Archaeology is the study of the human past through the analysis of material culture and other physical remains. Our research and teaching covers the whole temporal spectrum from the Early Stone Age to the historical past, and includes excavation archaeology and rock art studies.
Archaeology can be taken as a major subject within a BSc degree or a BA degree.
Fields focussed on the analysis of archaeological remains, such as archaeofaunal, archaeobotanical and geoarchaeolgical analyses resonates with subjects in Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, and the GeoSciences.
The vast time range of archaeology, which effectively covers the last 8 Million years in Africa, makes it an ideal companion subject for anyone pursuing the study of environmental change or human history.
It provides a general background to more modern historical topics as well as being a supplement to archival-based historical research for the last 500 years. It is also an excellent companion to anthropology because it offers insights into the different cultural systems of the past.
Most archaeology courses are taught in the Origins North building.
ARCL1000A – Archaeology I
This course introduces students to the basics of the practice of archaeology. Themes addressed include analysis and interpretation of archaeological evidence, and relationships between archaeology and the wider public. The course comprises four modules and some day trips to archaeological sites. The modules cover: A Guide to Human Evolution; the Neolithic Revolution; World Hunter-Gatherers; and Origins of Civilization
There is a one-day trip to the Cradle of Humankind, and another day trip to the Kweneng ruins in the Klipriviersberg south of Johannesburg.
ARCL1007 Guide to Human Evolution I (1st Quarter 9 points) Prof. Dominic Stratford
This course explores the development of human cultural behaviour within the framework of the major stages of human evolution. The first part of the course considers non-human primates and the analogies they provide for the origins of cultural behaviour in our earliest ancestors. It then considers cultural adaptations, from the time of the development of lithic technology from 3.3 million years ago until the evolution of modern humans 200 000 years ago. The most important and lasting adaptations are discussed, and a major theme is how modern humans mingled with other groups outside of Africa to give rise to the humans of today.
ARCL1008 World Hunter-Gatherers I (2nd Quarter 9 points) Prof. David Pearce
For most of our history, humans have been hunter-gatherers. Even today there are small pockets of people who prefer to practice hunting and gathering as way of life, though often differently from how people might have in the past. This course will take students from the origins of complex hunting and gathering all the way to the present where we ask what the future is for those communities who follow this way of existence today. In the process, we look at examples of hunter-gatherers from all over the world and we consider hunter-gatherer economics, social organisation, religion and ritual, art and complexity. Finally, we assess whether modern-day hunter-gatherers provide valid analogues (comparisons) for understanding those in the archaeological record.
ARCL1006 Fundamentals of Archaeology: Neolithic Revolution I (3rd Quarter 9 points) Dr Lebo Mvimi
In this Block, students are introduced to the Neolithic period, when societies shifted from economies dominated by foraging and hunting to those focused on agriculture and pastoralism. This shift radically changed human societies; it altered biodiversity and introduced new economies as people moved from being food-gatherers to food-producers. The Neolithic period led to the development of more permanent settlements and complex, large-scale societies. In this course, students learn how agricultural economies evolved over time and have become key principals of food securities today.
ARCL1009 Origins of Civilisation I (4th Quarter 9 points) Prof. Karim Sadr
Our urban way of life today is a consequence of a chain of events that was set into motion with the domestication of some plants and animals more than 10 000 years ago. In this course we consider the question of the rise of civilization, or better said the rise of complex societies. We look at how complex society is defined and recognized archaeologically, and where and why it arose. We will examine the key traits of some famous ancient complex societies (Babylon, ancient Egypt, the Maya, Great Zimbabwe…) and consider what the future of our civilization might be.
ARCL2002 Archaeology II (Full year course 48 points)
This course comprises four modules and a weeklong field school. Three modules are compulsory. These are ARCL2007 - Space and Time in Archaeology, ARCL2005 -Archaeology of the Last 2000 years and ARCL2004 Earlier and Middle Stone Age. A choice between two electives is offered in the third quarter. These are: ARCL2009 - World Rock Art, ARCL2006 – Osteoarchaeology.
The Archaeology second year field school takes place during the September University vacation. This field trip is compulsory and an entrance requirement for admission to the honours course. The field school will focus on Bokoni rock art recording and heritage site management. We will be joined on site by the curator of the Lydenburg museum as well as community members. The site we will work on is a large, engraved site in Thaba Chweu, Mpumalanga.
