Category Archives: Studying Archaeology

Brown’s Course Re-runs in Feb

The Brown University “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” course is re-running, starting February 24th.  They have added some additional elements for 2014: new ‘Office Hours’, new exercises and readings, repeat appearances by past fan favorites, and periodic live interactive events. Sue Alcock is also teaching an undergraduate class at Brown that will be doing the MOOC side by side with Coursera students, which promises to be good fun.

You can find out more and sign up on the Coursera site here.


More on the MooC

OK –  first impressions of the Roman Architecture course, I’m following on Coursera, courtesy of Yale University.

It’s much more didactic than ADLS (probably an essential thing) but still very accessible. It suffers a little from re-purposing some of Yale’s existing material and so doesn’t have the immediacy of ADLS. Probably the biggest difference is that where ADLS featured multiple lecturers and some dialogue between them, the lectures on this course are all from Prof. Diana E.E. Kleiner. Diana’s style is clear, authoritative and informative but the absence of other voices does reduce the impact a little. Not too much interactivity yet.

So far we’ve looked at Roman buildings in the first two centuries BCE and we’re now plunging into Pompeii as a case study of a city with all the various structures you might find there.

The People Behind The Palaces

Today was a fascinating  day school at Oxford’s Rewley House exploring the everyday lives of the Minoans you don”t here about – the ones that didn’t live in the palaces.

Knossos parissien.jpgDr Anna Simandiraki-Grimshaw put together an excellent program looking at the Minoans through five different windows, helping us to get to grips with the lives of the “non-elite” (we don’t even have a word for this! Hoi-poloi?)

Dr Christine Morris (Trinity College Dublin) shared her knowledge of the terracotta figurines found at Peak Sanctuaries, especially at Atsipahdes where she has excavated ( Dr Lisa Bendall (OUDCE) teased out the learnings about everyday lives from the Linear B tablets. Dr Kostis Christakis (University of Crete) looked at what could be learned from the food storage facilities beyond the palaces while Dr Senta German (Andrew W Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) explored what could be learned from bio-archaeology about Minoan women.

Here are some great facts from the day….

  • less than 20% of Minoan archaeology to date relates to non-elite sites.
  • Knossos was really obsessed with sheep : more than 20% of the Linear B tablets found there relate to sheep, wool or woven cloth.
  • never mind the small numbers of votive figurines in the Palaces. If you want to understand (at least one) devotional focus of the majority of Minoans look at the thousands of figurines found on the Peak Sanctuaries.
  • Minoans were 5% shorter than today’s Brits but lived on average less than half as long if you were lucky enough to be a man, or a third as long if a woman.

For more details on the one and two day study sessions run by OUDCE see their web site and click Archaeology. Everyone that I have attended has been great.

Roman Pavement with 123D Catch

After the Gurob ship here’s my own attempt at 3D modelling – done during the Brown MOOC.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s part of a tesselated pavement from a 2nd century CE Roman building in Colchester. There’s a commentated movie version too, which I’ll try to add.

View it here:  123D Catch Commented Video

This was created in 123D Catch. Never did work out how to patch up the blank spots but it’s an OK example of how you can make something quite interesting with (relatively) simple tools.

Anyone for a wiki-museum?

Thoughts on ADLS

Well, the ADLS MOOC finished a while back and I’ve now had to time to give it some perspective.

Certainly it was fun and the large number of participants on the message boards contributed to that. The other students were also important contributors to the learning on the course. The mechanism of peer-review (having students review one-another’s exercises) exposed us to a range of ideas on the various topics being discussed.

The standard of lectures was certainly on a par with the standard on the courses at Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education and the involvement of staff in the on-line interaction with students was exceptional. Reading assignments – all accessible on-line – were varied and relevant.


Well, some of the message board threads got a bit unwieldy at times as they didn’t break down into sub-threads. Some of the students had problems with working with the Coursera platform but I didn’t experience any. There have been quibbles about the final scores given but in my case the results were in line with the work I had done and the scoring methods announced at tthe start f the course so I can’t really comment. My biggest criticism is certainly an unfair one – given that the course was only ever billed as an introduction to the range of topics that archaeology is concerned with – I’d have liked to see some (many?) of the topics covered in much more depth. Marking and commentary on exercises was variable – some of my peers took a lot of trouble in reviewing work but others did little more than give work a score.

There is an enthusiasm on the message boards for a follow up course and I would certainly consider taking another course from this team. There is also discussion of re-running this course at some future point: I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a introduction to archaeology or – like me – someone that has learned a bit from various sources and wants to put it all into a coherent framework.

ADLS Approaches Its End

The enthusiasm on the forums seems to indicate that all those that have taken part in the Brown University Massive Open On-line Course “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” have found it worthwhile. There have been many votes of thanks to Dr Susan Alcock and her team who not only put together a fascinating course but also stayed involved with the students via the message boards right the way through.

That, I think, has been one of the reasons for its success.

Now we’re just waiting for the results of the last round of student peer-reviews and then the whole thing will be over. There is definitely an “end-of-term” feel around the message boards, including some most un-academic outbreaks of silliness.  🙂

I’ll write up my overall thoughts on it next week.