ARCH08040 2019 Geoarchaeology

General Details

Full Title
Transcript Title
70 %
Subject Area
ARCH - Archaeology
ESCI - Environmental Science
08 - NFQ Level 8
05 - 05 Credits
Start Term
2019 - Full Academic Year 2019-20
End Term
9999 - The End of Time
Shirley Markley
Programme Membership
SG_SAPPL_H08 201900 Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Applied Archaeology

This module introduces students to the basic principles of geoarchaeology and to basic proficiency to interpret geoarchaeological data. It introduces the range of geoarchaeological field and laboratory techniques, as well as a knowledge of how to integrate geoarchaeological information with the goals of archaeological research problems and the reconstruction of past landscapes

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module the learner will/should be able to;


Explain the basic principles on which geoarchaeology is based.


Define the principal methods used in geoarchaeology and identify when these methods would be applicable.


Demonstrate the practical procedures of sieving soils and performing particle size analysis, soil moisture content, loss-on-ignition, phosphate analysis and magnetic susceptibility.


Analyse, evaluate and draw conclusions from data obtained in the laboratory and/or data presented in problem-solving exercises.


Describe case studies of the application of geoarchaeological techniques in interpreting archaeological sites and landscapes.


Organise and integrate theoretical and practical concepts presented into an overall view of geoarchaeology and explain the major applications in interpreting archaeological sites and landscapes.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

 Weekly lectures and Laboratory Practicals, to include one field trip and independent learning.

Module Assessment Strategies

70% Continous Assessment - Lab Notebook and Practical Write-up

30% Exam

70% of the assessment will be based on practical laboratory skills and fieldwork. This will ensure relevance to the world of archaeological consulting and research. The exam is designed to test the ability of the student to retain and to express the information gained during the course, while continuous assessment will provide on-going opportunities to demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Repeat Assessments

Submission of CA and repeat of Exam if required

Indicative Syllabus

The development of geoarchaeology

Models of sediment deposition

Sediment classification and physical properties

Stratigraphy, structural properties and facies

Intertidal environments

Alluvial environments

Colluvial environments

Cave environments

Urban environments

Practicals for: sample description and sub-sampling; soil moisture content, magnetic susceptibility; phosphate analysis; loss-on-ignition measurement; particle size analysis

Fieldtrip to sites relating to the study of geoarchaeology


Coursework & Assessment Breakdown

Coursework & Continuous Assessment
70 %
End of Semester / Year Formal Exam
30 %

Coursework Assessment

Title Type Form Percent Week Learning Outcomes Assessed
1 2,3,4,6 Continuous Assessment Individual Project 70 % Week 13 2,3,4,5,6

End of Semester / Year Assessment

Title Type Form Percent Week Learning Outcomes Assessed
1 1,2,5,6 Final Exam Closed Book Exam 30 % End of Semester 1,2,5,6

Full Time Mode Workload

Type Location Description Hours Frequency Avg Workload
Lecture Science Laboratory Lectures 2 Weekly 2.00
Laboratory Practical Science Laboratory Practical 2 Weekly 2.00
Independent Learning Offsite Self Study 3 Weekly 3.00
Total Full Time Average Weekly Learner Contact Time 4.00 Hours

Module Resources

Non ISBN Literary Resources

General Texts 

Ayala, G., Canti, M., Heathcote, J., Sidell, J. and Usai, R.. (2007) Geoarchaeology - using earth sciences to understand the archaeological record, English Heritage, Swindon. 

Benedetti, M.M., Cordova, C.E. and Beach, T. (2011) Soils, sediments and geoarchaeology: Introduction Catena, Volume 85, Issue 2 

Butzer, K.W (1978b) towards an integrated, contextual approach in archaeology: a personal view. Journal of Archaeological Science, 5, 191-193. 

Cannell, R. (2012) On the definition and practice of Geoarchaeology, Primitive Tider, 14, 31-45

Canti, m.G. & Meddens F.M. (1997) Mechanical coring as an aid to archaeological deposits. Journal of Field Archaeology, 25, 97-105. 

Dincauze D.F. (2000). Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapters 9-12.  

Gladfelter, B.G. (1977) Geoarchaeology: the geomorphologist and archaeology. American Antiquity, 42, 519-538.  

