ARCHY 109 A: Archaeology in Film

MW 11:30am - 12:20pm / JHN 102
F 11:30am - 2:20pm / CDH 109
Ben Marwick portrait
Ben Marwick

Syllabus Description:


Professor Ben Marwick  (read about my values, ethics & expectations from students)
Contact details & office location

Office Hours: 12:30-1:30 pm  MW (after class) in the MGH Commons, Mary Gates Hall, or by making an appointment. Why come to office hours? 
TA Lizzy Wessells (
Office Hours: 10:30-11:30am Fridays
TA Office location: Condon Hall Rm 109 (where class films are shown)

The promise of this course: 

Archaeology and archaeologists are disproportionately well represented in big budget films, and are recurrent subjects in some genres of fictional writing. While archaeologists have authored or influenced some of these creations, most are written by non-archaeologists and reflect a non-specialist view of archaeological questions and archaeological findings for public consumption. The commercial success of these films suggests that their archaeological content resonates with values and ideals held by the viewing public. This course will help you understand the archaeological content of popular films. How and why do film-makers use archaeology in their films? What do these films tell us about how the viewing public think about their origins, the past of humanity in general and archaeology as a profession concerned with producing knowledge on the human past? Why is it important that we think about films, archaeology and the viewing public?

There are no formal prerequisites for this course, but it will appeal to you if you have a general interest in the intersection of the human past and popular culture. This is not a course on film theory or literary criticism; it is a course in archaeology that deals with the depictions of archaeology by and for non-archaeologists and the implications of those depictions. No archaeological background is required to understand this course but an ability to tolerate B-grade movies is advantageous. You might not ever become an archaeologist, but you are highly likely to be watching films containing archaeological themes and this course will help you understand what those films tell us about ourselves and why it is important to know.

To succeed in this class you should plan to attend three class meetings per week: Mon, Wed 11:30-12:20 in JHN 102 and Fri 11:30 in CDN 109 (check available places). ARCHY 109 is each five credit courses, you should expect to spend a total of 10-11 hours per week on out-of-class work for the course. Online correspondence will be here on Canvas, and on our class Campuswire workspace. There is a calendar view of assignments here. Our code of conduct guides our interactions for this class, please take a look before we meet. If you would like to provide anonymous feedback about anything at all, you can send it to us here.

Learning goals: 

At the end of this course, you will be able to: 

  • Describe and judge the character of the archaeologist and the work of archaeologists as they appear in blockbuster films. 

  • Analyse how archaeological themes are depicted in blockbuster films, and evaluate how they shape popular views about the past

  • Interpret and understand the relationship between archaeological themes, their appeal to the viewing public, and evidence for actual events and processes in the human past. 

How we will fulfill this promise:

Our approach to learning is based on knowledge construction and not simply the transference of the contents of the instructor’s notebook to the student’s notebook (without it passing through the brain of either). As a student in this class you are expected to read to build knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas. These are the concepts that motivate the activities we do in the course to fulfill the promise outlined above.

The Monday and Wednesday lectures will give some background to the films and describe the ways that archaeology and the human past are represented in the films. We will do some active learning activities during the lecture, including using Poll Everywhere. The purpose of these lectures are to help you to construct knowledge of the archaeological themes in the films. The lectures are recorded by the Panopto service, so if you miss a class or want to review slides for information to use in your assignments, you can find them there.  

The Friday films. We will watch one of the films that I have introduced in the lectures earlier in the week. While watching the film you’ll take notes that record your analysis of the archaeological content of the film and your identification of archaeological themes in the film. Warning: some of the films shown in this course contain strong language, horror, nudity, sexual situations, violence, controversial subjects, and complex philosophical ideas that might be disturbing to you. If any of these attributes will prevent you from viewing, discussing, or writing about these films, this course is not for you and you should drop it. You are most welcome to bring your friends who are not in this class to join you to watch the film on Fridays so you can enjoy it together. Bring popcorn! Other foods are fine too, but please avoid foods with strong odours or that spill easily. 

Scheduling issues. There might be situations when the Friday class session will run longer than the allotted time. I will make every effort to time the class carefully, but I hope you’ll understand that delays due to unusually long films, technological difficulties or other causes might arise. Some of the films will require us to stay a little later on the days we watch them. If you cannot stay later then you need to make arrangements to catch up on what you missed. Copies of all the films are in the UW library for you to borrow.

