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Brown University

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets

Brown University via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


In this class, we will ask and answer a series of questions about the role and practice of archaeology in the world today. If archaeologists are trained to investigate the past, what is left for us to study?  Who gets to be an archaeologist?  How and why do archaeologists hunt for “treasures”, and what do we do once we’ve discovered them?  What can we know, and not know, about people in the past?  What do archaeologists know about the past that most people would never guess – and why aren’t we telling you?  Why are people entirely willing to murder each other over the fate of archaeological sites?  Are Real Men alone capable of discovering the truth behind all this?

Archaeology famously involves getting dirty in the line of duty.  Students will experience its hands-on nature, through the use of numerous exercises and archaeological case studies.  But there are other ‘dirty little secrets’ to learn about the field: not least how the stories archaeologists tell about the past have been used and abused, for purposes both good and bad.  Our goal by the end of the course is to have you ‘thinking like an archaeologist’ and fully aware of the often-fraught politics of doing archaeology around the globe.    


Unit #1:  Just what are these secrets anyway?

Unit #2:  What has survived for us to find?  And what have we lost?

Unit #3:  So how do you find things?  Archaeology ≠ just digging

Unit #4:  How do you get a date? (And why are dates so important?)

Unit #5:  What do you do with what you find?

Unit #6:  What is involved in the archaeology of people?

Unit #7:  Where does archaeology happen?   Who can play?

Unit #8:  Who owns the past?

Taught by

Susan E. Alcock


4.5 rating, based on 11 Class Central reviews

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  • This was possibly the most enjoyable MOOC I have ever done! Sue the lecturer was so energetic and enthusiastic about the subject matter - you couldn't help but enjoy it! I loved the practical hands-on lectures, with many of the assessment tasks being hands-on, like doing 3D photography of an artifact. I really enjoyed how each week Sue interviewed a Brown Uni lecturer on their current digs and sites. Even if the only thing you know about archaeology is what you learned from Indiana Jones you will enjoy this course:) Wish it was possible to give a more than 5 star rating for this one!
  • One of my favourite courses! Such a shame it hasn't been available since 2014. I would love this course to be re-released. Having a choice of three assignments to complete each week was a brilliant innovation.
    Ohh My God.! Already someone has commented and said so great things for this Professor.! I feel jealous. Lols Well,Let me say I attend a lot of MOOCs in order to get to acquire knowledge and infact to satisfy my appetite for knowing everything i…
  • I loved this MOOC, I had great fun doing it. The professor was brimming with enthusiasm and her learning really shone through. The idea of interviews with archaeologists working on different sites appealed to me very much. The downside was that the course was very basic - I still hope we'll get a more advanced follow-up to this one.
    Still, if you like archaeology, this course is a must.
  • Profile image for Sheri Havens
    Sheri Havens
    Hands down best MOOC course ever. This course prepares a student for future archaeology studies. Professor Sue Alcock is a very engaging instructor. The guest Professors on her videos are the best I have seen. Be prepared for writing assignments and peer critiquing of your work. This class requires quite a bit of effort by the student, but is well worth it.
  • Anonymous
    One of the best run MOOCs i've encounted, and i've taken over 15 of them. The prof. is smart and full of enthusiasm. The assignments are fun to do plus you get to pick which ones to do each week. The discussion boards were very active.
  • Dana Coughlin
    I have taken many MOOCs and this is the best one! The professor is passionate about archaeology and you can tell by the way the class is taught.
  • Erik
    The content wasn't half bad, there was a lot of good stuff.
    The peer reviews left a lot to be desired and found the feedback to be extremely discouraging without any proper monitoring of trolls.
  • Aana
  • Francisco Javier Jiménez

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