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MA Archaeology (F4K007)

Our MA in Archaeology is designed to prepare you for a wide range of careers in the fields of archaeology, cultural heritage management, the academic world, cultural research and journalism, as well as related careers with a cultural or heritage focus.

The MA is designed to take advantage of the exceptionally wide research interests of the staff in Durham Archaeology, which range from Neanderthal art and the Palaeolithic of western Europe, through Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe, to the Classical archaeology of the Greek and Roman worlds, through Egyptology, the landscape archaeology of the ancient and Islamic Near East and Arabia, to Buddhism in South Asia and trade along the Silk Road and across the Indian Ocean, prehistoric and historic East Asia, and the archaeology of medieval and post-medieval Europe - where Durham has long held a special place. Likewise, a broad range of methodological specialisms are represented among our staff including, Landscape archaeology, digital archaeology, materials science, palaeobotany, zooarchaeology, human bioarchaeology, paleopathology, isotope and DNA analysis, OSL dating, and geoarchaeology.

In order to cover this wide range of interests, the MA Archaeology is organised around six academic ‘strands’ that allow students to select courses in the areas that interest them. Students also have the flexibility to mix and match from a range of topics and options, interacting with a large community of fellow MA and MSc students that encourages the development of research, presentation and practical skills through discussions and events. This structure offers the opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange combined with specialist training in key archaeological skills and knowledge.

Find out more about this course and apply


Robin Coningham and students

UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham with students on fieldwork.

Students excavating and recording archaeological features

Students excavating and recording on placement at Auckland Castle

Archaeology trip to Beijing

Field trip to the Forbidden City, Beijing

Students undertaking fieldwork in front of Lindisfarne Castle

Students undertaking an excavation in front of Lindisfarne Castle

Two archaeologists taking measurements in a cave

Professor Paul Pettitt examining Palaeolithic cave art

Dr Kristen Hopper working in the Infomatics Laboratory

Dr Kristen Hopper working in the informatics laboratory

The six strands are:

Landscape Archaeology

Durham University has an impressive pedigree of research and teaching into landscape archaeology, with projects spanning the globe. The department was pioneering in its use of remote sensing to identify sites and features in Southwest Asia; this world-leading expertise has since expanded to integrate satellite imagery with data science and climate change (CLaSS Project – Professor Dan Lawrence); heritage management and training (EAMENA – Professor Graham Philip); and bioarchaeology (Multi-isotope basemaps – Professors Janet Montgomery and Graham Philip). Further research strengths include religious landscapes in Nepal (Professor Robin Coningham); megalithic landscapes in Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe (Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino); 'globalisation’ in the Roman World (Dr Rob Witcher); landscapes of power in early medieval Northern Europe (Professor Sarah Semple); and linked locales of colonialism and slavery in Africa and the Americas (Dr Rui Coelho). We also have a large group of scholars working on landscapes and urbanism, from Iron Age Europe (Professor Tom Moore) to Egypt (Dr Penny Wilson) and China (Dr Ran Zhang) alongside a developing concern with the role of archaeology in the freshly designated Anthropocene Epoch (Dr Daniel Gaudio). 

Once enrolled, you can tailor the degree to suit your needs. Specialist elective modules are designed to equip you with methodological understanding and in-depth knowledge of specific periods and regions. Landscape options can include GIS and Remote Sensing, 3D Modelling, Geophysical Survey, ‘Changing British landscapes through the Middle Ages’ and ‘Megalithic worlds: monumentality and society in later Prehistoric Europe’. The programme culminates in a dissertation, drawing on our wide expertise to support high level research in your chosen topic.

Prehistoric Archaeology

The MA Archaeology Prehistoric builds on Durham’s long-standing reputation as one of the leading UK centres for the study of European prehistory, with active research projects from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age and from Britain to Iraq. The prehistorians in the department (Professor Paul Pettit, Professor Mark White, Dr Ben Roberts, and Dr Max Price) include experts on the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. With its long tradition of teaching and research on European prehistory, Durham has excellent library facilities including a wide range of British and European national and regional periodicals. Our approach is exciting and dynamic, with an emphasis on theoretical perspectives and the development of humans in society, in their landscapes, and in their interaction with material culture.

