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Thames through Time: Birkbeck/MOLA Field School


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenor and tutor: Lesley McFadyen
  • Assessment: an excavation journal (50%) and 1000-word descriptive report (50%), with 60% attendance requirement

Module description

When the tide is out, the Thames is the longest open-air archaeological site in London, and much of the foreshore is freely accessible. This field school is co-taught in conjunction with archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). It communicates an understanding of the prehistoric and historic Thames and gives you direct work experience of professional practice as part of your programme. This enhances employability in the heritage sector and beyond.

The module provides one-week intensive fieldwork experience, introducing you to the major techniques, principal bodies of evidence, research themes and concepts deployed in survey and monitoring. It gives practical exposure to archaeological finds and features, and an understanding of concepts of material, temporal and spatial conditions (archaeological context) and past environments.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Day 1: Introduction to the history and context of the Thames foreshore; introduction to the recording system
  • Day 2: Wetland - survey and monitoring of the foreshore: exploring a riverfront excavation through the archives at LAARC (Museum of London's Archaeological Archive and Research Centre)
  • Day 3: Wetland - survey and monitoring of the foreshore: local history session using maps and photographs to understand key developments in local history and make a timeline
  • Day 4: Dryland - adjacent historic building recording
  • Day 5: Tour of MOLA office

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • show familiarity with the diverse sources of artefactual and ecofactual evidence used by archaeologists during excavation
  • show awareness of methodologies for quantifying, analysing and interpreting primary data in relation to artefacts and archaeological materials
  • draw down and apply appropriate scholarly, theoretical and scientific principles and concepts to archaeological problems of an artefactual and ecofactual nature
  • practise core fieldwork techniques of identification and recording
  • discover and recognise the archaeological significance of material remains
  • observe and describe different classes of primary archaeological data, and objectively record their characteristics
  • have knowledge and comprehension of issues and debates in archaeology
  • describe evidence in the field
  • locate, retrieve and process primary archaeological information
  • read critically diverse sources of archaeological information.