Goldberg, Paul, V. T. Holliday, and C. R. Ferring (2001). Earth sciences and archaeology. New York: Kluwer. 

Goldberg, P. and R. Macphail (2006). Practical and theoretical geoarchaeology. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA ; Oxford. 

Hassan, F.A. (1978) Sediments in archaeology: methods and implications for palaeoenvironmental and cultural analysis. Journal of Field Archaeology, 5, 197-213 

Hassan, F.A. (1979) Geoarchaeology: the geologist and archaeology. American Antiquity, 44, 267-270 

Helgren, D.M. & Brookes, A.S. (1983) Geoarchaeology at Gi, a middle stone age and later stone age site in northwest Kalahari. Journal of Archaeological Science, 10, 181-197 

Mitchell, F. and Ryan, M. (1998). Reading the Irish Landscape. Dublin, Townhouse 

Murphy, E.M. and Whitehouse, N.J. (2007). Environmental Archaeology in Ireland. Oxford, Oxbow 

Rapp G.J., and Hill C.L. (2006). Geoarchaeology: The Earth-Science Approach to Archaeological Interpretation. Second Edition. New Haven: Yale University. 

Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (2012) Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice.  London, Thames and Hudson Roberts, N.  (2009)  The Holocene: An Environmental History.  Oxford, Blackwell 

Schiffer, M.B. (1972) Archaeological context and systematic context. American Antiquity, 37, 156-165 

Holliday, VT (2004) Soils in Archaeological Research, Oxford University Press, USA, Cary, NC, USA.  

Waters M.R. (1992). Principles of Geoarchaeology. Tucson: University of Arizona. 

Sligo Area 

Thorn, R. H. (1985) Sligo and West Leitrim. Irish Association for Quaternary Studies field guide. Vol. 8. Irish Association for Quaternary Studies. 

Charlesworth, J. Kaye (1928) The Glacial Geology of North Mayo and West Sligo. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Volume 38. Section B: Biological, Geological, and Chemical Science. Royal Irish Academy 

Williams, Michael and Harper, D. A. T. (1999) The making of Ireland: landscapes in geology. Immel Pub. 

O'Connell, M., Ghilardi, B. and Morrison, L. (2014) A 7000-year record of environmental change, including early farming impact, based on lake-sediment geochemistry and pollen data from County Sligo, western Ireland. Quaternary Research. Volume 81, Issue 1, pp35-49 

Stolze, S., Muscheler, R., Dorfler, W. & Nelle, O. (2013) Solar influence on climate variability and human development during the Neolithic: evidence from a high-resolution multi-proxy record from Templevanny Lough, County Sligo, Ireland, Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 67, pp. 138. 


Models of deposition, sediment categorisations, sediment properties 

Gifford, D.P. & Benrensmeyer, A.K. (1977) Observed formation and burial of a recent occupation site in Kenya. Quaternary Research, 8. 245-266 

Hardin, J.W. (2010) Chapter 4: Tell Halif: Its History and Remains, Lahav II: Households and the Use of Domestic Space at Iron II Tell Halif : An Archaeology of Destruction. Winona Lake, IN, USA: Eisenbrauns, pp84-123 

Lewis, C.A. 1979 Periglacial wedge‐casts and patterned ground in the midlands of Ireland, Irish Geography, 12 


Urban Environments 

Butzer, K.W. (1983) Urban geoarchaeology in medieval Alzira (prov. Valencia, Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 10, 333-349. 

Davidson, d.A. (1973) Particle size and phosphate analysis – evidence for the evolution of a tell. Archaeometry, 15, 143-152. 


Cave environments  

Bailey , G. N. & Davidson, L. (1983) Site exploration territories and topography: two case studies from Palaeolithic Spain, Journal of Archaeological Science, 10,87-115. 

Butzer, K.W. (1981) Cave sediments, upper Pleistocene stratigraphy and Mousterian facies in Cantabrian Spain. Journal of Archaeological Science, 8, 133-183. 

Collcutt, S.N. (1979) The analysis of Quaternary cave sediments. World Archaeology, 10, 290-301 

Farrand, W.R. (1975) Sediment analysis of a prehistoric rockshelter; the Abri Pataud. Quaternary Research, 5. 1-26. 

