Reading Soils and Sediments: Global Geoarchaeology

Reading Soils and Sediments: Global Geoarchaeology

Date: 25-26 March 2019

Location: Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

Credits: 2 EC


Geoarchaeology is a growing and evolving research discipline at the intersection between geomorphology, environmental history, and archaeology (Butzer, 2008). Geoarchaeology as a research field continues to grow as analyses and techniques more typically used in earth and environmental sciences are shown to have used in interpreting the archaeological record (Diskin et al, 2013). According to Engel & Brückner (2014), geoarchaeology is ‘the science that studies geo-bio-archives in an archaeological context by also considering historical and archaeological data sources in its syntheses’, and they emphasize its multidisciplinary role, as a sub-discipline of geomorphology, between the geosciences and cultural sciences.  Geoarchaeology provides important new insights into landscape reconstruction, human behavior, and cultural processes that are a backdrop to landscape change (Kluiving et al, 2015).


This course gives theoretical frameworks for interpreting soils, sediments, and landscapes as records of the past and provides theoretical training in field and laboratory methods that identify, quantify and evaluate early human activities and environmental imprints. These understandings and skills contribute new landscape histories for Mediterranean and Middle-East regions. This work offers important and challenging perspectives on how people lived with and adapted to environmental change and has resonance with contemporary debates on sustainability, resilience and heritage management.

Learning outcomes:

• Understanding the principles of interpreting landscapes and sediment stratigraphies as records of the past.

• Understanding the contributions of landscape studies and sediment analyses in the interpretation of key aspects of landscape history including site formation processes, early arable land management practices, water management, and human niche construction.

• Ability to integrate landscape histories and sedimentary evidence with inter-disciplinary sources, including documentary, archaeological and environmental information, to address broader issues of society-environment change interactions. 

• The module provides a foundation for research-based field and laboratory Dissertation topics in geoarchaeology and landscape history.

Acquired skills:

• Competence in the application of science-based methods to answer archaeological research questions.

• Competence in the description, analyses and interpretation of soils and sediments from archaeological contexts.

• Competence in cross-disciplinary approaches applied to questions of society-environment interactions.

Research – led elements:

The 2-day module is entirely research-led, with each lecture based on a series of research papers and referred to a live, current, research project.  The module also leads directly to research dissertation topics with the opportunity to present your own research area in a geoarchaeological context.

The final seminar program will be published shortly


50% examination (2 questions; 2 hours, 25% each) / 50% presentation.

Students are encouraged to use their own research and dissertation projects.

The minimum grade to obtain a pass for a module is a 60% score

Admission, logistics

Students can administer for this course by contacting the ARCHON office at

Any questions relating to the content of the course can be sent to Sjoerd Kluiving,