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F4K507 Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP) MA Postgraduate Taught 2015


UCAS code F4K507
Degree MA
Mode of study Part Time + Full Time
Duration 2 years (full -time) or 3 years (part-time)
Location Durham City
Department(s) Website
Telephone +44 (0)191 334 1117

Course Content


This is a two-year course, which educates and trains graduate students to be conservators capable of researching, analysing, cleaning, preserving and caring for a wide range of archaeological and museum objects.

It is intended for those who wish to become practising artefact conservators, or work in the fields of artefact research or preventive conservation. Graduates of the course will normally work in museums or large heritage organisations such the National Trust or English Heritage.

Graduate students are drawn from a wide range on disciplines, but manual dexterity, a very basic knowledge of chemistry and an enthusiasm and desire to work with museum objects are essential.

Course Structure


  • Conservation Theory
  • Conservation Skills
  • Artefact Studies
  • Care of Collections
  • Conservation Practice
  • Professional Practice.

Learning and Teaching

The programme is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars and practical classes as well as an industrial placement or dissertation. Typically lectures provide key information on a particular area, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate among Conservators in that area. Practicals then provide opportunities for students to implement and develop their skills, based on the knowledge that they have gained through their lectures and through independent study outside the programmes formal contact hours. Self-learning development packages allow students to continue their learning in a structured way outside the practical sessions. The industrial placement forms a major part of the contact time in the programme for Professional Practitioners, allowing students to gain direct experience of practical and applied skills in Conservation. Industrial partners include the Museum of London, National Museum of Wales and Victoria & Albert Museum. Alternatively, the dissertation allows students to develop advanced research skills in an aspect of conservation following the Researcher Route.

The balance of these types of activities changes over the course of the programme, as students develop their knowledge, skills and the ability as independent learners and practitioners that is one of the key attributes that the programme develops in its students. The programme therefore prepares students them for work or further study once they have completed the programme, with an emphasis on taking their learning from the classroom to real life situations in Museums and conservation laboratories. All teaching is delivered by qualified conservators.

In the first two terms of the first year students typically attend 4-5 hours a week of lectures, 6 hours of practical work including seminars, 3 hours of structured self-development learning and up to 9 hours of conservation skills working in the conservation laboratory. Outside timetabled contact hours, students are also expected to undertake their own independent study to prepare for their classes and broaden their subject knowledge.

The balance shifts in the third term, as students develop their abilities as independent learners through supervised practical conservation work for 4 days a week over 10 weeks and create a portfolio of their work and reflections.

This move towards greater emphasis on independent learning and acting in the role of professional conservator continues in the final year, where students have a placement in a working conservation lab for 9 months. They gain experience of working with a wide range of material and develop further their practical skills, within a real-life working environment. A focus is placed upon problem solving and organisational and managerial skills, under the supervision of a professional conservator.

Alternatively, the emphasis on using the independent study and research skills developed in the first year of the course is continued through the dissertation, which marks out the researcher route. Under the supervision of a member of academic staff with whom they will typically have ten one-to-one supervisory meetings, students undertake a detailed study of a particular area resulting in a significant piece of independent research.

The department also has an exciting programme of weekly one hour research seminars which students are strongly encouraged to attend.

Admissions Process

Subjects required, level and grade

Note there is a maximum of 10 places available on the course each year, due to size of the teaching laboratory.

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent OR professional qualification or two years relevant work-based experience; and a pass in mathematics (Grade C or above at GCSE level, or equivalent).

Applicants without a degree will be required to demonstrate sufficient academic capability to satisfactorily complete this degree.

Chemistry Requirements, one of the following:
  • An 'AS' level in Chemistry or its equivalent
  • A degree which included a significant science component, e.g. Biology or Material Science
  • An A, B or C grade for Chemistry in a Scottish 'Higher' or similar high grade in the Irish 'Leaving Certificate' may also be acceptable
  • Completed university level course units in Inorganic and Organic chemistry - this is particularly appropriate for students from North America
  • Completed the 'Chemistry for Conservators' course. This is a correspondence course, which last approximately 6 months. Details of the course are available here.

All students need to be able to accurately distinguish between colours and safely handle objects, scalpels, and other conservation tools. Students may be required to undertake tests to ascertain the levels of some of these skills if they are invited to visit.

English Language requirements


Requirements and Admissions

The University accepts the following alternative English language tests and scores.

Fees and Funding

Fees shown are for one year. Total fee will depend on the length of your programme. All fees are subject to annual increases. For more information please visit the Tuition Fees page

EU student fees


Home student fees


Islands student fees


International non-EU student fees


Scholarships and funding


This is a two year MA in which the first year has fees at £9,900, and then £3,300 in the second year.  

Career Opportunities


Many of our postgraduates move into an academic career, either teaching or by taking up post-doctoral research positions in universities. Others join museums or national and regional heritage organisations. Some work in professional archaeology, in national or local planning departments, while others elect to use their analytical and presentation skills to gain positions in industry, commerce and government.

For further information on career options and employability, including the results of the Destination of Leavers survey, student and employer testimonials and details of work experience and study abroad opportunities, please visit our employability web pages.

Open days and visits

Campus tours

Overseas Visit Schedule

Postgraduate Visits

Department Information



Our Department is positioned third in archaeology departments in the UK by The Independent. Complete University Guide 2015.

Our taught Masters courses are amongst the best in their fields with the MA in Museum and Artefact Studies, the MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects and the MSc in Palaeopathology all having particular strengths for professional/vocational development as well as preparation for a PhD. The MA in Archaeology and the new MSc in Archaeological Science offer wide-ranging professional training and provide an ideal preparation for doctoral research.

A thriving group of postgraduate research students, both at Masters and PhD levels, contributes to the diversity of interests that underpins the Department's vibrant research environment.


Teaching Staff

Dr Chris Caple, Programme Director

Chris Caple graduated from University of Wales, College of Cardiff in 1979 with a BSc in Archaeological Conservation. He carried out his doctoral research on the composition and manufacturing technology of medieval copper alloy pins at the University of Bradford and awarded a PhD in 1986. Between 1984 and 1988 he was the artefacts conservator at the York Castle Museum. In 1988 he became lecturer in Archaeological Conservation and Archaeological Science at the Dept. of Archaeology, University of Durham, becoming a senior lecturer in 1996. Between 1984 and 1995 he was Director, for Cadw, of the archaeological excavations at Dryslwyn Castle in Dyfed which has recently been published as a Society for Medieval Archaeology monograph. He started excavating at a new site; Nevern Castle, in 2008. His books Conservation Skills: Judgement, Method and Decision Making and Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past are widely used as textbooks on conservation, museum studies and archaeology courses. He has been actively engaged in research on the burial environment since 1990 and published papers on this as well as archaeology, conservation and ancient technology. He is an Accredited Conservator Restorer (ACR), Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (FIIC) and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA). 

NB: Information contained on the website or in the literature with respect to the fee is correct at the time of publication but the University reserves the right to change the course information or fee at a later date.