ARCL2004 Earlier and Middle Stone Age II (1st Quarter compulsory 12 points) Prof. Sarah Wurz
This course covers the evolution of African hominins from 3.3 million until about 40 000 years ago. In this course you learn about your roots as we analyse and trace our ancestors’ behaviour and technology. Our ancestors successfully negotiated many climatic and environmental changes and in the process transformed in to a number of different species, from Australopithecines to Homo sapiens. Stone tool technology was fundamental in helping them enter a new niche and compete successfully with other top predators, and therefore the development of this type of technology is one of the cornerstones of this course.
You will develop some insights into why we are such intensely social beings, and why we love fire, song, dance and art.
The following topics are addressed:
- The beginnings of culture
- Becoming human: from Australopithecines to Homo
- Homo erectus/ergaster: biology, material culture and behaviour
- Homo sapiens: a species with deep roots
- Homo sapiens culture
ARCL2005 Archaeology of the Last 2000 years (2nd Quarter compulsory 12 points) Prof. Alex Schoeman
In this course we explore the making of South Africa society in the Last 2000 years in Southern Africa, focusing on various role players as well as interaction. The actors we focus on are hunter-gatherers, pastoralism, farming communities and slaves. Each week will focus on a specific aspect of the Last 2000 year sequence, as well as the sources and data used by the archaeologists who wrote the texts we use.
ARCL2009 World Rock Art II (3rd Quarter elective 12 points) Dr Catherine Namono
This seven-week course examines rock art around the world and, where possible considers the times and spaces in which it was executed and possible reasons it was made. Rock art provides a window into the worlds of past societies, a perspective that is different from, but complimentary to the excavated archaeological record. It considers how understanding of this past informs how present-day societies relate to or use the rock art.
This course takes an in-depth look at:
- Basic characteristics of rock art around the world and approaches to documentation;
- Past and current approaches / debates tackling chronology, interpretation and conservation of world rock art; and
- Regional and intercontinental similarities and differences of rock art and approaches to its understanding.
ARCL2006 Osteoarchaeology (3rd Quarter elective 12 points) Dr Jerome Reynard
Osteoarchaeology is the analysis of human and animal bones and teeth from archaeological sites. Bone, teeth and horn are common at archaeological sites and it is important that professional archaeologists are able to identify bone and distinguish human from other animal remains. This course has five main goals:
It teaches students how to identify human and animal bones and teeth recovered from archaeological sites. In particular, it focuses on differentiating animal from human skeletal material.
- It shows how taphonomic processes play a role in determining what skeletal elements preserve and how bones are altered before and after death or deposition.
- It introduced students to subsistence behaviour or the types of strategies people used to obtain meat in the past.
- It teaches students how the human body and populations have been affected by behaviour, disease and health through time, and
- It introduces the legal and ethical issues encountered when working with human remains.
ARCL2007 Space and Time in Archaeology II (4th Quarter compulsory 12 points) Dr Thembi Russell
Spatial and temporal resolutions are two fundamental aspects of the archaeological record that effect the way that archaeologists excavate and analyse archaeological data. Spatio-temporal analysis is a common theme in archaeological studies. Archaeologists look for patterns in material culture across time and space. In this course students are introduced to the techniques used in archaeology to measure time and space. The course has four main aims:
- To teach students how the archaeological record is modified in space and through time in different archaeological contexts.
- To introduce students to basic archaeological excavation and survey methods and their applicability in different archaeological contexts.
- To introduce students to the broad spectrum of archaeological evidence and how they are modified in space and through time by a number of different biological, geological and anthropological processes.
- To teach students a range of essential tools and methods for archaeologists.
ARCL3002 Archaeology III (72 points)
This course comprises four modules. Three are ARCL 3004 - The History of Archaeological Thought, ARCL 3008 - Archaeology of Death, ARCL3006 - Southern African Rock Art and ARCL 3003 - Archaeological data analysis and report writing
There is a compulsory, weeklong field trip to the Kweneng stone walled ruins in the area between Johannesburg and the River Vaal. The specific objectives vary from year to year, but they involve close examination and recording of the architectural details of the stone walled structures and their associated objects and features. The skills taught in this course are useful for archaeological heritage impact assessment (AIA) phase 1 surveys.
ARCL3004 History of Archaeological Thought III (1st Quarter compulsory 18 points) Prof. Alex Schoeman
This course is designed to equip undergraduates with a broad framework for understanding the issues that have affected and still affect the way that we understand the past. The course is run as a series of lectures and long-duration tutorials. There is substantial reading required for the tutorials and each tutorial topic is an issue for consideration in their course essay. The students are guided through the process of writing their essay during the tutorials. The course covers ancient antecedents to archaeology, found in Egypt and the classical world, before moving on to the Mediaeval and Renaissance Periods; this sets the foundation for understanding modern forms of archaeological thinking from the second half of the 19th Century through to the present, which comprises the bulk of the subject matter for this course.