Farrand, W.R. (1979) Chronology and palaeoenvironment of Levantine prehistoric sites as seen from sediment studies. Journal of Archaeological Science, 6, 369-392. 


Alluvial environments 

Anderson, E., Harrison, S., Passmore, D.G. and Mighall, T.M. (2000) Holocene alluvial-fan development in the Macgillycuddy's Reeks, southwest Ireland, Geological Society of America Bulletin, 112 (12), 1834-1849  

Brookes, I.A., Levine, L.D & Dennell, R.W. (1982) Alluvial sequences in central west Iran and implications for archaeological survey. Journal of Field Archaeology, 9, 285-299. 

Gray, H.H. (1984) Archaeological sedimentology and overbank silt deposits on the floodplain of the Ohio river near Louisville, Kentucky, Journal of Archaeological Science, 11, 421-432. 

Martin-Consuagra, E., Chisvert, N. Caceres, L. & Ubera, J.L. (1998) Archaeological, palynological and geological contributions to landscape reconstruction in the alluvial plain of the Guadalquivir river at San Bernardo, Sevilla (spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 25, 521-532 

Pope, K.O. & van Andel, T.H. (1984) Late quaternary alleviation and soil formation in the southern Argolid: its history, causes and archaeological implications. Journal of Archaeological Science, 11, 281-306. 

Shacklye, M.L. (1978) The behaviours of artefacts as sedimentary particles in a fluviatile environment, Archaeometry, 20, 55-61. 


Lacustrine environments 

Candy, I., Farry, A., Darvill, C.M., Palmer, A., Blockley, S.P.E., Matthews, I.P., MacLeod, A., Deeprose, L., Farley, N., Kearney, R., Conneller, C., Taylor, B. & Milner, N. (2014) The evolution of Palaeolake Flixton and the environmental context of Star Carr: an oxygen and carbon isotopic record of environmental change for the early Holocene, Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 


Intertidal / Coastal environments 

Bell, M. & Neumann, H. (1997) Prehistoric intertidal archaeology and environments in the severn estuary, Wales, World Archaeology, 29(1), 95-113.  

Gutiérrez-Zugasti, I., Andersen, S.H., Araújo, A.C., Dupont, C., Milner, N. & Monge-Soares, A.M. (2011) Shell midden research in Atlantic Europe: State of the art, research problems and perspectives for the future, Quaternary International, 239(1), 70-85. 

Kraft, J.C,. Rapp, G.J. Tzianos, C. & Kase, E. W. (1987) The pass at Thermopylae, Greece, Journal of Field Archaeology, 14, 181-198 

Macphail, R., Bill, J., Cannell, R., Linderholm, J., Rodsrud, C.L. (2013), Integrated microstratigraphic investigations of coastal archaeological soils and sediments in Norway: The Gokstad ship burial mound and its environs including the Viking harbour settlement of Heimdaljordet, Vestfold, Quaternary International, 315, 131-146 

Thompson, Victor D., and Waggoner, James C., eds. Archaeology and Historical Ecology of Small Scale Economies. Gainesville, FL, USA: University Press of Florida, 2013.  

Van Andel, T.H. (1989) Late Pleistocene sea levels and human exploration of the shore and shelf of southern south Africa, Journal of Field Archaeology, 16, 133-155. 

Van Andel, T.H., Jacobsen, T.W., Jolly, J.B. & Lianos, N. (1980) The quaternary history of the coastal zone near Franchthi Cave, southern Argolid, Greece, Journal of Field Archaeology, 7, 389-402. 

Zangger, E. (1991) Prehistoric coastal environments in Greece: the vanished landscapes of Dimini Bay and Lake Lerna. Journal of Field Archaeology, 18. 1-15. 


Colluvial environments 

Godwin, Sir H. (1967) Strip lynchets and soil erosion. Antiquity, 41, 66-67. 

Patton, P.C & Schumm, S. A. (1981) Ephemeral-stream processes: implications for studies of quaternary valley fills, Quaternary Research, 15, 24-43. 

Potter, T. W. (1976) Valleys and settlements: some new evidence. World Archaeology , 8. 207-219.  

Van Andel, T.H., Zangger, E. & Demitrack, A. (1990) Land-use and soil erosion in prehistoric and historical Greece. Journal of Field Archaeology, 17, 379-396. 

