Archaeological and ethnoarchaeological theory

LARKO2225  2019-2020  Louvain-la-Neuve

Archaeological and ethnoarchaeological theory
5.0 credits
30.0 h

This biannual course is taught on years 2014-2015, 2016-2017, ...


Students are expected to read papers in English, especially within the Theories of archaeology module.

Main themes

The class is divided in two modules.
The module Theories of archaeology (A) examines the origin, nature and development of the major theoretical approaches in archaeology and replaces them within the wider school of thoughts and theoretical agendas that characterized the evolution of humanities and social sciences. It also offers an exploration of today's multiple archaeologies, while considering and questioning the nature of archaeological data and praxis. In an epistemological perspective, it also sheds light on the importance of critical thinking for the evaluation and construction of scientific argumentation.
The module Ethnoarchaeology (B) illustrates, through readings of key texts and the presentation of case-studies, the investigation fields, the methods and the objectives of this particular archaeological approach. The class presents ethnoarchaeology as a research strategy focusing on the relationships between material culture and culture as a whole rather than as a theory or a method. The class also underlines that, on the basis of analogies typical of the interpretive process in archaeology, ethnoarchaeology aims at informing the interpretation of material remains and providing critical and reflexive inputs through studies focusing on 'living contexts'.


  • 1

    (A) General formation on the major theoretical trends shaping archaeological practice and interpretation from the end of the 19th century to the present day.

    (B) General introduction to ethnoarchaeology, its objectives, its methods, its mobilization in contemporary archaeological praxis and its critical reception.

The contribution of this Teaching Unit to the development and command of the skills and learning outcomes of the programme(s) can be accessed at the end of this sheet, in the section entitled “Programmes/courses offering this Teaching Unit”.


(A) The module aims at outlining the history of ideas and their impact on archaeology as a discipline. The two ex-cathedra opening classes focus on epistemology and on an introduction to the philosophy of sciences but also on the socio-cultural contextualization of the birth of modern archaeology (the so-called ¿cultural history¿). In a second time, the class approaches the fiery debates between processual and postprocessual archaeology, echoing a wider epistemological schism in the humanities and social sciences between modern and postmodern viewpoints. The third part of the class features more eclectic sessions dealing with key themes of today¿s archeology: relation between fieldwork and theory, memory, materiality, distributed agency, feminism and gender, contemporary material remains and archaeology of the present, etc. For each theme, the discussion fosters a critical reading of central concepts and theoretical arguments and discusses their broader socio-cultural context and principal actors and tenants.

(B) The module treating ethnoarchaeology builts on from the Binfordian concept of Middle-Range Theory and illustrates how this research strategy can constitute a relevant approach to relationships between material culture and human socio-cultural behaviors. The module also focuses, echoing the first one, on underlining the crucial importance of a critical reflexivity in the evaluation and construction of archaeological interpretations. The module allows students to take interdisciplinary realities into consideration and to measure the complementarity between anthropology, ethnography and archaeology.

Teaching methods

(A) Ex-cathedra introduction (2h) followed by interactive discussion sessions where student's interventions are supervised by the teacher. These sessions are to be prepared by the students on the basis of a weekly portfolio of journal articles and book chapters complemented with a questionnaire.

(B) Ex-cathedra introduction (2h) presenting the key theoretical concepts and case studies of the ethnoarchaeological approach and discussion sessions by invited speakers who urge students to critically address the main themes presented. 

Evaluation methods

Mainly continuous evaluation (participation in discussion sessions); a final paper is also due at the end of the classes; no exam.

Other information


Online resources



- Aurenche, O., Vous avez dit ethnoarchéologue ? Choix d'articles (1972-2007), Lyon : Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée ' Jean Pouilloux (Série Archéologique 16), 2012.
- Tesart A., Avant l'histoire : l'évolution des sociétés, de Lascaux à Carnac : Paris, Gallimard, 2012.
(A) Each discussion session focuses on a portfolio of theoretical papers and/or chapters of specialized monographs which constitute mandatory readings. An additional reference list is also provided to the students. 

(B) Synthetic works :
- David, N. and Kramer, C (eds), Ethnoarchaeology in Action, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Gallay, A., Pour une ethnoarchéologie théorique. Mérites et limites de l'analogie ethnographique, Paris : Errance, 2011.

Faculty or entity

Programmes / formations proposant cette unité d'enseignement (UE)

Program title
Master [120] in History of Art and Archaeology : General

Master [60] in History of Art and Archaeology : General

Master [120] in Anthropology