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Benefiting students who have a clearly-defined project in mind and want to go on to PhD work, this MPhil programme will help develop your research skills in archaeology through a combination of independent and supervised research.

You will learn about the research process while reviewing existing work, formulating a research project, collecting and analysing the data. There are also opportunities for you to enhance your writing, presentation, and argument framing and analysis skills through workshops and seminars.


The MPhil in Archaeological Research spans 10 months and includes three components:

  1. G01 Graduate Research Skills – counts for 5% of the final mark
  2. Research Paper – up to 6,000 words, counts for 25% of the final mark
  3. Dissertation – up to 25,000 words, counts for 70% of the final mark

The research skills module gives all students on an archaeology MPhil a grounding in research and prepares them for putting together in-depth pieces of work around a central question or discussion. It involves participating in seminars on topics such as planning fieldwork, research ethics, writing and illustrating research, and presenting your work. For this module, you will prepare a short research proposal and present it to the group. 

Working with your supervisor, you will formulate your dissertation topic, carry out research, and write it up. This forms an extended, independent, and original piece of research. It is a chance to develop your own research project at substantial length, allowing conceptual, methodological, and empirical exploration – not infrequently, it results in a publishable piece of research or a solid foundation for a PhD project. 

Some previous dissertation topics

  • Palaeogenetics of kinship in prehistoric Siberian hunter-gatherers
  • Freedom villages and landscapes of emancipation in colonial Senegal
  • Expressions of shared emotion in ancient Maya art and material culture
  • Entangled, transcultural identities in First Intermediate Period Egypt
  • Social norms and exceptions in historic grave monuments, Manchester

With the guidance of their supervisor, students submit a research paper that will help them progress their thinking and methodology. This serves as an important milestone to ensure the proposed research is on the right track, correcting any issues prior to undertaking their dissertation. The paper should not replicate elements that will be used in the dissertation, but instead address parallel and related research questions, explore their means of investigation, and act as a template for interrogating a similar topic at greater length in the dissertation. Some suggestions for the research paper are:

  • A review and critical discussion of the conceptual and empirical background for the MPhil dissertation
  • A review of research already conducted on the topic of the dissertation
  • Presentation of the research resources to be used in studying the problem, both generally and in the research to be undertaken (sources of data or other information, methods used to study them)
  • A discussion of some potential outcomes of the research and their possible significance
  • Where appropriate, a pilot study or ‘proof of concept’ investigation of the feasibility of the project

Further information

Prof John Robb is the co-ordinator for this MPhil option. Please get in touch for further information.

Key information

Course length

10 months, full-time


Graduate Research Skills

Research paper

Dissertation of up to 25,000 words

Course co-ordinator

Prof John Robb

Postgraduate Study at Cambridge