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First Year Courses


    This course aims to introduce the study of archaeology and the study of human origins. Archaeology is defined as the study of the human past through material culture. Over the second semester, this course presents an overview of prehistory leading up to the modern-day, as well as the broader climatic, geographic, ecological, social, and cultural contexts which made modern humans. In particular, it looks at the past through the lens of what people leave behind – the archaeological record.

  • AGE1005L - TOWARDS A DECOLONISED SCIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA (offered during winter term)

    This course addresses some key topics relevant to the decolonization of science in South Africa. Course objectives are as follows: (1) to contrast the science behind human diversity (e.g. skin colour variation, sex) with socially-constructed categories (e.g. race, gender binary); (2) to demonstrate how the history of racism and gender bias has limited the focus of scientific inquiry; (3) to highlight the importance of diversity and diverse voices in the production of scientific knowledge, (4) to show how African voices, in particular, have shaped and are continuing to shape the trajectory of science. The approach is a blended learning environment that combines online lectures, tutorials, tasks, and assessments. Guests both within UCT and from further afield will be brought in to supplement material through lectures, interviews, and/or short case studies. Assessment: Class participation (workshops/tutorials and online discussions) 20%, online tests 20%, final exam 30%, final project 30%. NOTE: The allocation of 30% to the final exam breaks with the traditional 50% threshold. Given the format and intense interactive nature of the courses, the decision has been made that a large component of student assessment should be a course project which allows them to engage with and reflect on their changing understanding of decolonisation and race in the course. This project will be equal weight to the exam and will be externally examined.

Second Year Courses


    In AGE2011S we examine the record of primate and human evolution, showing how fossil skeletons and artefacts are interpreted in terms of human behaviour and evolutionary processes. We also consider genetic and other comparative evidence that are increasingly providing insight into the origin of our lineage. We answer questions such as: Why did our ancestors evolve in Africa? How did we evolve such large and complex brains? What advantage does bipedalism provide? When do humans begin to make tools? Why is human skin colour so variable? What makes humans unique? The syllabus for AGE2011S includes practical sessions for the study of primate and human fossil and recent skeletal material, and the artefacts associated with our ancestors.


    All humans living today have a common African origin. The first humans were hunter-gatherers, as were their descendants. Indeed, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers for at least 99% of our evolutionary history, which means that our physical, psychological and social selves have been shaped by this way of life. We learn about the origin and evolution of our hunter-gatherer ancestors from genetic, fossil, archaeological, and ethnographic evidence. Studies of Khoesan peoples of southern Africa have contributed significantly to our understanding of such societies. In this course, we focus on the hunter-gatherer way of life over the past few hundreds of thousands of years. Specific topics covered include modern human origins, the Middle and Later Stone Age, ethnographic studies of Khoesan, the origins of pastoralism, coastal vs. arid environment adaptations, rock art and symbolic interpretation, genetics and biology, revisionism, and contemporary socio-politics and identity. In the weekly practical sessions, students will conduct hands-on, problem-solving exercises with archaeological materials.

Third Year Courses


    A flexible intensive study course in a specific area customised to the needs of individual students. Entry only by permission of the Head of Department.


    In this course, we explore the history of Africa’s people over the past 2000 years with special reference to southern Africa. Why are southern African populations so diverse? What lies behind the linguistic map that we see today? What social, technological and palaeoenvironmental systems shaped the evolution of societies? Did Africa have any civilisations? Who did Africa interact with? We discuss the archaeological record of artefacts, settlement systems, food waste, environmental contexts, and human skeletons. We deploy historical, material science, molecular science, anthropological and palaeoclimatic techniques to explore this rich and diverse heritage of the last two thousand years.


    Over the last thousand years, southern Africa has been connected to the world in several ways. From the 16th century the European push to open trade routes to the east increasingly disrupted earlier interactions between the southern African interior and the wider Indian Ocean region that had been in place from the 1st millennium AD. The European diaspora into southern Africa created new orders of power, control, and trade that had massive impacts on indigenous societies who were subjected to slavery, genocide, and eventually apartheid. In this course, we look at these interactions and transformations from both foreign and local viewpoints, in which the idea of the frontier is a central theme. The focus is on archaeological evidence and the contribution it makes to understanding the texture of life on frontiers and the new identities that frontiers created. In doing this the relationship between archaeological evidence, written sources, and oral history is critically addressed, particularly in the search for perspectives that address cultural change and continuity at the local scale.


    The course will run throughout the academic year. The lecture programme (campus and field) will be flexible, and a schedule will be decided upon in consultation with participating students. The curriculum covers training in site location, excavation, field note taking, stratigraphic observation, site survey, use of GPS and total station, photography, rock art recording, processing of field observations, spreadsheet use, preliminary conservation, and accessioning of materials, preliminary analyses and report writing.


  • Access the Science Faculty Code of Conduct here
  • Find the Faculty of Science handbook, which holds a section on Archaeology, here
  • Find the Humanities Faculty handbook, which holds a section on Archaeology, here
  • View the Archaeology Library Guide here