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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

MA Archaeology

At Durham we offer an MA in Archaeology that is designed to prepare you for a wide range of careers in the fields of archaeology, cultural heritage management, the academic world, cultural research and journalism, as well as related careers with a cultural or heritage focus.

The MA is designed to take advantage of the exceptionally wide research interests of the staff in Durham Archaeology, which range from Neanderthal art and the Palaeolithic of western Europe, through Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe, to the Classical archaeology of the Greek and Roman worlds, through Egyptology, the landscape archaeology of the ancient and Islamic Near East and Arabia, to Buddhism in South Asia and trade in the Indian Ocean, and of course the archaeology of medieval and post-medieval Europe - where Durham has long held a special place.

In order to cover this wide range of interests the MA Archaeology is organised around four academic ‘strands’. These allow students to select courses in the areas that interest them, whilst allowing some flexibility to mix and match and at the same time creating a community of fellow MA and MSc students where courses in research, presentation and practical skills are shared along with discussions and events. This structure offers the opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange combined with specialist training in key archaeological skills and knowledge.

The four strands are:

The MA in Archaeology can be studied on a full time or part time basis.

F4K007 Archaeology MA Postgraduate Taught  2020



For the latest information on our plans for teaching in academic year 2020/21 in light of Covid-19, please see

Degree MA
Mode of study Part Time + Full Time
Duration 1 year (full-time) or 2 years (part-time)
Start Date October
Location Durham City
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Course Summary

Course Summary


The MA in Archaeology can be studied on a full-time and part-time basis. Through sets of specialist modules, skills-oriented classes and workshops, and dissertation research it provides the opportunity to advance your skills and knowledge in archaeology with a view to progressing to doctoral-level research or to pick up vital transferable skills ready for working in commercial archaeology or in the wider employment market.

A unique feature of our MA is the provision of specialist strands within which you will study, allowing you to gain breadth and depth in your understanding of particular periods, areas and topics. The current strands are:

  • Prehistory
  • Egypt / Near East /Asia (ENEA)
  • The Classical World
  • Medieval and Post Medieval Archaeology

By the end of this course you will have gained considerable specialist knowledge related to your period/area of study from our team of leading experts; you will also have developed your skills and experience in areas such as the collection, management and analysis of archaeological data and materials; current archaeological approaches, methods, and practice; the presentation of archaeological research; and a range of practical skills such as numismatics, museum artefacts, geophysics etc.

Course Structure

The MA in Archaeology is a 180 credit programme comprising

  • Two 15 credit modules in research and practical skills training in the first two terms (one per term)
  • Two 30 credit specialist research topic modules in the first two terms (one per term)
  • One 90 credit research dissertation of 20,000 words (developed in term 3 and summer)

You can take a 20 credit language module from the Centre for Foreign Language Study in lieu of the practical skills module. 

There is also the option of substituting a specialist research topic module with another MA module on offer in the department, and in some instances one offered by another department in the university. See below of other modules offered in the department.

Part-time students are expected to complete the course in two years. Typically part-time students complete the two 15 credit and two 30 credit modules in the first year and the dissertation in the second year.

Module Details

Research and Study Skills in Social Archaeology (RSSSA) – 15 credits

This module runs in term 1 and aims to provide you with information and skills relevant to pursuing archaeological research for your MA dissertation and beyond. It combines strand-based tutorials on pertinent topics and themes with a series of lectures and workshops introducing fundamental research tools and skills in archaeology. Assignments bring these together in projects that apply primary research skills to topics in the student’s specialist area. Recent assignment types include literature reviews and academic posters.

Practical Research and Study Skills (PRSS) – 15 credits

This module runs in term 2, where you will select two topics from a range of options in hands-on ‘Master Classes’ led by professionals and academic experts, typically taught through short blocks of workshops. Recent options have included:

  • GIS
  • Geophysics
  • Access analysis
  • Ceramics analysis
  • Materials analysis
  • Glass analysis
  • Numismatics
  • Museum artefact cataloguing

These classes provide the opportunity to develop professional skills which are assessed through ‘real-life’ assignments, such as reports one would be expected to produce as a professional in the fields of archaeology and museums. 

