Masters in Archaeology | Top Universities

Want to learn how to discover new sites and artefacts, and develop a deeper understanding of their contexts? A Masters in Archaeology could be for you, offering the opportunity to develop your skills and expertise in this fascinating and stimulating field of investigation. We can’t promise you’ll have quite as many adventures as Indiana Jones during your studies – but that’s probably a good thing…

Read on to find out about common archaeology courses, entry requirements, specializations and career options.

Course types 

Archaeology courses

Archaeology courses often overlap with humanities subjects such as history and classics, while also drawing on advanced scientific techniques in excavating and identifying artefacts.  The fact that the subject has its feet firmly planted in both the arts and the sciences means it’s possible to study either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc) in archaeology. Generally speaking, the MA option is likely to be more focused on the humanities, while an MSc will involve greater emphasis on scientific methods and research. The latter could also combine archaeology with other scientific subjects – for example, an MSc in Bioarchaeology, or Archaeology with Human Osteology (the study of bones).

While there are many “taught” master’s degrees available in the field, you could also opt for a master’s by research. This is likely to be an MRes or MPhil qualification, which will have a larger focus on independent research and project work in your chosen area of archaeology. This option may be preferable for students who are planning to undertake a PhD in archaeology.  

What to expect

No matter which qualification you opt for, archaeology courses generally start by giving you an overview of major developments in human history and the discipline of archaeology. You’ll touch on themes such as global migrations, competition in social groups, the origins of agriculture, and the development of complex societies. Whether or not you have studied archaeology at undergraduate level, this introduction will extend into an advanced analysis of the archaeological, historical and cultural legacies of your chosen specialization, giving you a detailed critical understanding of how modern archaeologists examine and describe archaeological evidence.

It’s likely that you will conduct excavation fieldwork as part of your archaeology degree, enabling you to put your theoretical knowledge into practice. At some universities this element is optional, but at most universities fieldwork and study trips are more central to the course. Your archaeology degree is likely to culminate in a dissertation based on your own independent research. 

Entry requirements

You will normally be expected to have a good bachelor’s degree (at least a 2:1 or equivalent). Some universities are happy to accept graduates from any subject, while others will specify that your bachelor’s degree should be in a subject related to the field of archaeology in which you intend to specialize.

Many universities provide opportunities to specialize your Masters in Archaeology in a particular period of history, geographical area, or both. Although archaeology primarily focuses on the study of the remnants of human history, you may also be able to specialize in a branch of archaeology related to animals or plant life, such as archaeozoology and paleoethnobotany.

Here are some examples of possible specializations within your archaeology degree:

Landscape archaeology 

Landscape archaeology

A specialization in landscape archaeology will overlap the subject with physical geography to critically explore the ways in which humans perceive the natural world, and the ways humans have acted upon, and been constrained by, the environment. You’ll gain an understanding of how to use geographic information systems (GIS), spatial analysis and geophysical surveys to analyze varied landscapes, meaning the course naturally involves a great deal of fieldwork.

Funerary archeology

A specialization in funerary archaeology will introduce you to the diverse ways in which human societies have buried and commemorated their dead. Often combined with osteology, you’ll study social and cultural reactions to death, how the body is treated after death, global historic and prehistoric traditions, and the science behind the decomposition of the human body.

Medieval archaeology 

Medieval archaeology

Examining the remnants of societies from the end of the classical period to the beginning of early modern history, a specialization in medieval archaeology explores themes such as settlement, trade and economy, faith, structures and artefacts, social structure, ethnicity and identity, invasion and cultural contact.

Classical archaeology

A specialization in classical archaeology allows you to develop an understanding of the material culture of classical civilizations, with the opportunity to specialize further in a particular classical society and/or region, such as Greek and Roman archaeology and Aegean prehistory. You could also study classical archaeology alongside a humanities subject such as ancient history or classical art.

Other possible specializations within archaeology courses at master’s level include artefact studies, the archaeology of buildings, cultural heritage management, managing archaeological sites, urban archaeology, bioarchaeology, computational archaeology and prehistoric archaeology. 

Your Masters in Archaeology will provide you with a wide range of advanced skills in the field, opening up opportunities for a variety of archaeology jobs. The most common sectors in which archaeology graduates find work include heritage agencies, museums, research institutes and local governments. Your skills will also be transferrable to roles in many other sectors. Depending on your specialization and personal interests, you may find work in charities, chartered surveying, finance, education, marketing, administration, environmental agencies and more.

Here are some of the most common archaeology jobs:

Archaeologist 

Archaeology degree

One of the most obvious archaeology jobs, your Masters in Archaeology will unsurprisingly be extremely useful for a career as an archaeologist. This career splits into several sectors and settings:

  • Contract/commercial archaeology (working for a developer);
  • Research/academic archaeology;
  • Public/community archaeology;
  • Specialist archaeology (specializing in a particular geographical area, historical period or object).

As an archaeologist, you will study human history by examining artefacts and ancient sites, aiming to record, interpret and preserve your findings for future generations.

This is a competitive, rewarding and often exciting career, with a number of possible employers: from universities and other research organizations, to local authorities, museum and heritage centers, contractors and independent archaeological consultants. If you’d like to mainly work in archaeological excavations, you’ll need a good level of fitness, as digs can be physically challenging.

Heritage manager

Whether or not you’ve specialized in heritage management during your archaeology degree, your skills could also be put to good use in a role as a heritage manager. In this role, you’ll conserve, manage and develop access to important heritage sites, which could include historic buildings, ancient monuments, landscapes, museums and other properties. The responsibilities of a heritage manager tend to be wide-ranging, combining aspects of project managers, estate managers and exhibition officers. You’ll need to stay up to date with relevant research, and may also be involved in research projects yourself.

Another role within the heritage sector is that of a historic buildings inspector or conservation officer, in which you’ll promote the long-term conservation, maintenance and enhancement of buildings with historical importance. A specialization in the archaeology of buildings or another topic related to historic architecture would be most relevant for this role.

Museum-based roles 

Museum roles

Your degree could also be useful for a number of possible archaeology jobs in the museum sector. You could work as a museum curator, managing collections of artefacts and exhibits amongst other tasks, a museum education officer, in charge of providing visitors with engaging and factually correct educational resources, or as a museum exhibition officer, responsible for planning, organizing and managing exhibitions. A role within a small, independent museum could combine all three of these roles into one main managerial position.

Other examples of archaeology jobs you could pursue include:

  • Higher education lecturer
  • Social researcher
  • Tourism officer
  • Archivist
  • Cartographer
  • Records manager
  • Geographic information systems (GIS) specialist

For entry into all of the archaeology jobs listed here, it’s advisable to gain as much relevant work experience as possible – in addition to any compulsory experience included in your degree.

Key Skills

  • Advanced skills in fieldwork and excavation
  • Advanced research skills
  • Understanding of the theoretical and ethical contexts of fieldwork
  • Ability to use and interpret spatial data
  • Health and safety awareness
  • Self-management skills
  • Skills in laboratory techniques
  • Attention to detail
  • Sustained physical and mental work
  • IT skills in a range of software packages
  • Ability to adapt to new situations
  • Ability to think laterally to solve a range of problems
  • Team-working skills
  • Strong presentation skills
  • Ability to work methodically and accurately
  • Communication skills