The assignments. There is a calendar view of assignments here. The assignments give you a chance to practice the application of the skills you’re learning in this course, demonstrate your proficiency in applying your skills to new material and get feedback on your efforts. More details about the assignments will be available on the course webpage, which is an extension of this syllabus. You need to submit something and receive a non-zero grade for every assignment in order to pass this course. If any of your assignments violates the course code of conduct or any university policies (such as plagiarism), you will receive a score of zero. Final grades for this course can span the full range from 0.0 to 4.0. We do not grade on a curve. The assignments fall into two logical groups: (1) short, frequent tasks and (2) long projects, more about those below.

You may be in for a surprise if you’re expecting this course to be cakewalk. This is a 100-level class because of the lack of pre-requisites, not because of the level of difficulty of the class. One of the reasons I teach this class is to have fun, but also to explore for myself how to think about archaeology and popular culture; I’m expecting you to join me in that exploration, not just drift along for the fun parts.

This class is worth five credits, meaning approximately 15 hours of work each week: 2 hours of lecture, 2-3 hours of film and 10-11 hours of out-of-class reading, preparation and assignment work per week. Merely completing all the assignments will not get you a high grade; you actually have to do them to a very high standard. Be careful not to confuse your level of effort with the quality of your work. It is not the case that ‘if I work hard, I deserve a high grade’; you actually have to do high quality work to get a high grade. “Work” also includes participation – students earning a 4.0 will demonstrate fully engaged and responsive participation, representing the best of individual dedication to mastering the course material, while fostering a lively and interesting group discussion in a collaborative spirit. We provide detailed instructions here and on the course website on how to do all the assignments to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to work at their highest level. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re unsure about how to do anything.


We will use Campuswire for announcements and communication about the course. Sign up for an account there with your email address. That should give you access—if not, please email me for an access code. The TA and I will post important updates and announcements there. Check often, and be sure to enable your notifications, at least for for the #announcements channel. We recommend you install the Campuswire app on your phone, and ensure that you can receive notifications. 

Our Campuswire discussion forum is a shared space for you to ask any class-related questions. Nothing you post will affect your grade in any way (for better or for worse), so please freely engage by posting questions and by helping your classmates with answers and discussions. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the platform. This is a short introduction to the system:

Do post questions about lectures, assignments, etc. You can post a reply or a comment to other students' posts. You can choose to post your question anonymously, although the me and the TA will see your identity. Remember that nothing you post will ever affect your grade! Appropriate, professional images and gifs are welcome. Use the #random channel to share relevant news articles that you come across. Collaborate with your classmates to organise your group project.  Use the proper category when posting questions. Use all the tools there that you find helpful. You are welcome to DM me and the TA on Campuswire with questions, comments and feedback about the class. We love to hear from you and value your comments. 

Don't email the me or the TA with questions that can be posted in Campuswire. If you do, we will reply asking you to post in Campuswire or to come to office hours. Use email only for communications involving confidential or sensitive information. We aim to reply quickly, but don't expect me or the TA to be available 24/7 to respond to you online. Don't use this as a replacement of office hours. In our experience, nothing beats the one on one professional interactions with real people.

Overview of assignments:

You can measure your progress in achieving the learning goals for this course by doing the assignments and reviewing our feedback. We can divide the assignments for this class into two groups: small things and big things.

The small things are in-class participation activities, out-of-class reading annotations and viewing notes. The in-class activities will occur in each lecture. They activities will mostly be small group discussion and Poll Everywhere responses, though occasionally we may collect responses on paper or by an online quiz. These activities will be focused on the describe, judge, analyse, and identify learning goals described above. The out-of-class reading annotations require you to closely read one scholarly journal article per week, add your annotations to the article and respond to annotations from other students. This activity is focused on the learning goals of judging and understanding, as noted above. The viewing notes is your journal of reactions to the films we watch in class. You will update these weekly after watching each film, and you need to show some reflection on the film you just watched and the previous films watched in the class. This is focused on the learning goals of constructing and evaluating. The lowest two scores of the viewing notes and the lowest two scores reading annotations are dropped in the calculation of the final grade.

The big things are a short scholarly essay, and a media project. The short essay is a formal, technical analysis of a film with archaeological content that is similar to one of ones we watch in the class (you cannot write about a film we watch in class). This will be due at the middle of the quarter. This activity is focused on the learning goals of describing, analysing, and interpreting. The unessay is a group project that will have more information available in a few days. This is due in the second last week of classes. This is focused on the learning goals of describing, judging and constructing. 