As noted above, it is possible to substitute PRSS with a 20 credit language module from the Centre for Foreign Language Study.

Research Topics – 30 credits

Research Topics are detailed courses focussing on particular periods, areas or themes, and are taught by the Department’s leading experts on their specialist topics. Teaching is typically delivered through a series of two-hour lectures and one-hour seminars/tutorials, usually over one term.  

You will choose two Research Topics relevant to your strand, although in consultation with your academic advisor you can opt for a non-strand choice that allows you to develop wider skills. 

It is possible, as noted above, to substitute one of the Research Topic modules for another MA module run by the department, or one run by multiple departments (see further below). 

Recent Research Topic options have included:

  • Palaeolithic Britain (Prof Mark White)
  • Themes in European Upper Palaeolithic Art and Archaeology (Prof Paul Pettitt)
  • Hunters and Gatherers, Past and Present (Prof Peter Rowley-Conwy)
  • Iron Age in Britain in its European Context (Dr Tom Moore)
  • Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands (Prof Mike Church)
  • Monuments and Landscapes in Atlantic Europe (Prof Chris Scarre)
  • Archaeology of the Egyptian State: Afterlife (Dr Penny Wilson)
  • Archaeology of the Egyptian State: Religious Life (Dr. Penny Wilson)
  • The Ancient Near East: Early Complex Societies (Prof Graham Philip)
  • The Ancient Near East: Middle to Late Bronze Age (Prof Graham Philip)
  • Continuity and Change in South Asian Archaeology (Prof Robin Coningham and Dr Mark Manuel)
  • Archaeology of the Gulf and Eastern Arabia
  • Cultural Landscapes of Eurasia (Dr Dan Lawrence)
  • Aspects of Art and Archaeology in Ancient Greece and Beyond (Dr Catherine Draycott)
  • Roman Landscapes of the Mediterranean (Dr Rob Witcher)
  • Pagans, Christians, Muslims: Changing Townscapes the Mediterranean (North Africa and the Near East) in the First Millennium AD (Dr Anna Leone)
  • Iron Age and Roman Heritage: Barbarism, Civilisation and Frontiers (Prof Richard Hingley)
  • Warlords and Holy Men: North East England c. AD 400-1100 (Dr David Petts)
  • Death and Burial in Early Medieval Britain AD 400-1100 (Dr Sarah Semple)
  • The Archaeology of Towns in Britain c. 12–18thcenturies (Dr Pam Graves)
  • The Archaeology of Burial Practice in Britain, c. 12-18thcenturies (Dr. Pam Graves)

Other MA modules run by the department in recent years have included:

  • The Anglo-Saxon World (AD 400–1100) (in conjunction with History and English departments)
  • Isotopic and Bimolecular Archaeology


The capstone of the degree is the dissertation, allowing you to develop your own line of inquiry and explore in-depth a topic of interest to them. MA dissertations are 20,000 words in length, and provide experience of sustained, rigorous, independent research that is a necessary foundation for further post-graduate academic work and demonstrates intellectual mastery to professional employers. The topic may be drawn from previous experience or from a research topic or other MA module. You are supported and guided in choosing your topic, designing your projects, acquiring necessary skills and bringing them to completion through the training imparted in the RSSSA module and through one-to-one consultation with strand tutors and dissertation supervisors. You will be asked to identify a topic by term 2, but term 3 and the summer are fully dedicated to dissertation work.

