PhD courses

Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) organises a series of four PhD courses designed to create an environment for discussions about the latest developments within well-known fields of archaeology such as cultural layers, dating methods and typology, as well as exploring new developments in isotope analysis on archaeological material and network theory. Each course stands alone, and can be signed up for individually.

With these courses UrbNet wishes to encourage a wider use and a more in depth understanding of these tools in order to further the process of refining the precision of dates, origin of materials and the interpretation of the archaeological record. They are all indispensable aspects of the “High Definition“ approach that UrbNet aspire to develop further in context. The approach aims to maximize the amount and quality of data extrapolated from even the smallest elements of an archaeological site, which in turn enables new and more precise arguments on big and decisive questions of “when, where and why?”. The courses are:

  • Contextual archaeology as a high definition tool – which aims at dissecting the complexity of contextual archaeology and suggest tools which enable us to make the most out of the stratigraphical records (23rd – 24th November 2016)
  • Constructing high definition chronologies – chronologies in context – an introduction to the newest research and methodology on dating archaeological material (spring 2017)
  • Isotopes in archaeology - aims to introduce the range of applications that isotopes can have in archaeological studies, as well as practical matters. The focus of the course will be the two main research areas: dietary studies and provenance studies (spring/summer 2017)
  • Networks - The aim of the course is to teach the participants how to analyse networks and integrate theory and methodology in the analyses of networks. The course also aims to enable the student to handle the specific challenges related to network analyses (fall 2017)

The courses aim to promote interdisciplinary collaboration, enable archaeologists working with all periods and geographic areas, as well as archaeoscientists and anyone who works with material related to archaeology to speak a common language and communicate in an effective manner. Furthermore we wish to equip researchers with ability to critically evaluate scientific methods and interpretations, as well as encourage archaeoscientists to translate the data in a manner that is meaningful to other disciplines.

The courses are aimed at PhD students from a range of disciplines, such as archaeology, geoscience, history and other related fields.

Each course will run over two consecutive days and primarily take place at UrbNet locations at  Campus Moesgård – part of Aarhus University. The course will consist of lectures by leading researchers, student presentations, exercises, visits to relevant laboratories and workshops where it will be possible to work on issues related to the participants’ own research with input from lecturers and course participants.

Contextual archaeology as a high definition tool

Course 1: Contextual archaeology as a high definition tool (23rd and 24th November 2016) 3 ECTS

Introduction and aim

Cultural layers, their depositional process and stratigraphy is one of the oldest interpretative tools in archaeology and part of the firm empirical basis on which theories and further research is based – also within other fields of research, such as history and anthropology. Understanding archaeology through a contextual approach to cultural layers has two main purposes:

  • To understand cultural layers as much more than a container for finds and stratigraphy as more than a tool for relative dating or as a background within which the more important data are set. In the course we seek to demonstrate that cultural layers are a vast archive of knowledge of past events that has to be scrutinized on its own merit in order to truly unlock the potential that it holds.
  • To understand the cultural and geological processes that result in the creation of the archaeological record. This is crucial to everyone that works with archeological source material or results produced by others working with archaeological source material. This course aims to encourage doctoral students in archaeology and related subjects like history or archaeoscience, to reflect on the implications that a complex stratigraphy has and discuss the potential of implementing contextual and stratigraphical considerations in their own work, equipped with knowledge about the latest progress in the different fields of use.


Module 1: Contextual archaeology in theory

The first module will focus on the theory and ideas behind the way we view stratigraphy of cultural layers: seen as the biography of the site, as remains of actions, as an archive of knowledge of the past -much more than containers for finds and dating tools. Terms and theoretical tools related to stratigraphy, typical problems related to stratigraphy such as representability, re-deposition etc. will be discussed. Lecturer: Stefan Larsson (Arkeologerna, Statens Historiska Museum) and Rubina Raja (Centre for Urban Network Evolutions and Classical Art and Archaeology, Aarhus University).

Module 2: Practical applications to contextual archaeology

This module will deal with practical methods and central issues when managing complex stratigraphy in different contexts. To be discussed are questions related to single context and profile documentation (three dimensions vs. two dimensions) – what questions can be asked when different methods are used? How does the documentation method influence the questions that the material can be used to answer? Focus will also be put on methods used in organizing/documenting/visualizing stratigraphy (matrix, single context documentation, land use diagrams, sections, horizontal stratigraphy etc.) Lastly, but not least, the module will present tools and cases showing how stratigraphy can be used in connection with scientific sampling, i.e. how to relate stratigraphical information to typological and scientific dating information.

