Study Archaeology: A Comprehensive Subject Guide

Embarking on a journey through time and unearthing the mysteries of the past is an enchanting pursuit that archaeology offers. As you delve into the annals of history, you’ll encounter ancient civilisations, unearth artefacts, and decode the stories that lay buried beneath the earth’s surface. In this comprehensive subject guide, we’ll equip you with the knowledge and tools to navigate the captivating world of archaeology. Whether you’re a budding archaeologist or a curious explorer of the past, prepare to uncover the rich tapestry of human history in this educational odyssey.


Table of Contents

What is Archaeology?

Archaeology, in the realm of academia, is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation and analysis of physical remains, artefacts, structures, and other tangible evidence from the past. It’s a discipline that aims to unravel the mysteries of ancient civilisations, human societies, and cultural developments.

Archaeologists use a variety of techniques, including excavation, surveying, and laboratory analysis, to uncover and interpret the material remains of past cultures. These remains can include pottery, tools, bones, buildings, and even ancient texts or inscriptions.

The primary goals of archaeology are to:

  1. Reconstruct History: Archaeologists seek to reconstruct the history of human societies and cultures by examining the physical evidence left behind by past generations.

  2. Understand Cultural Change: Archaeology helps us understand how cultures change over time, including their technological advancements, social structures, and belief systems.

  3. Preserve Cultural Heritage: Archaeologists work to preserve and protect archaeological sites and artefacts for future generations, as they hold valuable insights into our shared human history.

  4. Contribute to Anthropology: Archaeology is closely related to anthropology, as it provides vital information about the evolution and diversity of human societies.

  5. Answer Research Questions: Archaeologists often conduct research to answer specific questions about the past, such as the origins of agriculture, the development of cities, or the interactions between different ancient cultures.

In essence, archaeology allows us to peer into the past, providing a tangible connection to our ancestors and shedding light on the complex tapestry of human history. It’s a multidisciplinary field that combines elements of history, anthropology, geology, chemistry, and more to piece together the story of our collective past.

Why Study Archaeology?

Studying archaeology is a rewarding and intellectually enriching pursuit that offers a range of compelling reasons:

  1. Unlocking Human History: Archaeology allows you to delve deep into the past, uncovering the history of human societies, their achievements, and their challenges. It’s like being a detective of history, piecing together the story of our ancestors.

  2. Preserving Cultural Heritage: Archaeologists play a crucial role in preserving and protecting cultural heritage. By studying and documenting ancient sites and artefacts, they help ensure that our shared history is not lost to time or destruction.

  3. Understanding Cultural Evolution: Archaeology offers insights into how cultures evolve and change over time. It helps us trace the development of technologies, social structures, and belief systems, shedding light on the roots of modern society.

  4. Contributing to Anthropology: Archaeology is a subfield of anthropology, which means it contributes to a broader understanding of human culture, biology, and behaviour. It’s an interdisciplinary science that often intersects with other fields like biology, geology, and sociology.

  5. Solving Historical Mysteries: Archaeologists have the opportunity to solve historical mysteries and answer long-standing questions about ancient civilisations. This sense of discovery can be incredibly rewarding.

  6. Hands-On Fieldwork: If you enjoy hands-on work and adventure, archaeology often involves fieldwork in exciting locations. It can take you to remote sites, where you’ll participate in excavations and uncover hidden treasures of the past.

  7. Contributing to Conservation: Archaeologists are often advocates for conservation efforts. They work to preserve and protect archaeological sites, ensuring they are available for future generations to study and appreciate.

Best Universities for Archaeology in the UK

Here is a list of the top UK universities in this field according to the latest QS World University Rankings:

RankInstitutionEntry StandardsStudent SatisfactionResearch QualityContinuationGraduate prospects outcomesGraduate prospects on trackOverall Score
1University of Cambridge1773.561008170100
2University of Oxford1873.4198.4827599.9
3Durham University1644.23.5995.5938597.9
4UCL (University College London)1663.993.3398.4817594.6
5University of Southampton1374.193.5798738092.7
6University of Manchester1583.683.45100727592.4
7University of Exeter1454.063.4194.7769091.7
8University of York1404.083.4297776590.9
9The University of Edinburgh1813.953.3399657090.9
10University of Birmingham1363.93.24100777590.8
11University of Glasgow2023.923.33100596590.7
12University of Reading1204.343.6692.4676087.4
13Cardiff University1313.843.491.9717085.8
14University of Nottingham1283.793.2494.2707085.3
15Newcastle University1254.163.2196654084.6
16University of Liverpool1294.043.1596.5603583.3
17Queen's University Belfast1334.13.3186666582.9
18University of Kent1123.953.3595.2566082.7
19University of Leicester1073.843.5489.2647582.2
20University of Aberdeen1254.153.19626581.5
21University of Central Lancashire1164.32.8597.3645581.1
22University of Wales Trinity Saint David1173.712.7100566080.7
23University of Chester1123.832.4692.6777580.3
24Bournemouth University983.693.2492.8657580.2
25Canterbury Christ Church University3.782.6598.2495578.5
26Swansea University4.113.0988.4515578.1
27University of Winchester1084.182.289.3784576.6

Entry Requirements for an Archaeology Degree

Entry requirements for an archaeology degree in the UK can vary depending on the university and the specific programme you are interested in. Here’s a general guide:

  1. Academic Qualifications: You will generally need to have completed your secondary education, which in the UK typically includes A-levels, Scottish Highers, or their equivalent qualifications. Most universities require specific A-level subjects, which may include history, geography, biology, or related subjects. The specific subject requirements can vary between universities, so it’s essential to check the entry requirements for the institutions you are interested in.

  2. UCAS Application: In the UK, applications for undergraduate courses, including archaeology degrees, are typically made through the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) system. You will need to complete a UCAS application, including details of your qualifications and personal statement.

  3. GCSE Qualifications: While A-levels (or equivalent) are the primary focus, some universities may also consider your GCSE (or equivalent) qualifications, particularly in subjects like English and mathematics.

  4. International Qualifications: If you are an international student, you will need to provide evidence of your academic qualifications, which will be assessed for equivalence to UK qualifications. English language proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL may also be required.

  5. Portfolio: For programmes with a practical or fieldwork component, such as archaeology, you may be asked to submit a portfolio of relevant work or experiences, especially if you are applying for specialised courses like archaeological conservation.

It’s important to note that entry requirements can vary significantly between universities and specific programmes within archaeology. Therefore, I strongly recommend researching the specific universities and courses you are interested in to determine their exact entry requirements. You can find detailed information on university websites and the UCAS website, and you may also contact the university admissions offices for clarification and guidance on the application process.

Jobs for Archaeology Graduates

Here are the career prospects for graduates in this field:

  • Archaeologist
  • Cultural Resource Manager
  • Museum Curator or Conservator
  • Heritage Consultant
  • Archaeological Illustrator or Photographer
  • Archaeological Surveyor
  • Cultural Educator
  • Academic Researcher or Professor
  • Archaeological Writer or Journalist
  • Cultural Resource Analyst
  • Forensic Archaeologist
  • Archaeological Consultant
  • Environmental Consultant

What Career Paths do Archaeology Graduates Embark on in the UK?

The predominant professional avenue for these graduates is within the natural and social sciences, with 24% indicating their involvement in such roles. Breaking down the destinations of archaeology graduates, 54.7% find employment, highlighting the practical application of their archaeological expertise. A significant proportion, 20.6%, opts for further study, showcasing a commitment to continued academic exploration. Simultaneously working and studying is pursued by 10%, reflecting a dedication to both practical experience and ongoing education. A smaller percentage, 6.6%, faces a period of unemployment, while 8.1% fall into other categories.

Examining the types of work undertaken by archaeology graduates in the UK, the majority, 33.2%, contribute to legal, social, and welfare sectors. Retail, catering, and customer service roles make up 18.6%, followed by clerical, secretarial, and administrative positions at 10.8%. Business, HR, and finance collectively account for 7.4%, with the remaining 30% falling into diverse categories, showcasing the versatility of archaeology graduates in the job market.

Salary for Archaeology Graduates

Check out the average salary for graduates in this field: 

Low skilled: £16,800

Medium-skilled: £19,100

High-skilled: £21,100

Topics for Archaeology Dissertation

Below, we present a diverse array of research areas, each offering an opportunity to delve into the complexities of Archaeology and make a significant contribution to its advancement:

  1. The Archaeology of Ancient Trade Routes: Investigate how ancient trade routes influenced the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures in different regions.