Wagstasff, J.M. (1981) Buried assumptions: some problems on the interpretation of the Younger Fil raised by recent data from Greece, Journal of Archaeological Science , 8, 247-264.  

Waters, M.R. (1991) the geoarchaeology of gullies and arroyo’s in southern Arizona. Journal of Field Archaeology, 18, 141-159. 



Ball, D.F. (1964) Loss-on-ignition as an estimate of organic matter and organic carbon in non-calcareous soils. Journal of Soil Science, 15, 84-92. 

Barillé-Boyer, A., Barillé, L., Massé, H., Razet, D. & Héral, M. (2003) Correction for particulate organic matter as estimated by loss on ignition in estuarine ecosystems, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 58(1), 147-153. 

Conway, J.S. (1983) An investigation of soil phosphorus distribution within occupation deposits from a romano-British hut group. Journal of Archaeological Science, 10, 117-128. 

Ellwood, B.B., Harrold, F.B. & Marks, A.E. (1994) Site identification and correlation using geoarchaeological methods at the Cabeco do Porto Marinho (CPM) locality, Rio Maior, Portugal, Journal of Archaeological Science, 21, 779-784. 

Ellwood, B.B., Peter, D.E., Balsam, W. & Schieber, J. (1995) Magnetic and geochemical variations as indicators of palaeoclimate and archaeological site evolution: examples from 41TR68, Fort Worth, Texas, Journal of Field Archaeology, 23, 263-271. 

Gernet, M.V., Melo, V.F., Dieckow, J., Lima, V.C. & Silva, W.T.L. (2014) Genesis and occupancy of a shell midden on Paraná State coast, Brazil, Quaternary International, 352, 135-146. 

Gladfelter, B.G. (1977) Geoarchaeology: the geomorphologist and archaeology. American Antiquity, 42, 519-538.  

Gómez-Robledo, L., López-Ruiz, N., Melgosa, M., Palma, A.J., Capitán-Vallvey, L.F. & Sánchez-Marañón, M. (2013) Using the mobile phone as Munsell soil-colour sensor: An experiment under controlled illumination conditions, Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 99, 200-208. 

Holliday, V.T., Stein, J.K., Gartner, W.G. (2004) ‘Appendix 3: Soil Laboratory and Results Variability of Procedures’ In VT Holliday Soils in Archaeological Research, Oxford University Press, USA, Cary, NC, USA.  

Holliday, V.T. & Gartner, W.G. (2007) Methods of soil P analysis in archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 34, Issue 2, February 2007, Pages 301-333 

Kanu, M.O., Meludu, O.C., Oniku, S.A. (2014) Comparative study of top soil magnetic susceptibility variation based on some human activities, Geofísica Internacional, Volume 53, Issue 4, October–December 2014, Pages 411-423

Macphail, R., Bill, J., Cannell, R., Linderholm, J., Rodsrud, C.L. (2013) Integrated microstratigraphic investigations of coastal archaeological soils and sediments in Norway: The Gokstad ship burial mound and its environs including the Viking harbour settlement of Heimdaljordet, Vestfold, Quaternary International, 315, 131-146 

Pereira, P., Úbeda, X., Mataix-Solera, J., Oliva, M. & Novara, A. (2014) Short-term changes in soil Munsell colour value, organic matter content and soil water repellency after a spring grassland fire in Lithuania, Solid Earth, 5(1), 209-225. 

Rosendahl, D., Lowe, K.M., Wallis, L.A. & Ulm, S. (2014) Integrating geoarchaeology and magnetic susceptibility at three shell mounds: a pilot study from Mornington Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, Journal of Archaeological Science, 49, 21-32. 

Sherwood, S.C. & Kidder, T.R. (2011) The DaVincis of dirt: Geoarchaeological perspectives on Native American mound building in the Mississippi River basin, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 69-87. 

Tite, M.S. (1972) The influence of geology on magnetic susceptibility of soils on archaeological sites. Archaeometry, 14, 229-236.

Journal Resources


Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology

Archaeological Prospection

Journal of Archaeological Science

Quaternary Research

Journal of Field Archaeology

Journal of Soil Science

URL Resources

Publications on Ireland's Geomorphology – continually updated list 

Additional Information

Parts of this module will be delivered via online Panopto lectures