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Course Structure

Course structure of the new single-honours BA in archaeology BA at Cambridge


The Archaeology Tripos programme at Cambridge lasts three years.  You will be assessed in each course, every year.  Often this is through a set of final examinations, but several courses also have coursework components of different kinds, and in your third year you can do a dissertation.  Your final degree class will depend on your performance in the third year.

The Cambridge Archaeology Tripos: course structure and subject tracks



The first year is designed to give you a broad range of skills.  You can follow your existing interests, and/or explore new ones.  Formal paper choices are not due until several weeks into term, so that you will be able to “shop around” for a while to see which courses most excite you. 

You can take four papers in your first year, and these can be chosen from the seven papers offered by Archaeology. You can also borrow a fourth paper from another Tripos. The papers available in Part I are as follows:


Archaeology Papers


A1. Introduction to Archaeology

This paper focuses on key thresholds in the unfolding story of how and why societies change, starting from the origins of the human species.  You will study the emergence of culture and the use of symbols, domestication of plants and animals, and the development of social inequalities and leadership. Further themes will include the analysis of archaic states and early empires, the impact of writing systems, and the appearance of cities. You will gain an understanding of the relationship between archaeological data (sites and artefacts) and the diverse theories that help to explain long-term societal change, including ecological and evolutionary models, current social theory, and the post-colonial critique. The place of archaeological heritage in the modern world will also be discussed. 

A2. Archaeology in action

This course gives a comprehensive introduction to the methods and practices involved in archaeological field and lab research. It comprises taught lectures, practicals and field trips. The field trips introduce you to archaeological research on the ground (and from the air), including ways of surveying and mapping landscapes, the reconstruction of the environment in the past, and the investigation of human life-ways in settlements. The course also introduces you to the work that takes place after excavation, particularly the investigation of time and dating. You also learn to analyse different types of artefacts, including material culture of various types, plant remains, animal remains and human remains. 

A3. Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia

This paper provides a broad survey of the archaeology and history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, introducing you to key themes and approaches in the study of these two regions. The paper provides outline histories of the regions and introduces the geography, archaeology, society, literature, art, belief systems and mortuary practices of these areas. The integration of archaeological, textual and artistic evidence as complementary sources for interpreting historical cultures is stressed throughout.  Teaching is through a mixture of lectures and seminars.

A4. Akkadian language 1

With destruction of Mesopotamian antiquities underway in Iraq and Syria, the study of Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) has never been more relevant. This paper, which presumes no previous knowledge of languages, introduces you to Babylonian as used in the Law Code of Hammurapi (c. 1760 BC) and the inscriptions of Sennacherib, king Assyria (c. 700 BC).  You will learn to translate both ways, and to read original cuneiform.  We will visit museum collections, where you can test your new knowledge against original inscriptions.  You can then take further courses in years 2 and 3, and also learn Sumerian in year 3.

A5. Egyptian language 1

This paper offers an introduction to Middle Egyptian, the classical phase of the ancient Egyptian language that developed around 2000 B.C. The aim of the course is to provide a firm grounding in the fundamentals of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script and grammar, using a range of ‘set texts’ drawn from original sources. Additionally, the paper is intended to serve as the foundation for future advanced training in the different stages of ancient Egyptian. At the end of the year the student should be in a position to read straightforward texts in Middle Egyptian, such as many of the ones found in museum collections or carved on the walls of most Egyptian temples and tombs. 

 A6. Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives

This paper introduces students to ways of looking at humans in different relevant disciplines, including social and biological anthropology. How does understanding humans as biological organisms or as members of cultures sometimes radically different from ours change how we understand the past and human societies?

A7. Humans in biological perspective

This paper provides a broad introduction to biological anthropology and covers major subject areas such as primate biology and behaviour, human evolution, adaptation to different environments and life history theory. Through studying this course, students will gain a strong foundation in the field of biological anthropology and an understanding of how different approaches can be used to address specific questions about human origins and diversity. The paper begins with an introduction to non-human primates, highlighting the importance of the comparative approach for understanding evolutionary processes. We then go on to discuss human evolution, diversity and adaptation, including introductory lectures on human genetics and health. The paper concludes with a module on human growth and ecology.


