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Surfing the Syllabi: Online Resources for Teaching Archaeology

John Hoopes


Getting a quality education in archaeology is no small task. There was a time--and not all that long ago--when it was available to only the elite minority in Europe and the U.S. It is a tribute to our forebears that in the 1990s there are practicing archaeologists in most major communities. However, it is still the case that most colleges and universities do not offer basic courses in archaeology, much less programs with enough credit hours to justify a concentration in the discipline. Traditionally, individuals who wanted to get a solid background in archaeology but did not have access to a critical mass of teaching archaeologists in their home communities were obligated to reach deep into their pockets and pack their bags. While a certain amount of mobility is a requisite of the discipline, it would be nice if all students with an interest in archaeology had access to quality training. After all, most of the interesting fieldwork is located far away from the best anthropology departments!

In the 21st century, the Internet will bring archaeology to almost everyone who wants it, including people in small, rural communities or distant cities in developing nations. Fieldwork will always be an integral part of advanced archaeological training, but it will not be long before one can get a reasonable foundation in the basics anywhere there is a connection to the Net. One of the chief advantages of online instruction may be the additional freedom it offers for structuring lives complicated by the quirky obligations of fieldwork, employment, travel, and personal finances that are typical of an archaeological lifestyle. There are also potential benefits to professionals with equally complicated schedules, who may be able to placate anxious department chairs and deans by contributing to distance instruction over the Internet while they are in the field and away from campus. Programs like Earthwatch have demonstrated that there is enormous interest for archaeology among a "continuing education" audience that will benefit from the flexibility of the web. Furthermore, once satellite/modem networks are up and running, it will be possible to add web components to fieldwork courses and even facilitate remote participation.

At present, most online instructional resources supplement traditional classroom teaching with an abundance of digitized texts and images. The interactive nature of hyperlinked online materials helps persuade students to take an active role in seeking and digesting information that corresponds to their individual interests in the discipline. Web browsing imitates research, in that it requires one to make choices, follow clues, and evaluate evidence in a data-filled context. A better metaphor than "surfing" might be "digging." It is a medium particularly appropriate for training in archaeology.

The web has radically altered the nature of available instructional materials. Rather than selecting from a dozen or so textbooks, any instructor can now publish one's own syllabus, lecture notes, images, tables, graphs, exercises, and references--or borrow them from colleagues--in a format that is fluid and readily updated. Textbook companies are justifiably nervous that the web will make traditional hardcopy texts obsolete. Replacing profit motives, however, with collegial enterprise and personal accolades (the main incentives individual scholars to devote time and energy to producing high quality teaching materials) may not be a bad thing. It is in this spirit that I introduce you to some of the human and digital resources for online instruction as it currently exists on the web. If it inspires you to create something of your own, so much the better. There is unlimited room for more.

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Finding Online Course Materials

There are several useful shortcuts to finding course materials on the web. A surprising amount of information can be found simply by using a search engine to look for pages containing the words "archaeology" and "syllabus." Other resources for finding archaeological course materials online include ArchNet (, the World Lecture Hall ( at the University of Texas, and CASO's Internet University (, an index of over 2,000 online courses. To zero in on quality, look at the web site of Vee-Ring, Ltd. (, an organization founded by Wayne Neighbors that presents Four Star awards for Web Site Excellence in Anthropology. Several course-related sites are among the recipients.

Getting Higher Education Online

The clear potential of the web for enhancing higher education has prompted several institutions to devote significant resources toward the goal of online instruction. In 1997 UCLA undertook the unprecedented, herculean effort of developing basic online information for its entire curriculum. This was accomplished by using intelligently designed templates for the total information system, facilitating participation by faculty, and taking advantage of student expertise. Its pioneering ClassWeb project ( provides the tools for instructors to administer class web sites without having to learn HTML, FTP, or any Unix commands. A full listing of the winter 1998 courses in the anthropology department and their web pages can be found at While the structure of each page includes an email address of the instructor, listings of links to web sites and an electronic forum for online discussion (sometimes with password protection), not all courses are taking full advantage of these options. Online syllabi, with topics and lists of reading materials, are available for courses like Merrick Posnansky's Historical Archaeology: World Perspective, Charles Stanish's Strategy of Archaeology, and Russell Thornton's Repatriation of Native American Human Remains and Cultural Objects.