ARCL3008 Archaeology of Death III (2nd Quarter elective 18 points) Prof. Amanda Esterhuysen
Corpses, death and dying are culturally constructed entities that form part of a network of knowledge and memory. Rituals associated with death serve to make sense of the transition between life and death; but also to re-establish, justify and normalise social relationships amongst the living. Thus, whilst amongst
archaeologists, human bodies instinctively prompt questions about cause of death, age and sex, there is much to be gained from shifting the focus of the study from the human remains, to the corpse, the grave or the memorial to obtain insight to the socio-psychological fabric of society. This course takes an in-depth look at:
- Different theoretical and practical approaches to mortuary studies.
- Evidence for the earliest forms of ritual body disposal, and
- Current thinking about the evolution of beliefs about death.
- The growth of the world’s religions, and systems of governance and death.
- The symbolic role of mortuary architecture, and monuments and how they function(ed) in the socio-economic landscape of the past and present.
- The cross-cultural treatment of the body, and what this tells us about attitudes towards and beliefs about bodies in this and the afterlife.
ARCL3006 Southern African Rock Art III (3rd Quarter elective 18 points) Prof. David Pearce
The course takes the form of a series of lectures and long-duration tutorials. Because southern African rock art is a highly contested field and with a large amount of visual content, it will be essential for students to familiarize themselves with the literature and debate surrounding its interpretation. Although we focus on San rock art, we also take into consideration the other rock art traditions of the subcontinent, those made by other groups: Khoe-speaking herders, Bantu-speaking farmers and groups from mixed backgrounds. Studying the rock art of these groups helps us to understand, among other things, their beliefs and the nature of interaction between cultures.
ARCL3003 Archaeological data analysis and report writing III (4th Quarter compulsory 18 points) Dr Thembi Russell
This course introduces students to the legislation and ethics that governs archaeological practice in South Africa, and also to cultural resource management. In this hands-on course, students learn a range of skills (applied GIS, ArcGIS, report writing, budget writing, desktop studies) that will equip them to become professional archaeologists upon Honours graduation
ARCL 3010 Archaeobotany III (2nd Quarter elective 18 points)
This course is an interdisciplinary sub-field of archaeology that combines botany, ecology, and social theory to address an extensive range of issues. In other words, archaeobotany is the study of plant use by people in the past, mainly through the examination of plant remains. Accordingly, this course looks at the dynamic interrelationship between people and plants from various perspectives including experimental archaeology for providing insights into the taphonomy of archaeobotanical remains. Archaeology also explores the practicality of Indigenous Plant Knowledge Systems and ethnoarchaeobotany.
The main objectives of the course are as follows:
- To equip students with the expertise to handle, recognize and identify plant remains from archaeological sites, utilise reference collections and build your own reference collections.
- To introduce students to taphonomy in a quest to understand plant material during use, before and after disposal and how they were affected during these processes.
- To help students understand past subsistence approaches, economies, and past environments (how did people acquire and use plants in the past) and the place of archaeobotany in bioarchaeological studies. And...
- To teach students how to operate a wide range of lab equipment including microscopes and digital imaging implements.
If you are applying for a BSc degree, please find more information about the BSc points credit structure and entry requirements here.
For those interested in applying for a BA degree, please click here.
University Application Process
- The Student Enrolment Centre at Wits handles all student applications.
- Please click here for an overview of the application process.
- Check the admission requirements for your degree. Check if any additional selection requirements apply.
- Submit your application, required documentation and application fee before the closing date.
- Once you have applied, an admissions consultant will be assigned to your application.
- Applicants can monitor the progress of their applications via the Self Service Portal.
- If you are an international applicant and/or have a foreign qualification, please click here.
Compliance with the minimum requirements does not guarantee a place at the University. The University has a specific number of places for first year undergraduates, approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training. Final selection is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable.
University Fees and Funding
Click here to see the current average tuition fees for the first year of study. The Fees website also provides information about the payment of fees and closing dates for fees payments. Once you have applied you will be able to access the fees estimator on the student self-service portal.
The Financial aid office provides information on student funding and scholarships. University-funded Scholarships include Vice-Chancellor's Scholarships, University Entrance Scholarships, Equality Scholarships, Sports Scholarships and National Olympiad winner awards. For information about NSFAS funding, please visit the NSFAS website. External bursaries portal: The Bursaries South Africa website provides a comprehensive list of bursaries in South Africa.
Wits Plus applicants: terms of payment are in accordance with University regulations, and students are not eligible for University bursaries/NSFAS or residential accommodation.