From time to time we will request your feedback and responses using an online quiz or similar. The will be infrequent and easy. They are not graded and will not form part of your final grade for the class. The purpose of these is to encourage you to participate and find meaning in your experience of this class in ways that are not focussed on getting a grade. We do this because it will help you to prepare to participate effectively in civil society, where we often things because we believe in their essential worth, rather than to get a higher salary or improve our status in material ways. 

If you have a medical emergency or other exceptional circumstance and want to discuss alternative assessment plans, please send me an email. 

Evaluation and grading:

Here's a more detailed breakdown of how the big and small things contribute to your grade:

Small things' contribution to final grade:

Percent of grade Assignment
15 In-class activities (overall score of 75% or higher will be rounded to 100%)
15 Reading annotations (lowest two scores are dropped in calculation of final grade)
10 Viewing notes (lowest two scores are dropped in calculation of final grade)

Big things' contribution to final grade:

Percent of grade Assignment
30 Short essay
30 Unessay


As you can see in the table above, there are five major categories of assignment. If you get a zero for any of these five categories (e.g. you don't submit a Short essay, or you don't do any of the Viewing notes) then you'll fail that class (even if your final score for the class is >50%). This is a class policy to ensure that you participate in all of the learning activities we've designed for the class. 

There is no mid-term or final exam for this class, although one is automatically scheduled by some central planning service. You can ignore that. A calendar view of the assignments is available here.

Late submissions: Each student receives three free "late days", each of which allows you to submit an assignment up to 24 hours late without penalty. You will need to notify us by stating on your submitted work that you are using a late day. Once you have used up all late days, assignments will have 10% deducted from the grade per day (including weekends). Assignments will not be accepted more than seven days after the due date (which means you’ll get a zero score for that assignment). I review late requests and circumstances on a case by case basis and make decisions accordingly. If you anticipate any disruptions, please let us know so we can help you to plan for success.

I generally am not sympathetic to technology problems (servers go down, transfers time out, files become corrupt, things get lost or stolen, the list goes on and on). These are not considered emergencies. They are part of the normal production process. An issue you may have with technology is no excuse for late work. We expect you to protect yourself by managing your time sensibly and robustly backing up your work. Plan ahead, save your work frequently and use reliable services (eg.  Google Drive and GitHub are ones I rely on) for backing up your work. The final decision about late penalties rests with the instructor, though you may appeal to the Chair of the Anthropology Department if you feel the instructor’s decision is unjust.

Assignment presentation: The quarter is too short for you to worry about what font to choose and what size to make your margins, so to save time I’ve made it simple by standardizing assignment presentation. I also want to make sure that your work can be easily read by me and the TAs so you don’t miss out on any points. Contact me if any of this seems impossible. See the course web page for the details, we are pretty strict about presentation requirements.

Grading: The number of points we use to grade each assignment is not a 1:1 relationship with the percentage weighting of each assignment in that makes up your grade. For example, the Research Paper might be graded out of 17 points, so your score, say 15 will then be divided by 17 and multiplied by 0.1 to get your percentage contribution (8.8/10 in this example). We do make mistakes and are happy to correct them, but in order to make the process work smoothly we require requests for re-grading to be made in writing by email. So if you feel that your work was incorrectly or unfairly graded, please write a detailed statement with the relevant details, and send it to us along with your original work. We'll all take a look, and as a caveat, please note that (1) we also have the option of re-examining your entire work for the course and (2) the outcome might be a lower grade rather than a higher one for the assignment you’re concerned about, or any other that we look at. For more details on how we grade: and

The following grading scale will be used:

Percent = Grade
95 = 4.0 88 = 3.3 81 = 2.6 74 = 1.9 67 = 1.2
94 = 3.9 87 = 3.2 80 = 2.5 73 = 1.8 66 = 1.1
93 = 3.8 86 = 3.1 79 = 2.4 72 = 1.7 65 = 1.0
92 = 3.7 85 = 3.0 78 = 2.3 71 = 1.6 64 = 0.9
91 = 3.6 84 = 2.9 77 = 2.2 70 = 1.5 63 = 0.8
90 = 3.5 83 = 2.8 76 = 2.1 69 = 1.4 60-62 = 0.7
89 = 3.4 82 = 2.7 75 = 2.0 68 = 1.3 <60 = 0.0

Text and required supplies: 

There is no textbook required for this course. All required readings will by posted to the course website as PDF files or ones that you have to find using the UW Libraries. All readings will be available online (though you may have to search for them).