The University of California-Santa Barbara has been at the forefront of the development of computerized instructional materials. Links to current projects can be found on its page entitled Multimedia Resources for Anthropology Courses ( While several of these projects, including hypercard stacks on quantitative analysis, lithic analysis, and Peruvian prehistory, are not designed for the web, the materials developed for John Kantner's Introduction to Archaeology course ( deserve special mention. The course materials include four online assignments on topics such as pueblo construction and abandonment, interpreting exchange patterns from artifact distributions, and settlement patterns and social organization. Especially noteworthy are the online materials for Anthropology 3, an introductory course offered by Brian Fagan and web guru George Michaels. They include graphics-laden pages with digital movies and thoughtful animated diagrams. However, these are currently accessible only by means of a password and, therefore, not available for public examination on the web without the authors' permission.

Whether as part of an institutional policy or individual efforts, it is becoming increasingly common to find syllabi for university courses on the web. Yale University's list of online syllabi ( includes two archaeology courses: George Miller's Historical Archaeology ( and Richard Burger and George Miller's Inca Archaeology at Machu Picchu ( These are in traditional formats, including scheduled topics and readings. Clark Erickson, at the University of Pennsylvania, has put the syllabus for an honors Introduction to Archaeology online ( that contains links to other useful web resources. At Indiana University, Geoff Conrad's Rise and Fall of Ancient Civilizations at Indiana University ( features a syllabus, assignments, and a library of images (with restricted access).

While there are already several degree programs in other disciplines online, few stand-alone, fully online courses in anthropology or archaeology have been developed to date. Two examples are those offered by the New York Institute of Technology ( and Front Range Community College ( A truly stunning example of the potential of the medium is the award-winning World Cultures site ( developed by Richard Hooker at Washington State University, which includes a link to his online general education course, Tradition and Memory: World Civilizations to 1500. The course presents textual and graphic materials on the origins of agriculture, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the ancient Mediterranean, and China, with links to the extensive WSU world civilizations media collection and Ariadne, the WSU Digital Media Collections Query Service. Students can register online, and grades are based on written exercises and exams that are structured around collaborative learning. This type of course provides an excellent model for future online instruction in archaeology.

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Pioneers in Online Instruction

A handful of individuals can be identified as pioneers on the frontiers of higher education in cyberspace, all of whom have developed multiple resources for online instruction. One of these is Richard Effland, at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona, who has been contributing to online instruction since 1994. He has designed resources for five different courses: Buried Cities and Lost Tribes, Human Origins and the Development of Culture, Principles of Archaeology, North American Archaeology, and American Indian Heritage and World View ( Effland's attractively designed pages include not only syllabi, but extensive graphics, links, and texts. An innovative feature is the Anthropology Discussion Web ( on which students post reviews of articles and engage in lively discussions on specified topics with other students and "visiting scholars." The Exploratorium of the Human Past ( offers online material for the study of sites including Koobi Fora and Xian and topics such as Paleolithic art.

At Indiana University, paleoanthropologist Jean Sept has assembled a superb teaching site. Human Origins and Prehistory ( has rich, original content on human evolution and early human culture. It is linked to Human Origins and Evolution in Africa, a web site that serves as a general online resource with visual and textual information on human evolution and paleolithic archaeology. Sept has also created effective sites for supplementing instruction in human evolution and African prehistory (see below).

Tim Roufs, at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, has devoted considerable energy to browsing the web for valuable links and adding useful content of his own. His Prehistoric Cultures course site (, which focuses on human origins and paleoanthropology, is a recipient of a Four Stars Award. Roufs's pages (best viewed on a large monitor) are particularly noteworthy for their vast arrays of links to information across the web. His personal home page will keep any web surfer busy for days!

