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Department of Archaeology


Ninety-two percent of Cambridge’s overall submissions within the Archaeology Unit of Assessment have been rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ – including top UK rankings in the Impact and Environment sections - demonstrating the major impact that researchers in our department are making every day.  

The Times Higher Education’s rankings place Cambridge at #4 for Archaeology in REF 2021 based on GPA and #2 based on ‘research power’ rank. 

The REF is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: Research England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland. 

Among the data submitted by universities and other institutions are case studies that describe the impact of their research – where they have made a difference to society, health, and the economy, for example. 

Within the Archaeology unit of assessment (UoA 15), 64% of Cambridge’s submission was awarded the highest rating of 4* overall, meaning they are ‘world-leading’. A further 28% of our submission was rated 3* overall, defined as being ‘internationally excellent’.  

Dr Tamsin O’Connell, Head of the Department of Archaeology, said, “I am exceptionally proud of the achievements of all my colleagues, past and present. This assessment recognises the strength in depth of our archaeological community at Cambridge, in the research that we do, and in how we use our research to transform lives and communities across the globe. I am delighted that it endorses the continuing commitment of the university to our discipline and department.”  

The Department of Archaeology at Cambridge brings together an extraordinary community of people committed to advancing and transforming our understanding of the past through innovative research and teaching. We engage with the archaeology of most regions of the world, from the fens of East Anglia to Antarctica, including Eurasia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania, as well as with most periods of the past.  

Through recent reconfigurations, the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge has created an exceptionally broad interdisciplinary nexus exploring the human past and our evolution as a species and enabling positive impact in the present. Our researchers partner with organisations around the world to ensure that our collaborations address local needs and benefit communities.  

Our commitment to creating positive impact and providing an outstanding environment for world-leading archaeological research is evidenced in the 100% ratings received in both the Impact and Environment sections of REF 2021.  



The Department has achieved impact by working directly with diverse stakeholders and enabling organisations, both locally and globally. Examples include grass-roots communities, corporations, national agencies, regional and national governments, international organisations and international NGOs.  

Explore our four impact case studies on the Cambridge Impact Map:  



The Environment section details our research environment including research and impact strategy, staffing strategy and staff development, equality and diversity, research income and infrastructure, collaborations and research students.  

Over the last decade, we have integrated and boosted our strengths in human evolutionary studies and biological anthropology, invested in next–generation archaeological science, increased intellectually driven and applied heritage research, and enhanced collaborative research by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) in regional archaeology.  

The size, range, diversity, aspirations, vitality and sustainability of Cambridge Archaeology have never been higher.  

A key measure of success highlighted within the Environment section is career progression of our postdoctoral research staff and research students.  

Within the REF2021 cycle, 128 students from 35 countries completed their PhDs. Our combination of high entry standards, highly effective training, research culture, support networks, internal grants and opportunities for collaboration makes for a community of new-generation researchers of formidable ability and energy.  

Of those 128 students, 77% have progressed to post-doctoral research or long-term academic posts (principally lectureships), positions in museums, cultural resource management or other heritage-related posts, or in academic or related administration. The remaining minority have pursued successful careers in a range of disciplines including teaching, publishing, IT, business, government and medicine. 

Likewise, early career researchers, all of whom are based at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, represent a crucial component of our staff and a cherished asset for the future of our field. The quality of postdoctoral researchers attracted to our environment is demonstrated by the high proportion proceeding to long-term posts at prestigious universities and research institutes around the world. Of 88 leavers over the REF2021 period, 80% have progressed to such positions, fixed-term academic posts or commercial archaeology/heritage posts.



Commenting on the future, Dr O’Connell said, “Over the coming decade, we intend to develop fresh challenges, aspiring to a larger, integrated and interdisciplinary exploration of the global deep and recent human past and its relevance in the present.”  

“Overall, Cambridge Archaeology is enjoying a dynamic new phase in its long life as a research hub of global significance, openness, vitality, impact and sustainability, through which it seeks to make a substantial difference to the field and wider humanity.”