You will need to watch the movies you use for your assignments (it will be pretty obvious to us if you do the assignments without having seen the film). We should be able to get most of these through the UW library system, but be sure to allow plenty of time for this. You can of course also borrow DVDs from your favorite video library (probably faster than waiting for the UW library to get it), or use any other non-violent means to procure them.

If you are making a stop-motion film then you just need a simple still image camera. For most other kinds of film you will need a camera that can capture video. Most digital cameras and phone cameras can do this; just about anything will do for this assignment. We are not fussy about image quality (but please do take care with sound quality!). It does not have to be ultra-high quality; please don’t go out and buy one just for this course - borrow a friend’s instead. If your team does not have access to a camera you can borrow all kinds of fantastic filming equipment from the Anthropology Department (write to with your polite request), the UW Classroom Support Services and the Odegaard Undergraduate Library have a very serious digital video and audio workstation as well as a bunch of computers equipped with software for video editing. Let us know if you need help to access UW equipment, but don’t leave it to the last minute.

Campus resources for making your work excellent:

While we provide extensive resources on the course website specifically to help you excel in this class, you might also benefit from resources elsewhere on campus. The quality of your writing is important because it’s the chief medium for you to show me your fantastic research and critical thinking skills. Luckily, UW has resources to help you to make your writing outstanding. The Odegaard Writing & Research Center offers free, one-one-one help with all aspects of writing at any stage in the writing process. To make an appointment or browse the center's online resources, visit:  To make the best use of your time there, bring them a copy of your assignment and double-space any drafts you want to bring in. The OWRC will not proofread papers (which we highly recommend you do by yourself) or talk with you about grades (you can talk to us about that).

The Anthropology Department also have a similar writing center (sometimes staffed by former TAs of this class!): Even if you have won awards for your academic writing you will benefit from frequent reminders of the principles of good writing (we do).

Class rules of conduct:

Our rules of conduct are based on the responses you provided in our Classroom behaviour policy survey. The full text of your anonymised responses is online here. Here is the summary of your responses that I prepared:


Do not...

Behave with respect, kindness, and courtesy to everyone in class

Have side conversations during class; make noise while others are speaking

Engage actively by asking questions to the Professor

Use laptops in distracting ways (e.g. browse irrelevant web pages and social media during class)

Participate thoughtfully in the peer discussions in class

Play games on phones during class

Join in the conversations about class topics on Perusall & Campuswire

Arrive late or leave early (if you must, do so quietly and gently)

Listen quietly when others are speaking & when watching the films

Eat noisy or strongly smelling food during class

This list is our contract. You've now told us what you value, and we will honour that by upholding and enforcing those values in our classroom and online spaces. 

If you are curious, here is the official Student Code of Conduct: 

Various University policies and guidelines:

Access and Accommodations: Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


Academic honesty:

Schedule of films and topics:

Note that our in-person lectures are captured automatically by the Panopto service, you can view the videos here.

Week 1.   Stargate (1994): Why do some people think aliens build the pyramids? (lecture slides: 1, 2, 3)
Week 2.   The Mummy (1932): Why do archaeologists keep wrecking things? (lecture slides: 4, 5, 6)
Week 3.   One Million Years BC (1966): What dark truths do cave-people films reveal about ourselves? (lecture slides: 7, 8)
Week 4.   Planet of the Apes (1968):  Science (Archaeology) vs. Religion (lecture slides: 9, 10, 11)
Week 5.   The Exorcist (1973): Why is archaeology so dangerous? (lecture slides: 12, 13, 14)
Week 6.   Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): Does archaeology have any ethics? (lecture slides: 15, 16, 17)
Week 7.   Tomb Raider (2001): Why do conspiracy theorists like archaeology? (lecture slides: 18, 19)
Week 8.  The Body (2001): How does archaeology cause political violence? (Ben in Australia for family emergency)
Week 9.   Wall-E (2008): What does the archaeology of the present reveal? (lecture slides 20, 21, 22)
Week 10. Concluding remarks via zoom (lecture slides: 23, video from zoom: 23)

Important stuff about this course:

General support

Instructor meeting notes

Catalog Description: 
Deals with depictions of archaeology by and for non-archaeologists and implication of those depictions at the intersection of archaeology, the human past, and popular culture.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
September 17, 2020 - 9:00pm