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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Why Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of the human past. In particular, archaeologists study the physical remains of the past, for example artefacts such as pottery, metalwork and flint, bones, burials, buildings and the remains of settlements, and environmental ‘ecofacts’ such as pollen and seeds. We seek to understand these objects, landscapes, and materials in the context of the human societies that created and used them.

To put it simply there are at least two major reasons why Archaeology matters:

  • it is one of the most varied academic subjects you can study at university
  • it provides the skills for a wide variety of career opportunities

Archaeology is fundamental to our understanding of the human past. Understanding the development of humans, human technology, farming, towns, civilisation and the human relationship with the environment, all depends on archaeology. Archaeology can go where other subjects cannot – further back in time than other subjects and into aspects of society and human behaviour that other subjects can never reach. It, therefore, gives you a set of skills and experiences which go far beyond 'digging'. Archaeology is far more challanging and stimulating than the stereotypes say.

Archaeology helps us to address some of the most fundamental questions about who we are and why we are the way we are. It is a very broad and dynamic subject that changes constantly with new discoveries and the development of new research techniques.

During an archaeology degree you will learn about fieldwork, finds, historic buildings, scientific methods, archaeological theories, computer techniques and how they all help us to understand the past. You will have the chance to study a wide range of topics ranging from human evolution to the industrial revolution, from late-medieval Britain to ancient India.

Archaeology gets to grips with the physical remains of the past. It is well suited to students who are curious about human society and its past and who want to combine practical, hands-on work with traditional academic study.

Whether you are interested in a career in archaeology, such as heritage management, museums, contract-archaeology, local government, or academia or in a career such as media, banking or management-consultancy, archaeology is an excellent degree. Employers in all areas appreciate our graduates because of their rigorous academic training, their broad perspective and their well-developed practical skills in organisation, teamwork, fieldwork, presentation and computing. Our graduates have an excellent track record of securing suitable employment and in developing successful careers.

We offer you a wide range of modules and teach a flexible and diverse series of skills that you can draw on in almost any career. Recent graduates have entered careers in archaeological units, local authority planning departments and museums, state sponsored agencies such as English Heritage and Historic Scotland as well as business, law, management, research and teaching. So if you were worried that archaeology is not for you, perhaps you should think again!