Papers from the HSPS Tripos:

POL1. Analysis of politics

SAN1. Social anthropology: the comparative perspective

SOC1. Modern societies I: introduction to sociology


Paper from the Psychology Tripos:

PSY1. Introduction to psychology


One of the advantages of the Archaeology Tripos is the degree of flexibility available, and there are a number of possible course combinations. For example, within the Archaeology Tripos it is possible to choose a combination of courses in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and comparative approaches to being human, for example:

A1 World archaeology
A2 Archaeology in action
A6 Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives
A7 Humans in biological perspective

It is also possible to choose courses that comprise a traditional Archaeology and Anthropology degree:

A1 World archaeology
A6 Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives
A7 Humans in biological perspective
SAN1 Introduction to Social Anthropology

Furthermore, within the Archaeology Tripos it is possible to choose courses that combine the study of more general archaeology alongside those focusing on the archaeology and languages of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as:

A1 Introduction to archaeology
A2 Archaeology in action
A3 Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
A4 Akkadian language I or A5 Egyptian language I

It is also possible to focus more explicitly on the archaeology and languages of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia:

A1 Introduction to archaeology or A2 Archaeology in action
A3 Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
A4 Akkadian language I
A5 Egyptian language I

On arrival in Cambridge, you will be able to discuss your choice of papers with the Director of Studies in your College, who will provide advice on which papers best suit your interests.

In addition to lectures, practicals and supervisions, you will be involved in a range of field trips, and a two-week training dig during your first year.



 Staff research into terrace field systems at Villa Alta, Peru



In the second and third years you choose to specialise in a subject “track”, where you can develop your knowledge and skills in the area that most interests you: Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Biological Archaeology and Archaeology, Egyptology, Assyriology, Assyriology and Egyptology. 

The papers you take depend on which track you are doing. None of the tracks presupposes that you took particular papers or combinations of papers in the first year.

Whichever track you choose, your degree will be in Archaeology, but on your official transcript the track will be added in brackets, e.g. “Archaeology (Egyptology)”.



The second and third year specialisation in Archaeology trains you in using material evidence to explore the nature and development of particular societies, and to explain the variations and commonalities of the human past in all its intellectual, social and cultural richness.

Year 2 (Part IIA)

You take two papers in theory and practice and data analysis, one covering the archaeology of a particular period or region, and either another period/region paper or one from Classics or HSPS. Fieldwork consists of a week overseas at Easter, and four weeks of fieldwork in the summer, before you start Year 3.

Year 3 (Part IIB)

All students study advanced archaeological thought and archaeology in the wider world and a Special Topic, plus one or two papers from options within this course, Classics or HSPS. All students also write a dissertation.

Sample paper topics

The following, partly drawn from previous years, are a representative sample of the sorts of papers that might be on offer:

Early Historic South Asia

The Archaeology of Iran

Theories of Material Culture

European Prehistory

Introduction to archaeological science

Advanced topics in archaeological science

Rome and the Barbarians

Origins of medieval Europe

The archaeology of islands

Introduction to soil micromorphology

Museum Archaeology

Archaeologies of the Anthropocene



Assyriology is the study of the languages, cultures, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia – Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria.  These areas correspond to modern Iraq, and parts of Syria and Turkey. 

You can study Babylonian and Assyrian in all three years, and Sumerian in the third year.  Visits to museums are organised several times a year.

Year 2 (Part IIA)

You take four papers: Mesopotamian archaeology, Akkadian language, and two from other course options (one can be from Classics or HSPS). You also undertake a four-week study tour and/or fieldwork.

Year 3 (Part IIB)

You take advanced Akkadian language and Mesopotamian archaeology papers, and one on Mesopotamian history or culture or Sumerian language. The fourth is one of around 20 options available or a dissertation.



Year 2 (Part IIA)

You take papers in Egyptian language and archaeological methods and concepts, plus two papers on ancient Egyptian archaeology and culture. You also undertake a four-week study tour and/or fieldwork.

Year 3 (Part IIB)

Alongside a core Egyptian language paper and two Egyptian archaeology papers, all students write a dissertation.



Joint study of Assyriology and Egyptology, including both Egyptian and Akkadian, provides you with one of the broadest backgrounds in Ancient Near Eastern Studies offered by any Undergraduate Degree Programmes in the world.



Biological Anthropology is the study of the place that humans occupy in nature, and the origin and pattern of human diversity. With an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture, it sits firmly between the social and biological sciences. The specialization in the second and third year provides an understanding of our evolutionary history, adaptations, genetics, behaviour, and human health and disease, with a particular emphasis on how these factors relate to social and behavioural change.

Year 2 (Part IIA)

Three compulsory papers explore behavioural ecology, human origins, and health and disease. You select your fourth from options offered elsewhere in this course or HSPS.

Year 3 (Part IIB)

You take a theory and practice paper, and three more surveying current issues across biological anthropology and the other course subjects (you can substitute one for a dissertation or a paper from HSPS).



Studying Biological Anthropology and Archaeology together will enrich your understanding of both disciplines, and how they can be combined to study the human past.