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Durham University


F4K507 Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP) MA Postgraduate Taught  2020


Degree MA
Mode of study Full Time
Duration 2 years (full -time) or 3 years (part-time)
Location Durham City
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Department(s) Website

Course Summary


This is a two-year course, which trains graduate students to be conservators of archaeological and museum objects. You will learn to research, analyse, clean, preserve and care for a wide range of artefacts and you will learn how to make decisions to help safeguard this material for the future.

The course is intended for those who wish to become practicing artefact conservators, or who want to work in the fields of artefact research or preventive conservation. Graduates of the course now work in a wide variety of museums as well as large heritage organisations, such as the National Trust and English Heritage.

Course participants are drawn from a wide range of disciplines. However, manual dexterity, a basic knowledge of chemistry and the desire to work with museum objects are all essential prerequisites.

The first year consists of 11 months intensive teaching in Durham.  The second year is typically an industrial placement in a conservation laboratory at a major museum, although you may also opt to stay in Durham and undertake an independent research project. Fees in the second year are approximately 35% of the initial year.

Course Structure


The course is structured into six modules:

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

The first five are completed over the course of the first year and the sixth, Professional Practice is completed in the second year. Materials are delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars and practical classes as well as an industrial placement. The balance of these types of activities changes over the course as you develop your knowledge, skill and the ability to be an independent learner and practitioner. All teaching is delivered by qualified conservators with experience in the museum sector.

Course Learning and Teaching

The course is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars and practical classes as well as an industrial placement. Typically lectures provide key information on a particular area, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate among conservators in that area. Practicals provide opportunities to develop and implement skills, based on the knowledge gained through lectures and through independent study outside the course's formal contact hours. Self-learning development packages allow participants 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 you to gain direct experience of practical and applied skills in Conservation. Industrial partners include the Museum of London, the National Museum of Wales and the York Archaeological Trust. 

The balance of activities changes over the course as you develop your knowledge, skills and abilities as independent learners and practitioners. The course’s emphasis on taking learning from the classroom to real-life situations in Museums and conservation laboratories, prepares you well for work or further study once you have completed the course. All teaching is delivered by qualified conservators.

In the first two terms of the course, you will 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, you are also expected to undertake independent study to prepare for classes and broaden your subject knowledge.

The balance shifts in the third term, as you develop your hand skills and decision-making through supervised practical conservation work.  This 10-week module leads to the creation of a portfolio of work that includes projects and reflections.

In the final year, you will spend nine months working in a conservation lab. You will gain experience working with a wide range of materials and further develop your 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, you may opt to stay in Durham and undertake an in-depth project focused on artifact analysis or applications for real-world conservation problems.

The Department also has an exciting programme of weekly research seminars and talks by visiting scholars, which you are strongly encouraged to attend.

Admissions Process

Subject requirements, level and grade

Please note there are a maximum of ten places available on the course each year, due to the size of the teaching laboratory.

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent in any subject and a pass in Mathematics Grade 4 (or 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 that 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
  • Completion of university level course units in Inorganic and Organic chemistry - this is particularly appropriate for students from North America
  • Completion of the 'Chemistry for Conservators' course. This is a correspondence course, which lasts 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.

Evidence of engagement with and interest in archaeological and museum objects, while not formally required, is highly recommended. This may be in the form of employment, internship or volunteer work in a museum, historic house, or a collecting institute, such as an archaeological repository.

Reference requirements

Two satisfactory academic references are required

Application deadlines

There is no specific deadline for applications. 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

Full Time Fees Year 1

EU Student £12,900.00 per year
Home Student £12,900.00 per year
Island Student £12,900.00 per year
International non-EU Student £28,350.00 per year


Full Time Fees Year 2

EU Student £4,300.00 per year
Home Student £4,300.00 per year
Island Student £4,300.00 per year
International non-EU Student £9,450.00 per year



The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of full time 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

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 respected research expertise will 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 here at Durham. You will be able to work with experts in the field and will have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and specialised facilities. Among the best in the world, our MA programmes – including Museum and Artefact Studies, International Cultural Heritage Management, and Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects – offer strong professional and vocational training. The MSc in Bioarchaeology and research strands of the MA in Archaeology offer ideal preparation for research careers and specialisation. Our unique MSc in Palaeopathology attracts students globally with academic and professional goals.