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F4K007 Archaeology MA Postgraduate Taught  2017


Degree MA
Mode of study Part Time + Full Time
Duration 1 year (full-time) or 2 years (part-time)
Location Durham City
Department(s) Website
Telephone +44 (0)191 334 1100

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 / Ancient India / Near East (EAINE)
  • The Classical World
  • Medieval and Post Medieval Archaeology

By the end of this course, you will have had a chance to engage in advanced collection, management and analysis of archaeological data and materials; to develop a sound understanding of current archaeological approaches, concepts and practice; and to acquire specialist skills and knowledge related to their strand from our team of leading experts in the field.

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)

Students 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 2 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.  Students select two 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
  • Ceramic materials analysis
  • Glass finds analysis
  • Numismatics
  • Museum artefact cataloguing

These classes provide the opportunity to develop professional capacity skills, assessed through ‘authentic’ 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 lectures and special MA seminars/tutorials, usually over one term with sessions each week.  

Students typically chose two modules relevant to their strands, although in consultation with their academic advisor they may opt for a non-strand-specific choice that allows them to branch out and try new things. 

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 (Dr 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. 12–18th centuries (Dr Pam Graves)
  • The Archaeology of Burial Practice in Britain, c. 12-18th centuries (Dr. Pam Graves)
  • Preservation of Archaeological Sites In Situ (Dr Chris Caple)

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 students to develop their 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.  Students are supported and guided in choosing their topic, designing their 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.  Students are asked to identify a topic by Term 2, but Term 3 and the summer are fully dedicated to dissertation work.

Course Detail

To find out more about the modules available to students studying at Durham University in 2016 please click here.

Please note: Current modules are indicative. Information for future academic years may change, for example, due to developments in the relevant academic field, or in light of student feedback.

Course Learning and Teaching

The programme is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars and workshops or practical classes. Typically lectures provide key information on a particular area, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate among archaeologists in a specific area or on a particular theme. Seminars then provide opportunities for smaller groups of students to discuss and debate particular issues or areas, based on the knowledge that they have gained through their lectures and through independent study outside the programme’s formal contact hours. 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. Throughout the programme emphasis is placed on working independently outside the contact hours, in order to synthesise large datasets and to develop critical and analytical skills to an advanced level.

The balance of activities changes over the course of the programme, as you develop your knowledge and abilities as independent learners and researchers, in order to prepare them for work or advanced study once they have completed the programme. In the first two terms students typically 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 essays or practical projects in preparation for summative (assessed) work. Typically you will submit around three to four pieces of summative work per term (essays of c. 3,000 words; practical projects such as photographic portfolios or posters).

Over Term 2 and into Term 3 the balance shifts as you develop your abilities as independent researchers. The lectures and workshops already attended have introduced them to and given them the chance to practice archaeological research methods in specific fields of study. You will also engage with academic issues, archaeological datasets and their interpretation, which are at the forefront of archaeological research. The dissertation is regarded as the cap-stone of the taught programme 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 they will typically have up to ten one-to-one supervisory meetings, students 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 programme, all students also have access to an academic adviser who will provide them with academic support and guidance. Typically a student will meet with their adviser two to three times a year. In addition, all members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet with students on a ‘drop-in’ basis. The department also has an exciting programme of weekly research seminars which postgraduate students 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 (again, you are welcome to consult with the department on this).

Applicants are requested to indicate their interest in the strand they wish to follow in the personal statement of their application.

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

English Language requirements

Please check requirements for your subject and level of study.

How to apply

Fees and Funding

Full Time Fees

EU Student £7,400.00 per year
Home Student £7,400.00 per year
Island Student £7,400.00 per year
International non-EU Student £16,500.00 per year

Part Time Fees

EU Student £4,100.00 per year
Home Student £4,100.00 per year
Island Student £4,100.00 per year
International non-EU Student £9,100.00 per year

Note: Fees are subject to review and change in-line with inflation.

Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.

Scholarships and funding

Career Opportunities

Department of Archaeology

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

Pre-application open day

Overseas Visit Schedule

Postgraduate Visits


Department Information

Department of Archaeology

Our internationally recognised research expertise can provide you with some of the best resources available for archaeological research. We have one of only three commercial archaeology units in the UK based in a university department and you will have access to experts in fieldwork. Our taught Masters courses range from the general to the specific, allowing you to make a choice based on your individual interests and learning style. Many of our programmes have been designed with two pathways, professional or research, so you can adapt your degree to your career goals. Amongst the best in the field: our MA in Museum and Artefact Studies and MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects programmes are particularly strong for professional or vocational development, while the MSc in Archaeological Science and all strands of the MA in Archaeology are ideal preparation for continuing your academic career. Our unique MSc in Palaeopathology is always an attractive option for students with either goal in mind, or we can accommodate you as a MRes, MPhil, or PhD student with your own specialised research topic.


Ranked 2nd in the UK for grade point average (GPA) and 1st for research intensity in REF 2014.