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World archaeology

This module explores the human past across all inhabited areas of the globe, from the last Ice Age to historic times. It covers most of the past 12,000 years, ending with the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe, but continuing until the eighteenth century in the Pacific and North America. Its main focus is the development of human culture and societies – from agriculture to technology, and from the earliest civilisations to the spread of populations worldwide. The module fosters a broad knowledge and understanding through a comparative approach to study, introducing methodology and theoretical issues when necessary.

Please note that if you intend to study this 30-credit module as part of a qualification, you will need to ensure that another 30 credits is available for you. Please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you are unsure. 

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

This module will be of particular interest if you have studied or are thinking about studying history; history of science, technology and medicine; classical studies; or art history. The principal themes are the beginnings of agriculture; the development of cities, states and empires; and the spread of human populations around the globe. The major world civilisations, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Classical, Chinese, Aztec etc. are all included, along with other societies that did not develop to the same level of complexity.

The module also introduces you to the archaeological study of human societies. Its focus is not so much upon teaching basic study skills (appropriate to OU level 1) but upon developing your ability to assimilate and synthesise information. There’s no examination at the end of the module; instead you’ll take some first steps in independent study as you complete an extended essay as an end-of-module assessment (EMA). Blocks 1-3 take a chronological and geographical approach to the development of human culture and society. Block 4 consists of a range of thematic studies that will extend your knowledge and understanding of how archaeology can add to our knowledge of the past.

Although this is a 30-credit module it lasts only 18 weeks. Therefore you will be studying at a rate equivalent to a 60-credit module, but for a shorter period.

This module’s core text is The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies edited by C. Scarre, which is sent as part of your study materials. Your work with the text will be supported by a study guide, which will contain in-text exercises and references to work on an audio CD and exercises based on using the internet. The module makes extensive use of the internet, introducing you to archaeology online and developing the skills you need to effectively use the internet for study.

You will learn

This module will provide you with a knowledge and critical understanding of the development of human cultures worldwide and some of the principles, concepts and techniques used in the study of the archaeology of the world.

It will provide you with the opportunity to apply knowledge and understanding accurately to a range of issues, questions and problems relating to the contemporary understanding of the global human past, through the critical evaluation and interpretation of archaeological evidence in a variety of case studies.

Through your assignments, you’ll be able to compare and use different approaches to issues in world archaeology. You’ll have the opportunity to deploy your skills to communicate information, arguments and ideas effectively, using the appropriate style and language. In the EMA, you’ll find, critically evaluate and use information accurately to write an extended essay using ICT tools and skills, as appropriate.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance both in online conferences and by telephone or email. Teaching will also be via an online conference, for which full guidance will be provided.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) can be submitted on paper or online using the eTMA system.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in November 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100), Voices and texts (A150) and Making sense of things: an introduction to material culture (A151). These OU level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities.

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

Your regional or national centre can advise you on where you can see reference copies of Level 1 study materials. Some are also available from Open University Worldwide Ltd. We particularly recommend looking at these materials if you have not successfully completed OU level 1 study or studied at an equivalent level elsewhere.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is necessary for this module. If you have not taken a OU level 1 module in the arts, you will find it useful to have The Arts Good Study Guide (E. Chambers and A. Northedge, The Open University), which will help you to develop your study skills.


Start End England fee Register
01 Nov 2014 Apr 2015 -

Registration now closed

The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

November 2014 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 21/10/2014.

What's included

Printed study materials, an audio CD and a website. You’ll also receive a copy of the module text:

C. Scarre (ed.), The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies, Thames and Hudson (2005).

You will need

The ability to play CDs.

This module makes extensive use of the internet. All the tutorials are online, an integral part of the module is a specially designed website, and some of your assignments will require you to use the internet. The module helps you to learn about using the internet to study archaeology and does not expect you to have highly developed online skills before you start. If you choose to take the module and you do not have regular access to the internet, you will find that your experience of the module is diminished.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

Students with a visual impairment will find the visual material (plans, diagrams, illustrations) challenging since they are often intended to communicate complex visual as well as factual information.  Where possible, the Module Team will provide written descriptions and explanations of a limited number of images. The fulfilment of the learning outcomes of the module will not be dependent upon powers of visual discernment in this module and assessment will not incorporate visual materials.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.