Faculty of Arts


Origins of Civilisation


This course is about changes in the late Pleistocene and Holocene (approximately the last 20,000 years) that had a profound impact on humanity. During this time, many communities shifted from a hunter-gatherer way of life to village based agricultural. Popular accounts see this transition as a revolution, an inevitable progression from simple to complex societies. However, as we shall learn in the course, no such unilineal progression occurred.

The notion of a "transition" implies two clearly defined categories – simple societies before and complex societies afterward, perhaps with an "intermediate" form in the middle. The aim of this course is to deconstruct this simple linear view.

We will consider what sociocultural changes were involved as Holocene societies developed in different parts of the world. A second aim is to consider the nature of the relationship between humans and the environment. The transition from the Late Pleistocene to the Holocene was a period of marked environmental change. Modern climatic patterns were established but also the nature of human impact on the environment shifted. We will consider what practices were sustainable and which led to substantial changes in the relationship between people and the environment.

This course is designed to involve you in our Egyptian research project based in the Fayum close to Cairo. Here we are investigating an early-mid Holocene Egyptian landscape with some of the earliest evidence for grain agriculture in Egypt. We are studying a series of stratified and surface deposits along the edge of ancient Lake Qarun. Today the lake is 44 metres below sea-level, but during the early and mid-Holocene the lake was much higher. People occupied the lake environment. They left a spatially extensive record of flaked stone, pottery, animal bones and hearths both as surface and stratified deposits. We are interested in reconstructing the socio-economy, settlement pattern and mobility of the peoples who occupied the Fayum.

Archaeology is a field-based discipline which means that most archaeologists undertake survey, excavation and, increasingly, artefact analysis at the locations where people lived in the past. Field research is intended to answer particular questions often related to processes of culture change.

Rather than simply lecture on the results of our research we would like you to understand the relationship between the field research we are undertaking – literally the techniques we have adopted in the field – and the research questions these techniques are employed to answer. Hence we have devised a structure for the classes that always begins with our fieldwork then situates how we are undertaking research in relation to the work of others. As a consequence, this course is structured around themes rather than a chronological progression of changes through time.


Coursework + exam

Availability 2021

Not offered in 2021; planned for 2022




Coursework + exam


ANTHRO 206: 15.0 points


15 points in Anthropology or 60 points passed



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