Archaeology and Time

PhD Course, Iceland, June 6-10, 2017.

Dialogues with the Past. The Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology.

Picture credit: Stefán Ólafsson.

Time is one of those central concepts in archaeology that for a long time was regarded primarily as a methodological issue, that is about controlling the temporal dimension, whether through relative or absolute methods of dating (e.g. see Aitken 1990; Nash 2000). It is only in the past two decades that a substantial theoretical literature on the concept of time has emerged within archaeology, marked by a number of volumes explicitly addressing the topic which express a wide range of perspectives (Bradley 1993; Murray 1999; Karlsson 2001; Lucas 2005; Holdaway & Wandsnider 2008; Robb & Pauketat 2013).

Yet the theoretical aspects of time cannot be so easily separated from the methodological; moreover, there also exists an expanding collection of substantive studies which deal with different aspects of temporality such as biography (Marshall & Gosden  1999; Thomas 1996; Holtorf 2002; Meskell 2005), memory (Bradley 1998; Bradley 2002; Gosden 1994; van Dyke & Alcock 2003; Mills & Walker 2008; Boric 2009; Jones 2007), narrative (Conkey & Williams 1991; Moore 1995, Hodder 1993), long-term history (Hodder 1987, Harding 2005), non-linear systems (McGlade 1999) and the archaeological record (Bailey 2007; Lucas 2008; 2015). Not only is time implicated in a whole range of topics like memory, history or biography, its also frequently articulated and critiqued through oppositions or dichotomies like linear/cyclical, continuity/change, past/present etc., which some philosophers have argued to be intrinsic to any conceptualization of time, rendering it inherently paradoxical (McTaggart 1908; Ricoeur 1988).

This seminar aims to explore time from multiple angles, to revel in this diversity as a way to help us think about how deeply embedded time is in the discpline of archaeology. Its objective is to encourage the participants to think about how time is used in their own research, implicitly or explicitly, and how it frames research questions and methodology and how a more critical and reflective stance toward time might offer new insights or ways of conducting their research.

Some suggested questions and issues for the course to consider might include:

  • Is linear time, exemplified in chronology and periodization, essential in archaeology?
  • Is time scalar - and how is the long-term to be related to the quotidian?
  • How should we think about ‘orders of time’ (Koselleck, Hartog) in relation to archaeology?
  • What is change - from an archaeological perspective?
  • What is the relation/difference between or memory and history and what relevance does this have for archaeology?
  • If the archaeological record is a contemporary phenomenon as many have argued (Binford, Shanks), how does it relate to the past

Participants are invited - and encouraged - to bring their own questions and concerns to the seminar and welcomes students in any period or speciality to show how such concerns enter into their work.


Course work

The course will consist of both seminars and lectures. Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme. In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the student presenting a 15-minute summary of its contents. This is followed with a 10 min commentary from one of the other PhD students (selected in advance), after which she or he will chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.



   Laurent Olivier                  Zoë Crossland                 John Robb                 Gavin Lucas


(Photo credit, from left to right: University of Oxford, Durham University, CRASSH- University of Cambridge, University of Iceland) 

Professor Laurent Olivier (National Museum of Archaeology in Saint-Germain-en-Laye)

Associate Professor Zoë Crossland (Columbia University)                  

Professor John Robb (University of Cambridge)

Professor Gavin M. Lucas (University of Iceland)



1 month or 7 ECTS


Location, Travel and Costs

The Graduate School will finance and arrange travel and accommodation, as well as supply a daily allowance during the seminar for all participating PhD students who are part of the Dialogues With the Past network. Two PhD students will share a room.



The Graduate school invites all registered PhD students to apply for participation. Please follow this link to apply for the course (in English only). From these applications, c. 20 PhD students will be admitted to the course.

For more information please contact:


Important dates

Application for participation: February 6, 2017. Confirmation on your participation will be sent out shortly after this date together with a reading list.

Submission of working papers (10 pages, Times New Roman 12, Spacing 1,5): May 5, 2017.

Appointment of discussants: May 15, 2017.


Gavin Murray Lucas
Tags: Concept of time, temporality, biography, memory, narrative, Dialogues with the Past, PhD Seminar
Published Nov. 21, 2016 10:11 AM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 12:19 PM