Learning and Teaching

Course Learning and Teaching

The course is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars, workshops and practical classes. Typically lectures provide key information on a particular area and identify the main areas for discussion and debate among archaeologists on a particular theme. Seminars then provide opportunities for smaller groups to discuss and debate particular issues or areas, based on the knowledge gained through lectures and through reading. Practical classes and workshops allow you to gain direct experience of practical and interpretative skills in archaeology. Finally, independent supervised study enables you to develop and undertake a research project to an advanced level with the dissertation. Throughout the course emphasis is placed on working independently and developing critical and analytical skills to an advanced level.

The balance of activities changes throughout the course as you develop your knowledge and abilities as researchers, in order to prepare them for work or advanced study once they have completed the course. In the first two terms you will attend around four hours of lectures and two one hour seminars per week. These are supplemented with two hours a week of workshops or practical classes. The practical work complements desk-based analytical skills, and are intended to develop skills applicable within and outside the field of archaeology. Outside timetabled contact hours, you are also expected to undertake your own independent study to prepare effectively for your classes, focus your subject knowledge and develop a research agenda. During these first two terms, you have the opportunity to do one or two formative (non-assessed) essays or practical projects in preparation for summative (assessed) work. Typically you will submit around three or four pieces of summative work per term (essays of c. 3,000 words or practical projects such as photography portfolios or posters).

Over term 2 and into term 3 the balance shifts as you develop your abilities as an independent researcher. The lectures and workshops will introduce you to archaeological research methods in specific fields of study and allow you to practice them. You will also engage with academic issues, archaeological datasets and their interpretation. The dissertation is regarded as the capstone of the MA and as an indicator of advanced research potential, which could be developed further in a professional or academic field. Under the supervision of a member of academic staff, with whom you will typically have about ten supervisory meetings, you will undertake independent, detailed study of a particular theme, area or research problem, and produce a substantial piece of academic written work of around 20,000 words.

Throughout the course you will also have access to an academic adviser who will provide you with academic support and guidance. In addition, all members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet on a ‘drop-in’ basis. The department also has a vibrant programme of research seminars which you are strongly encouraged to attend.


Admissions Process

Subject requirements, level and grade

Typically applicants will have:

  • A degree in archaeology or a related subject entailing experience in historical, material culture and/or visual culture (e.g. Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Art History and Theory, History, Classics, Oriental Studies), with 2.1 honours or higher for UK degrees, or international equivalent (please consult the department on international equivalents).
  • For mature students, relevant employment experience or other qualifications are taken into consideration (again, you are welcome to consult with the department on this).

Applicants are requested to indicate the strand they wish to follow in their application.

Prior knowledge of strand areas is not mandatory, but an ability to prove previous interest or experience in the strand area would be an advantage.

Reference Requirements

Two satisfactory references are required.

Application Deadlines

There is no specific deadline for applications, although applications for any given academic year must be received before the start of that academic year (i.e. applications for the 2019/20 academic year must be received before October 2019).

Tuition fee deposit

All self-financing overseas students are required to pay a £1000 tuition fee deposit if an offer from the Department of Archaeology is accepted. The tuition fee deposit is paid before the University issues a Confirmation of Acceptance to Study (CAS) number, which is required in order to apply for a visa.

£500 deposit is also payable by Home/EU applicants if an offer of a place from the Department of Archaeology is accepted.

English Language requirements

Please check requirements for your subject and level of study.

How to apply

Fees and Funding

Fees and Funding

Full Time Fees

EU Student £9,500.00 per year
Home Student £9,500.00 per year
Island Student £9,500.00 per year
International non-EU Student £21,500.00 per year

Part Time Fees

EU Student £5,200.00 per year
Home Student £5,200.00 per year
Island Student £5,200.00 per year
International non-EU Student £11,800.00 per year

The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of study, are set according to the academic year of entry, and remain the same throughout the duration of the programme for that cohort (unless otherwise stated).

Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.

Scholarships and funding

Open Days and Visits

Open days and visits

Pre-application open day

Overseas Visit Schedule

Postgraduate Visits