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MSc Bioarchaeology (F4KB09)

Pushing the limits of archaeological science

The Bioarchaeology Research Group at Durham University is at the forefront of globally-important innovations in the application of biosciences to archaeological research. As an MSc student, you will be immersed in this interdisciplinary and dynamic research environment, and will receive advanced training from some of the UK’s leading bioarchaeologists. Through your project and dissertation work, you will have the opportunity to play an active role in the development and application of cutting-edge analytical methods, and will contribute to exciting new discoveries about the human past. Many of our MSc students have produced highly original, publishable research.

Find out more about this course and apply →

Ancient DNA laboratory

Dr Eva Fernández-Domínguez instructing a student in the ancient DNA laboratory

Students undertaking Experimental Bioarchaeology in the Botanical gardens

Students taking part in experimental bioarchaeology in the Durham Botanic Gardens

Professor Karen Milek undertaking soil analysis

Professor Karen Milek undertaking soil analysis in the environmental laboratory

A student extracting a small piece of tooth for isotope analysis

A student extracting collagen from a tooth in the isotope laboratory, in order to analyse the isotopes in the individual's diet

Seeds being burned

Experimental archaeobotany investigating the survivability of hazel nutshell in the archaeological record

One degree, three pathways

You can choose a bespoke pathway through the course, tailored to your interests. You may choose to specialise in a single branch of bioarchaeology, or to combine subjects to obtain a broader overview of this rapidly changing field. Whichever pathway you choose, you will be mentored by friendly and supportive staff with decades of experience helping MSc students navigate into employment and doctoral studies.

The pathways are:

  • MSc Bioarchaeology - which does not place an emphasis on one particular specialism, and provides a broad overview of bioarchaeology.
  • MSc Bioarchaeology (Biomolecular Archaeology) - which focusses on the study of stable isotopes and DNA extracted from biological materials.
  • MSc Bioarchaeology (Environmental Archaeology) - which focusses on the study of animal bones, plant remains, and soils from archaeological contexts.

Go from student to researcher

A person preparing samples in the DNA lab

The MSc Bioarchaeology is designed to provide you with hands-on practical training and scientific research skills, and while you are learning you will also be contributing to genuine ‘live’ archaeological research projects. Some modules, such as Isotope and Biomolecular Archaeology and Environmental Archaeology, may involve collaborative class projects which have in previous years resulted in students co-authoring journal papers.

You will also have the opportunity to undertake independent research under the guidance and supervision of world-leading experts in the field for Dissertations and the optional Practical Guided Study module (for students with significant prior expertise). These research projects give you the opportunity to develop and enhance your current personal interests, experience and skills or explore new avenues of enquiry. They may involve working with external bodies such as museums and commercial archaeology units. Many student dissertation projects have produced novel publishable data and have been published as co-authored papers in journals such as the Journal of Archaeological Science, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

University student
The expertise of the faculty and the world-class facilities allowed for my peers and I to delve into every realm of archaeological and scientific technique – from luminescence dating to isotope analysis. The intensive writing requirements of the programme readied me for producing publishable material in the future.

Maggie Scollan
MSc Bioarchaeology graduate