Another innovator is Joe Sneed, at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden ( The list of Sneed's courses includes History of Science and Technology: Beginning--1500 A.D., Environment and Human Adaptation: Early People in the New World, Environment and Human Adaptation: Pre-European Mesoamerica, and Environment and Human Adaptation: Pre-European Southwest. His pages are notable for their graphics, including a Java-animated map of Homo erectus migration.

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Topical Courses

To date, most of the effort in online education has been directed at students in introductory level courses. However, there are some excellent course materials for more specialized instruction. The Teaching Archaeometry site ( has been developed by the Program on Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials (ATAM) at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana as a web resource for the teaching of archaeometric techniques. It provides information about the field of archaeometry, as well as useful links to related web sites and online course materials. One of the latter is Materials and Civilization: An Overview of Archaeometry, an introductory course offered by Sarah Wisseman. There are links to other online syllabi, including one for archaeological chemistry as taught by T. Douglas Price and James H. Burton at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a detailed description of the archaeometry program at the University of Alberta by Michael L. Wayman and Nancy C. Lovell.

Archaeological Science (, a course by M. Steven Shackley at the University of California-Berkeley, is another valuable archaeometry resource. There are lecture notes, assignments, and links to relevant resources on topics such as radiocarbon and obsidian hydration dating, remote sensing and GIS techniques, and basic petrology. Students are encouraged to interact with the instructors and among themselves via email, facilitated by an online directory of hot-linked addresses. Students can check their exam results and statistics (with graphs) online.

While not strictly archaeological, the course web site for Evolution of Crop Plants ( is truly impressive. Developed by Paul Gepts at the University of California-Davis, this is an excellent instructional resource for the origins of and expansion of agriculture. The site provides detailed lecture notes for 19 different lectures, ranging from topics like "Contemporary methods in the study of crop evolution" to "How did plants evolve under domestication?" These provide extensive tables of useful data and many relevant images. There is information about specific cultigens and their histories, including amaranth, avocado, cacao, date palm, mango, and papaya. The extensive bibliographic references make this a "must-see" for any archaeologist.

Other specialized courses with online materials are Prehistoric Diet and Nutrition (, taught this semester at Indiana University by Jeanne Sept, and Ethnohistory and Archaeology (, taught by Samuel Wilson at the University of Texas. Wilson's site provides a syllabus with lists of weekly reading assignments and valuable links to other information about ethnohistory.

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Geographical Courses

In addition there are several valuable sites with emphases on specific archaeological regions. Earlier Prehistory of Africa ( is yet another resource developed by Jeanne Sept with syllabus, maps, lecture outlines, images, and quizzes that students can take online with secured access. There are extensive links to information on both early and later African prehistory. Ancient Middle America ( by Tim Roufs and the author's Ancient American Civilizations: Mesoamerica ( are two course-related sites among dozens devoted to Mesoamerican archaeology. Clark Erickson's Andean Archaeology ( provides reading lists as well as links to other relevant online documents. A similar resource is the author's Ancient American Civilizations: The Central Andes ( The Southwestern Archaeology: Adopt-A-Site ( page was developed by Shereen Lerner as a resource for a course entitled Indians of the Southwest at Mesa Community College. It encourages students to learn about Anasazi, Hohokam, Sinagua, and Mogollon cultures by having students compile information on specific archaeological sites.

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Future Directions

The web is at its best when it facilitates widespread collaboration. What is needed now are better networks of scholars who can organize a concerted effort to improve the breadth and depth of site content at the same time that instructors are trying out varied presentation styles. Anyone contemplating the creation of instructional resources should be sure to evaluate what information is already online to avoid unnecessary redundance. We could benefit from innovative presentation styles, effective student exercises, useful methods of evaluating the quality of learning, and an overall increase in the variety of available information. The current online resources are just a tiny fraction of what gets communicated thousands of times over each semester before lecture notes, handouts, and exams are returned to file cabinets. By putting our instructional material on the web, we help not only our students and each other, but also a worldwide audience of autodidactic aficionados. It is in all of our interests to follow the lead of our pioneering colleagues in building a global learning community in cyberspace for the science of material culture.

John W. Hoopes is at the Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas, and is associate editor for the Networks column. He can be reached at, web

1All URLs should be understood as http addresses.

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