institutions offering degrees with an 'environmental' title ('Archaeology and Environmental Studies' and 'Environmental Archaeology'). More commonly Archaeology was linked to the 'environmental disciplines' through joint or dual honours degrees; the most common coupling was with Geography (eight examples), followed by Archaeology and Geology/Earth Science (three departments). Surprisingly the combination of Archaeology and Ecology is offered by only one department, although this may reflect the relative paucity of Ecology as a distinct undergraduate degree discipline outside of Botany and Zoology in the British university system. (Table 7).
Interestingly, several non-Archaeology Departments, especially of Geography and Environmental Science, offer courses which deal with aspects of Environmental Archaeology or Human Palaeoecology. In most cases these departments are located in institutions which have no Archaeology Department. The authors are aware of several other institutions either establishing or preparing to establish courses in 'Environmental Archaeology' within the framework of Quaternary Studies. It appears likely that with the renewed interest of Geographers and Environmental Scientists in time and the evolution of the environment this trend will continue, pushing Environmental Archaeology into the position of being taught in more than one subject area.
It is apparent that aspects of 'Environmental Archaeology' are more widely taught than simple head counts of staff Environmental Archaeologists might indicate. Many non-Environmental Archaeologists pointed out that the results of environmental research are often best taught in a 'fully integrated fashion' presenting the 'historical story'-patterns of environmental and economic change-in the context of regionally-based or chronologically-based courses. In this sense, Environmental Archaeology plays at least some role in almost all Archaeology courses.
However, those teaching the techniques of Environmental Archaeology-the theoretical and methodological framework of the discipline-appeared to fall to two groups. First, those employed within Archaeology Departments specifically as 'Environmental Archaeologists', second, those employed in other departments (or in some cases outside organisations) who are brought in to teach short method-based courses or course elements. These two groups are not mutually exclusive: many departments with a staff Environmental Archaeologist also employ outside teaching to assist with specific subject areas.
A majority of departments now employ at least one member of staff who has a specific role as 'Environmental Archaeologist', the number of staff with this label being proportionate to the size of the department concerned. Two departments reported that they had established joint posts with other departments (Geography) in areas of what may be broadly thought of as 'Environmental Archaeology' (e.g. palynology).
Contributions to the teaching of Environmental Archaeology by staff drawn from outside departments was relatively common (Table 8); only five Archaeology Departments claimed to be without external contributors. The range of contributing departments by subject was, however, small and dominated by staff from the Biological Sciences (8 examples), Geography (8) and the Earth Sciences (4); only one department recorded contributions by Chemists and Environmental Scientists. At the York meeting the problems of integrating external lecturers into courses were commented upon; many participants pointed to the inherent difficulties of students being taught by staff who are unfamiliar with Archaeology. Many regarded such courses as prone to inculcating a mechanistic view of Environmental Archaeology as a group of techniques, but nonetheless necessary because of the shortage of resources within Archaeology Departments (see Section 1.8 below).
In contrast, the staff of Archaeology Departments rarely make any contribution to the teaching of environmental matters in other departments (Table 9)-only three departments contributing to the teaching of Geography, one to Social Anthropology and two to extra mural/continuing education- while twelve reported no contribution to any other 'environmental' subject. We conclude that external recognition of the potential of Environmental Archaeology for addressing contemporary environmental problems (from lead pollution to tourist pressure) is sadly lacking. The workload of many teaching staff is now such that such contacts are unlikely to develop spontaneously.
All institutions offering undergraduate qualifications in Archaeology teach some form of Environmental Archaeology within the core of the degree program (Table 10). Considerable variation exists, however, in the content, duration and level of training offered. The contribution of the Environmental Archaeology components to the final degree assessment showed a similar degree of variation (Table 15).
The proportion of first-level core courses given over to Environmental Archaeology (and EA- related material) varied from 5 to 30%. Most departments integrate Environmental Archaeology into a general foundation course. In several cases Environmental Archaeology components were not flagged as such and were taught in a fully integrated fashion, usually within the context of a narrative period/region structure. At the other extreme modular structures contained units dedicated entirely to the teaching of Environmental Archaeology. No department offered option courses in Environmental Archaeology in the 1st year.
At the second level, Environmental Archaeology again formed a significant element of integrated courses (5 to 30%). Separate compulsory core courses in Environmental Archaeology were more common-with between 10 and 100% of the unit given over to 'Environmental Archaeology'. Option courses in Environmental Archaeology appear and were offered at six institutions.