Since the conditions generally are very different in a northern European context vs. the Mediterranean, and in rescue excavations vs. research excavations, there will be two lectures on this theme, covering the whole range of challenges deriving from different conditions of work. This will give great potential in discussing the central elements and strategies related to contextual archaeology. Lecturers: Heike Møller (School for Culture and Society/Centre for Urban Networks Evolutions, Aarhus University), Georg Kalaitzoglou (Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Ruhr-Universität Bochum), Christina Rosén (Arkeologerna, Statens Historiska Museum) and Stefan Larsson (Arkeologerna, Statens Historiska Museum).

Module 3: Scientific relations to contextual archaeology

The module takes hold of the geological use of the term stratigraphy, and will introduce soil formation processes of interest for archaeology, and give insight in how to interpret different scenarios with geological knowledge. Lecturers: Søren Munch Kristiansen (Institute for Geoscience/Centre for Urban Networks Evolutions, Aarhus University) and Mads Kähler Holst (School for Culture and Society, Prehistoric Archaeology, Aarhus University).

Another focus will be on depositional processes/tafonomy, and how to recognize primary, secondary and redeposited material from a geological point of view. This aims to lead to an insight into what has an impact on stratigraphy – both in the past and in the present. Lecturer: Barbora Wouters (School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen).

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, the participants should be able to:

-describe key principles and concepts regarding the contextual approach and stratigraphy as a concept

-implement stratigraphical observations in their own work, with emphasis in using stratigraphy as a high definition tool together with different types of scientific sampling.

-reflect on, analyze, and critically discuss interpretations based on stratigraphical observations


The course will be conducted with a mixture of lectures, student presentations, exercises and a workshop where active participation will be expected. Each of the five sub themes will start with a lecture and be followed by student presentations related to the sub theme and by group exercises related to the lecture and presentations. The language of the course is English.

Case studies and student presentations

Each participant is required to submit a case study or abstract of 1-2 pages forehand, which deals with one or more of the five subthemes of the course, and to give a 15-20 minutes presentation of the case either on the first or the second day. The cases can relate to an own project, previous experiences, or a fictional case produced by the participant.


The exercises will consist of group discussions related to the lecture and the student presentations.


On the second day there will be a workshop where we go back to the cases from the five sub themes. Five different cases will be discussed in groups of four. Each group will choose a case that will be passed on to the next group. This group will then present a solution or debate the case/problem in plenum, based on what was learned from the lectures.  

Preliminary programme (23rd and 24th November)

Day 1:


10.00 Welcome and coffee

10.15-11.00 Lecture (Rubina Raja, School for Culture and Society/ Centre for Urban Networks Evolutions, Aarhus University) - Introductory lecture addressing the complexity and potential of contextual archaeology

Contextual archaeology in theory

11.00-11.45 Lecture (Stefan Larsson) – Theoretical approaches to the concept of stratigraphy within archaeology

11.45-12.30 Student presentations

12.30-13.00 Lunch

13.00-13.45 Group exercises and in plenum discussions

Practical applications to contextual archaeology

13.45-14.30 Lecture (Christina Rosén and Stefan Larsson) – Managing complex stratigraphy in Scandinavian urban contexts

14.30-14.45 Coffee/Tea break

14.45-15.30 Lecture (Heike Møller and Georg Kalaitzoglou) – Managing complex stratigraphy in Mediterranean/Near Eastern contexts

15.30-16.45 Student presentations

16.45-17.00 break

17.00-18.15 Group exercises and in plenum discussions

Day 2:

Scientific relation to contextual archaeology

9.00-9.45 Lecture (Søren Munch Kristiansen and Mads Holst) – Geology and soil formation processes

9.45-10.30 Lecture (Barbora Wouters) – Micromorphology and tafonomy

10.30-10.45 Coffee/Tea break

10.45-12.00 Student presentations

12.00-12.30 Lunch

12.30-13.45 Group exercises and in plenum discussions

13.45-15.00 Workshop

15.00-15.15 Final discussion – sum up.

ECTS credits and successful completion requirements

3 ECTS credits

PhD students are required to submit a case study (1-2 pages) stating a case that exemplifies challenges related to stratigraphy, to make a presentation of the case study at the course and participate actively in class discussions and activities.


The course will be held at:

Centre for Urban Network Evolutions

Campus Moesgård

Aarhus University

Course organiser:

Rubina Raja,

Application / registration:

Please apply via no later than 23 October 2016.

For questions on the application procedure, please contact Marianne Hoffmeister,