Archaeology

Archaeologists working in the field - excavating a site in South America

Archaeology at Cambridge

As a broad subject, Archaeology encompasses questions about the origins of our species, the diversity of ancient cultures, the development of sedentary life and farming, and the emergence of the first cities and empires. Our teaching and research ranges from understanding the role of material culture (‘things’) in human life, to the preservation of archaeological heritage in modern societies, to understanding how humans contribute to climate change, past and present.

As a student here, you could follow one of several streams – Archaeology (covering all world cultures), Biological Anthropology, Egyptology, or Assyriology. 

One of the largest centres of archaeological research in Britain, the Division of Archaeology, together with the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, was recently awarded top place in the Good University Guide for Archaeology in the UK. 

As an Archaeology student at Cambridge, you would benefit from access to world-class collections in Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology  and the Fitzwilliam Museum, among others. Additional resources include the Haddon Library, devoted to undergraduate teaching in the subject, and area research centres.  

Archaeologists conducting field work in South America

Archaeology at Churchill

While Churchill College is well-known for its strengths in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, 30% of our undergraduates study arts and humanities subjects. Churchill, as a large and friendly community, offers Archaeology students an excellent library and a Director of Studies, Elizabeth DeMarrais, who has been active in the teaching of undergraduates for many years. She is the coordinator of the first-year Introduction to Archaeology paper in the Department. Other Fellows in the College have interests in Archaeology, and related disciplines such as Anthropology are also well-represented.

Dr DeMarrais’ current research investigates the dynamics of social groups in the past; her most recent publication is an issue of World Archaeology entitled 'The Archaeology of Coalition and Consensus' (2016) that sought an understanding of the ways that people built alliances, forged consensus, and cooperated in past societies where 'top-down' leadership was weak or absent.  

With a broad training in Anthropology as well as Archaeology, she has long-standing interests in the origins of social inequality in the human past, the emergence of leadership, and 'bottom-up' patterns of social integration. She studies community organisation through the study of the built environment and architecture in the past, as well as writing about early states (the Inka empire) and particularly the importance of ideologies in shaping power relations in the past. She has worked in the American Southwest, Hawaii, and South America in the past, and is currently beginning a new project in New England on the historic period, which will involve undergraduates in future years.

Student testimonial

"I really enjoyed my time at Churchill studying Archaeology — so much so that I stayed for a fourth year to take an MPhil in Archaeological Research! The Archaeology Department is great: it offers a huge variety of courses spanning different periods and regions, there’s lots of opportunities to get involved in different activities (I volunteered at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, for example) and the lecturers are all really friendly and approachable. I specialised in South American Archaeology and spent two summers excavating on a site in the Peruvian Andes, which was an incredible experience.

One particular benefit of studying Archaeology at Churchill is that it’s a big college — so even though Archaeology is quite a small subject, there are always other Archaeology students around. The College also has Fellows in Archaeology and Anthropology. I really liked this, as it meant there was always someone to study with, or ask for advice. The library is well stocked with Archaeology books, and Churchill is a lovely place to live — it has a great community of students and staff, the accommodation is good and there’s lots of societies and sports teams to get involved with."

— Beth

Admissions

We seek students who are curious, who enjoy reading and debating ideas, and who wish to engage in hands-on study of artefacts in our museums and/or to experience archaeological fieldwork and laboratory work. Archaeology is a broad subject, with topics ranging across the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences. A wide range of subjects are therefore an excellent preparation for Archaeology, from Chemistry and Biology to Geography, History, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, English, Classics, or ancient and modern languages. No specific subjects are required or recommended, though applicants for Egyptology and Assyriology are strongly encouraged to study a language.

Subject pre-requisites

Essential Highly desirable/useful
No specific subjects No specific subjects

 

 

Standard entry requirements

Written assessments

Cambridge University uses a system of common format written assessments, specifically tailored to each subject. These give us valuable additional evidence of your academic ability, knowledge base, and potential to succeed at Cambridge. For more information about written assessments in this subject, click on:

Written assessments

Written work

We will ask you to submit two examples of teacher-marked written work on any relevant subjects. 

Interviews 

If called, you will normally have two interviews. You will not be expected to have any specific background in Archaeology, as the field is highly varied and often not studied in school. You should be prepared to discuss your interest in Archaeology and potential directions you may wish to follow. 

Careers

Archaeology graduates find employment in a wide range of careers. In addition to post-graduate study leading to academic jobs, museums, or the heritage sector, recent graduates have been employed in journalism and media posts, consultancy, finance, advertising, the foreign service, international development, journalism, publishing, teaching, politics, and government.

Employers appreciate the breadth, flexibility, creativity, and independence of Archaeology graduates, who leave university with an impressive range of transferable skills.

Suggested reading

Fellows in Archaeology & Anthropology