The third level (3rd and 4th level in Scotland) is marked by a decline in the importance of integrated and specialised core courses, increasing emphasis being placed on option courses dealing with specific techniques or areas, the range of choices available to students being generally in direct proportion to the size of the institution concerned and the specialist interests of the staff.
into the curriculum of Archaeology departments.
EA taught as separate compulsory core courses/units
EA taught as separate optional courses/units
To some extent, answers to this question reflected the respondent's view as to what constitutes Environmental Archaeology as against Archaeology sensu stricto and hence should be treated with caution. Nevertheless, the overall pattern is one of decreasing integration of environmental teaching as one moves through the degree curriculum. This is mirrored by an increase in the environmental content of courses, until the final year when the environmental content is often 100% but only in the context of optional courses. What the average Archaeology graduate will know of Environmental Archaeology is therefore more than likely to be derived only from the first- and second-level compulsory courses.
The range of subjects taught under the umbrella of Environmental Archaeology is considerable. In order crudely to assess the overall effort expended on the teaching of different subject areas we characterised the responses as a series of 'effort points'-each method of teaching used on a particular topic was given one 'effort point'. If a subject is being taught through lectures, practicals and fieldwork exercises (3 points) then it is assumed to have a greater 'importance' in the eyes of the responding department than a subject area taught only through lectures (1 point). The total effort points recorded by each subject area are given in full in Appendix B.
It should be noted that several respondents commented at length on the 'list of techniques' approach adopted (arguably unavoidable) in the questionnaire. In particular they noted that such lists did little to convey the essential character of Environmental Archaeology as an ecological discipline-i.e. that Environmental Archaeology should itself be integrative rather than reductionist. These comments appear at the start of Appendix B.
Nevertheless, we would argue that there is still value in looking at the overall expenditure of effort-if only to give some insight into the relative weightings given to elements of the subject by practitioners. With that in mind a summary table showing the very crude estimate of overall teaching effort obtained is given in Table 11.
The ranking in Table 11 may be taken as a very crude reflection of the perceived value of each of these subject areas within the teaching of 'Environmental Archaeology' (to some extent this returns us to the question of the definition of the subject). The relatively low ranking of ecological theory within the table is noteworthy and given the high scores obtained by Holocene/Pleistocene environmental history/stratigraphy suggests that teaching is often concerned with the historical narrative of environmental and economic change rather than the mechanisms by which these changes take place. This issue clearly needs to be addressed if Environmental Archaeology is to be more than a service discipline.
Given their recognised importance (and the number of practitioners) it was not surprising that the teaching of techniques should be dominated by palynology, plant macrofossils and vertebrate faunal analysis. The availability of established laboratories, reference collections and teaching materials for these methods may also have been a factor in their representation versus more recently established methods such as insect and molluscan analysis. The ready availability of specialists in the former fields in departments outwith Archaeology may also be a factor in their weighting.
Although fundamental to Environmental Archaeology, a relatively poor showing was recorded by geomorphology and soil/sediment analysis. This possibly reflects the shortage of Environmental Archaeology teaching staff with experience in this field-a point also picked up by the recent Council for British Archaeology survey (1994)-and which must be seen as a general cause for concern.
Dating techniques were well placed; however there is unavoidable overlap between what is taught in the context of Environmental Archaeology and what is taught in the context of 'straight' Archaeology.
At the York meeting a number of additional areas were identified as being particularly poorly represented and requiring urgent curriculum development:
(i) Biostatistics. The numeracy of many archaeological graduates is poor and there is a need to pay further attention to overcoming student resistance to statistics possibly through the integration of computer-based data analysis with real problems. This is a problem which we share with all archaeologists!
(ii) 'Archaeological Chemistry and Bio-chemistry'-especially recent advances in techniques, e.g. DNA, trace chemistry, etc.-in relation to environmental matters.
(iii) Urban versus rural contexts-questions of relevance and scale of techniques and contrasts of interpretation.
(iv) Environmental 'stress' and pollution, considered in terms of both ancient activities (e.g. Roman lead mining) and modern pressures (e.g. tourist erosion). The ability of Environmental Archaeology to address these issues is poorly recognised outside the subject but forms a convenient bridge to modern ecology and landscape management.