From the wide range of topics on offer you are able to select a combination of specialist taught courses and a dissertation topic in precisely the area/s of Prehistory that interests you.

The Archaeology of Egypt, Near East and Asia (ENEA)

Durham is one of the leading UK departments for teaching and research on the archaeology of Egypt, the Middle East and South Asia, a presence which builds on the University's long tradition of excellence in both archaeology and Middle East studies. The interests of our current staff embrace Egypt (Dr Penny Wilson), Syria-Palestine (Professor Graham Philip, Dr Kamal Badreshany, Dr Max Price), Syria, Iraq, Iran (Professor Dan Lawrence and Dr Kristen Hopper), Arabia and the Gulf and South Asia (Professor Robin Conningham and Professor Derek Kennet). Chronologically we cover everything from the Neolithic through the Bronze and Iron Ages and into the Islamic period and early European colonial contact. 

The geographical range of our research and teaching is unusual for departments of Archaeology and means that your studies will be conducted within a truly stimulating and broad-ranging research environment. 

We actively encourage MA students to participate in our research, both amongst the world-class collections of Durham’s Oriental Museum as well as in the field. Recently, Five of Durham’s MA cohort joined Professor Robin Coningham’s UNESCO-sponsored fieldwork in Nepal and six worked on Dr Penny Wilson’s project in Egypt.

From the wide range of topics on offer you are able to select a combination of specialist taught courses and a dissertation topic in precisely the area/s of Egypt, Asia, or the Near East that interests you.

The Archaeology and Heritage of East Asia (AHEA)

Durham is the only UK Archaeology department specializing in teaching and research across the pre-historic and historic archaeology of China (from Shang China to the imperial Qing Dynasty) and East Asia. Staff research themes range from the Early Bronze Age to Imperial China, with particular strengths in historical archaeology (Dr Ran Zhang and Professor Derek Kennet), museum and heritage studies (Dr Qian Gao), artefact analysis and materials analysis (Dr Ran Zhang and Dr Kamal Badreshany), and trade and cultural exchange along the silk road and across the Indian ocean. Our research-led teaching strives to inspire MA students to engage deeply with themes that sit at the cutting edge of archaeological theory and practice centred on the region. With leading facilities for archaeological science and research projects spanning the globe, Durham provides an inspiring research environment for its students. 

Our close links with the Palace Museum (Beijing) and pioneering fieldwork projects in the forbidden city provide exciting opportunities for our MA cohort and students can capitalize on our expertise and world-class laboratory and classroom facilities to inspire innovative new research on their chosen topic. The Oriental Museum is home to one of the world's best collections of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean material providing further opportunities for students to gain hands-on training and curation experience. 

From the wide range of topics on offer, you can select a combination of specialist-taught courses and a dissertation topic that will allow you to gain an in-depth thematic understanding of an East or South-East Asian focused topic of your choice.

Classical and Roman Archaeology

Durham is a world-leading department in Roman Archaeology, with one of the largest groups of specialists in the Roman world as well as interests in earlier Greek and neighbouring cultures.

The MA Archaeology Classical and Roman benefits from links with other specialists in the department, including scholars of European prehistory, the Ancient Middle East and the Medieval World, from links with other departments such as Classics, Geography and History, and from staff membership of university research centres such as the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC) and the Centre for the Study of the Ancient Mediterranean and the Near East (CAMNE).

Our international reputation for innovative research and high-quality teaching derives from the breadth of our chronological and geographical coverage, extending from Ancient Greece and Archaic Rome to Late Antiquity, and from metropolis to frontiers, in areas such as Italy, North Africa, Anatolia, France and Britain. 

From the wide range of topics on offer, you are able to select a combination of specialist taught courses and a dissertation topic precisely in the area of Classical and Roman archaeology that interests you.

The Hodgson Binns bursaries (£2,000) provides support towards the cost of fees for taught postgraduate students studying for an MA in Archaeology, with a focus on Roman archaeology. The bursaries are primarily to support students researching on Hadrian’s Wall and the North of England during the Roman period, but it may also be used for research on Roman Italy, Latin Epigraphy, Roman pottery and the study of Roman burial.