  2. Bioarchaeology and Human Health: Explore the relationship between human health, diet, and lifestyle in ancient populations through the analysis of skeletal remains.

  3. The Archaeology of Ancient Cities: Study the development and organisation of ancient urban centers, focusing on factors such as city planning, infrastructure, and social hierarchies.

  4. Environmental Archaeology: Examine how past societies interacted with their environments, including topics like agriculture, resource management, and the impact of climate change.

  5. Archaeological Approaches to Understanding Warfare: Investigate archaeological evidence related to ancient warfare, including fortifications, weapons, and battlefields.

  6. Cultural Heritage Management: Explore strategies for the preservation and management of cultural heritage sites and artefacts in the face of modern development and tourism.

  7. Experimental Archaeology: Conduct experiments or reconstructions to better understand ancient technologies, craftsmanship, or construction methods.

  8. Archaeology of Religion and Ritual: Study the role of religion and ritual in ancient societies through archaeological evidence, such as temples, religious objects, and burial practices.

  9. Maritime Archaeology: Investigate submerged archaeological sites, shipwrecks, and ancient maritime trade routes to learn about seafaring civilisations.

  10. Archaeology of Ancient Art and Iconography: Analyse ancient art and symbols to decipher their cultural and religious significance.

  11. Archaeology of Food and Cuisine: Explore the culinary practices, food production, and dietary habits of ancient cultures through the analysis of food remains and cooking tools.

  12. The Archaeology of Colonialism: Examine the impact of colonialism on indigenous populations and their material culture through archaeological investigations.

  13. Gender Archaeology: Explore gender roles and identities in ancient societies, looking at how archaeology can shed light on issues of gender and power.

  14. Archaeology and Technology: Investigate the use of advanced technology, such as LiDAR, GIS, and 3D scanning, in archaeological research and site analysis.

  15. Archaeological Ethics and Cultural Sensitivity: Examine ethical considerations in archaeology, including issues of repatriation, looting, and the treatment of human remains.

How Much Does it Cost to Study in the UK

One of the most important things to consider is how much the degree is going to cost. Here is a general guide for 2023/2024:

  • For home students in England, universities can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree.
  • In Wales, institutions can charge up to £9,000 for home students. However, Welsh students can apply for a fee grant to cover some of the cost of their tuition fees. This grant is currently not repayable or income-assessed.
  • Northern Irish universities will charge up to £4,275 for home students and may charge up to £9,250 for students from elsewhere in the UK.
  • Scotland does not charge home students fees at the undergraduate level; however, students from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland are expected to pay up to £9,250 per year. International students from outside of the UK will pay significantly more to study in Scotland.
  • International students can expect to pay between £10,000 and £26,000 annually for lecture-based undergraduate degrees at universities across the UK. An undergraduate medical degree can cost overseas students up to £58,600 per year. As for postgraduate degrees, the average cost is estimated to be around £17,109 per year.
Besides the tuition fees, there are also several other cost considerations such as food, accommodation, phone bills, books, social life, memberships, and others. Remember to check out our free student budget calculator

Other Subjects to Consider

Given that you are interested in this subject area, you might also want to consider the following options: 

  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Classics
  • Geography
  • Museum Studies
  • Environmental Science
  • Conservation and Heritage Studies
  • Geology
  • Art History
  • Linguistics
  • Sociology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Geospatial Science or GIS
  • Social Science Research Methods
  • Forensic Science

Frequently Asked Questions

Consider your interests, passions, and career goals. Research various degree programmes and their content to see which aligns best with your aspirations.

While earning potential is important, it’s also crucial to select a degree that you’re passionate about and suits your skills. A balance between your interests and potential career prospects is ideal.

Location can impact your overall university experience. Consider factors like cost of living, proximity to industry hubs, and personal preferences.

Evaluate tuition fees, available scholarships, and potential for part-time work. Create a budget to ensure you can manage your finances during your studies.

Consider combining your passions with practical skills. For example, if you love art but want job security, explore fields like graphic design or digital marketing.

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