Palaeobiodiversity: A History of the World in 100 Animals (ARC2517)

StaffProfessor Naomi Sykes - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Pre-requisitesCannot also take ARC3517
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will examine global human culture, contact and change over the last 10,000 years, through the lens of animal introductions and extinctions. It intends to reveal how multidisciplinary studies of individual species can provide quality cultural and biological data that can not only answer a wide range of high-profile archaeological questions but also inform modern policy concerning wildlife management, nature conservation and education.

Through the module you will gain an understanding of the different techniques and approaches – drawn from across the Arts-Science spectrum – that can be brought together to study palaeobiodiversity. We will investigate a wide range of issues including (but not limited to): domestication and the hunter-gatherer/farming transition; the bio-cultural impact of ancient Empires; how the introduction and extinction of animals can shape landscapes; how biodiversity is linked to expressions of identity (e.g. social status, ethnicity and gender) and ideology (e.g. religion and attitudes to the natural world).

The module will be taught using a series of animal case-studies (from snails to camels) that are currently being researched by the module convenor. Much of the research is either new or in progress, and you are encouraged to get involved and help break new ground in the field of human-animal-environment studies. This will be achieved through your assignments where you will gather together and integrate data pertaining to a particular species and present a coherent argument about the impact of their unique biocultural history. 

The module will be taught assuming no prior knowledge of Human-Animal-Environment Studies, Palaeobiodiversity or the methods used in these fields.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Develop knowledge of how global biodiversity has changed over the last 10,000 years
  • 2. Develop knowledge of the bio-cultural drivers responsible for biodiversity shifts over the last 10,000 years
  • 3. Develop knowledge of key techniques that are required to study and reconstruct palaeobiodiversity
  • 4. Demonstrate ability to gather and integrate data from a wide range of Arts, Humanities and Scientific methods and analytical techniques
  • 5. Demonstrate knowledge of main episodes of global culture-contact and how they have impacted on attitudes to the natural world

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Ability to assemble diverse evidence and synthesise it into a coherent linear argument to support a particular view or interpretation
  • 7. Show understanding of current high-profile topics in archaeology and how palaeobiodiversity research can contribute to these

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Engage in critical discussions of complex issues and gain ability to weigh competing interpretations of the same evidence to reach own reasoned judgements
  • 9. Gain confidence and ability in the oral and visual presentation of evidence
  • 10. Write clearly and concisely in good English
  • 11. Gain an understanding of how research can translate into policy change

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to Human-Animal-Environment Studies and the methods of researching Palaeobiodiversity (e.g. zooarchaeology, DNA and isotope analysis, documentary and iconographic evidence, linguistics and place-names).
  • Animal domestication in the Old and New Worlds.
  • How animal diffusion can be viewed as a proxy for human diaspora (physical and ideological).
  • How animal diffusion can be modelled to provide insights into ancient human and environmental health.
  • The bio-cultural impact of ancient ‘Empires’ (e.g. Greco-Roman, Byzantine, Norman, British).
  • How a deep-time understanding of human-animal-environment relationships can expose problems, and highlight solutions, for the present day.
  • How a deep-time understanding of biodiversity is essential for modern evidence-based policy (e.g. International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching33Made up of synchronous and asynchronous lectures, research method exercises and research support activities, including one-on-one mentoring and discussion
Guided independent study117Independent study for assignments and use of computer aided learning and reference resources of animal-related data.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentations5 minutes, 5 slides.3-4, 6-9, 11Oral feedback from lecturer and peers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay502000 words1-10Written feedback
Discussion paper501500 words3-4, 6-11Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2000 words)Essay (2000 words)1-10Referral/Deferral period
Discussion paper (1500 words)Discussion paper (1500 words)3-4, 6-11Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Albarella, U., Rizzetto, M., Russ, H., Vickers, K. and Viner-Daniels, S. eds., 2017.  The Oxford Handbook of Zooarchaeology. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • Bulliet, R. W. 2005. Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-animal Relationships. Columbia University Press: New York.
  • Campbell, G. L. 2014. The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • Eren, M. I and Outram, A. K. (eds) 2012. ‘Faunal Extinctions and Introductions’ World Archaeology 44 (1).
  • Frawley, J and McCalman, I 2014. Rethinking Invasion Ecologies from the Environmental Humanities, Routledge: London.
  • Hughes, J. D. 2003. ‘Europe as consumer of exotic biodiversity: Greek and Roman times’, Landscape Research 28(1), 21-31.
  • Lauwerier, R.C.G.M. and Plug, I. (eds) 2004.  The Future from the Past: Archaeozoology in Wildlife Conservation and Heritage Management.  Oxbow: Oxford.
  • Mondini, M., Munoz, S. and Wickler, S. 2004. Colonisation, Migration, and Marginal Areas: a Zooarchaeological Approach. Oxbow: Oxford.
  • O’Connor T. and Sykes N. (eds) 2010. Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna. Windgather Press: Oxford.
  • Putman, R. and Apollonio, M. (eds) 2014. Behaviour and Management of European Ungulates. Whittles Publishing.
  • Rotherham, I.D. and Lambert R. A 2011. Invasive and Introduced Plants and Animals: Human Perceptions, Attitudes and Approaches to Management, Earthscan.
  • Serpell, J. 1986. In the Company of Animals; A Study of Human-Animal Relationships. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • Sykes, N. 2014. Beastly Questions: Animals Answers to Archaeological Issues. Bloomsbury: London.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Archaeology, Human-Animal Studies, Zooarchaeology