Medieval and Post Medieval Archaeology

Durham University is recognised as a leading centre of excellence for medieval and post-medieval archaeology, with an international reputation for high-quality and wide-ranging research on the historic archaeology of Britain and Europe. Building on a long tradition of early medieval and medieval archaeology (Professor Sarah Semple, Professor Chris Gerrard, Dr David Petts, and Dr Pam Graves) established at Durham University by Professor Rosemary Cramp, the Department offers research and teaching expertise on the historic archaeology of Britain, continental Europe and beyond. Our research strengths include death and burial, religion and belief, monumentality, historiography, trade, urbanism and landscape in medieval and post-medieval Britain (Dr David Petts and Dr Pam Graves), Ireland and continental Europe.

From the wide range of topics available, you are able to select a combination of specialist taught courses and a dissertation topic precisely in the area/s of Medieval and Post-Medieval archaeology that interests you.

Explore a range of topics

The teaching is divided into core research and practical skills on the one hand, and specialist area/period-specific knowledge on the other (click here for more information on the structure of the course).

A banner image with an drone photograph of a dig and an object

All students undertake our Research and Study Skills in Social Archaeology module providing a solid foundation in the theoretical and critical skills required to undertake archaeological research. Students also undertake Practical Research and Study Skills and our wide-ranging Research Topics Modules (see below for a current list), where they can select from a range of practical and thematic options such as GIS, 3-D modelling, Geophysics, Experimental Archaeology and specialised themes in Prehistoric Archaeology, Classical Archaeology, Egypt, the Near East, South Asia, East Asia, Medieval Archaeology, Landscape Archaeology, Environmental Archaeology and Geoarchaeology. Students typically choose two Research Topics (one taken in term 1 and one in term 2) and recent options have included:

Experimental Archaeology (Dr Kamal Badreshany), Current Geoarchaeology: Reconstructing Archaeological Sites (Prof Karen Milek), Chinese heritage: reshaping relationships between the past and the present (Dr Qian Gao), Palaeolithic Britain (Prof Mark White), Themes in European Upper Palaeolithic Art and Archaeology (Prof Paul Pettitt), Iron Age in Britain in its European Context (Dr Tom Moore), Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands (Prof Mike Church), Megalithic worlds: monumentality and society in later Prehistoric Europe (Dr Marta Diaz-Guardamino), Archaeology of Bronze Age Britain (Dr. Ben Roberts), 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), Topics in South Asian Archaeology (Prof Robin Coningham and Dr. Mark Manuel), The Archaeology of the Gulf and Eastern Arabia (Prof  Derek Kennet), the Archaeology of the Indian Ocean (Prof Derek Kennet), Cultural Landscapes of Eurasia (Prof 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 (Prof. Anna Leone), Iron Age and Roman Heritage: Barbarism, Civilisation and Frontiers (Prof Richard Hingley). The Archaeology of Early Medieval 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), The Archaeology of the Battle of Dunbar (Dr. Andrew Millard), and Medieval China (Dr. Ran Zhang), A Global Pattern: From China to the World in the Middle Ages (Dr. Ran Zhang), From villages to enclosure: changing British landscapes through the Middle Ages and beyond (Dr Tudor Skinner).

Applicants are welcome to contact the department to inquire about options on offer in any given year (


A key part of the course undertaken by students is the dissertation which is a substantial (ca. 20,000 word) piece of independent, original research conducted under the supervision of one or more members of staff specialised in your selected research area (click here for more information). 

Part-time students 

Part time students are expected to complete the course in two years, typically taking the two 15-credit and two 30-credit modules in the first year and undertaking the dissertation in the second year. Other routes that may better accommodate your schedule are possible in consultation with the programme director.

University student
Studying for an MA in archaeology at Durham provided me with a variety of practical and research archaeological skills, from 3D imaging to GIS. The ability to specialise in the areas that interested me and work closely with world experts in those fields meant I could pursue my own interests whilst still receiving high-quality support. Working for an archaeological journal, I still regularly use the wide period knowledge and academic writing skills that I gained during my time at Durham.

Max Storey
MA Archaeology graduate