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MPhil in Archaeology

The MPhil in Archaeology allows you to undertake in-depth study and research of particular regions or periods, as well as training in research and analytical skills and an understanding of the role of the past in the contemporary world.

Tracks

You can specialise in any one of the following options (for more information please see the bottom of this page):

  • Archaeology of the Americas
  • Egyptian Archaeology
  • European Prehistory
  • Medieval Archaeology
  • Mesopotamian Archaeology
  • Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology
  • South Asian Archaeology
  • MPhil in Archaeology (course option not initially specified)

Within this broad structure, the Department offers students great flexibility in combining modules; students may explore (for example), a region and a method, or choose a heritage emphasis. Students take a combination of one-term, two-term and year-long modules in a combination specific to their chosen option. The combination must total the equivalent of thre year-long modules.

Structure

Students choosing Archaeology of the Americas, Archaeology of Egypt, European Archaeology, Medieval Archaeology, Mesopotamian Archaeology, Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology, or South Asian Archaeology usually take

  1. the Core Archaeology course
  2. the appropriate area option course(s), and
  3. any other module(s) offered by the Department of Archaeology (with the approval of the supervisor and MPhil coordinator).

The Archaeological Science option requires different combinations; see the web page for this course option for further information.

All MPhil students take a Research Skills Module and write a dissertation.

For further information please see the list of all available modules.

Students unsure of their interests may apply at first for the MPhil in Archaeology (course option not initially specified), but will be expected to specify one of the option choices above by the second week of their first term. Please contact the MPhil Coordinator (through the Graduate Secretary) for further advice on option choices in advance of application.

 
Archaeology of the Americas

Co-ordinator:  Dr Elizabeth DeMarrais

The Course

This MPhil contains two regional courses, taught in alternate years:

  • Ancient South America is a survey of the peoples and cultures of the Andes, covering the time span from the initial peopling of the continent until European contact in the 16th c. AD. Special emphasis is placed on understanding and explaining the emergence of complex societies (e.g., Moche, Chimor, Tiwanku, Wari, and the Inka empire). This course will next be offered in 2019-20.
  • The Archaeology of North America and Mesoamerica covers the rise of complex societies in two areas of North America (the Southeast US and the American Southwest) and the archaeology of Mexico and Central America (including the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, and Aztec polities). This course will next be taught in 2020-21.

 

The Themes

Key themes covered in both courses include:

  • the origins and spread of agriculture
  • the emergence of social inequality and leadership
  • the rise of states and their internal organisation and dynamics
  • monumentality and its significance for power and authority as well as for defining more corporate forms of social organisation
  • evidence for craft production, exchange, and elite interaction
  • ideology and its materialisation
  • current theoretical debates about hierarchy, heterarchy, and the nature of socio-political structures

Cross-cutting themes include material culture, the social aspects of technology and economy, symbolism, the nature of power and authority, social identity, gender, and ethnicity in past societies.

This course option is appropriate for students with some background in American archaeology and for students new to the subject.

 

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. All students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)   Ancient South America (2T) or The Archaeology of North America and Mesoamerica (2T), depending on the year

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)   Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in American Archaeology. The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff; some are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature.

 

Recent MPhil Dissertations

Some recent MPhil dissertation topics on the Archaeology of the Americas have included:

  • An evaluation of models of camelid exploitation in North-Central Peru
  • Reconstructing pre-Hispanic Prosopis forests of the Peruvian south coast
  • The representation of hallucinogenic plants in pre-Hispanic South American art
  • The significance of the use of moulds in Moche pottery production
  • A performance-based analysis of Chaco Canyon's built environment

This MPhil option also offers the possibility of practical work with the extensive American collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

For further information, contact Dr Elizabeth DeMarrais, co-ordinator for this option.

Egyptian Archaeology

Please see also the MPhil in Egyptology for additional Egyptology courses

Co-ordinator: Dr Kate Spence

Other staff teaching on this course:

Dr Hratch Papazian

The Course

This MPhil teaches the historical archaeology of ancient Egypt. The course alternates between years. In 2018–19 the focus will be on the New Kingdom and later periods of Egyptian history (c. 1550 BC–330 BC) while in 2019–20 we will cover the processes of state formation to the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 3500 BC–1550 BC). Within this chronological framework a series of interlinking topics will be treated including:

  • Historical records and frameworks of interpretation
  • The nature of political power and its expression
  • Interconnections and foreign trade
  • Technology, production and exchange
  • Society and settlement
  • State and private religion
  • Mortuary practices
  • Knowledge, identity and belief
  • Monumental architecture
  • Art and material culture

A strong emphasis will be placed on integrating textual, archaeological and artistic records throughout the course. This course option is appropriate both for students new to the subject of Egyptian Archaeology and for students with a background in Egyptology wishing to develop their knowledge of archaeological theory and practice.

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. All students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)  Historical Archaeology of Ancient Egypt I (2T) or Landscapes, Built Environment and Material Culture of Ancient Egypt (2T)

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)    Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Egyptian archaeology. The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff; most will be based on published literature but some may be based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork, studies of museum collections, or analysis of existing databases.

Recent MPhil Dissertations

Some recent MPhil dissertations topics in Egyptian Archaeology include:

  • Analysis of the palatial architecture of the early New Kingdom
  • Analysis of waterways in the Delta
  • Interpretation of ka-chapels at Dakhla oasis

This MPhil option sometimes offers the possibility of practical work with the large Egyptology collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

For further information contact Dr Kate Spence, co-ordinator for this option.

European Prehistory

Co-ordinator:   Dr Simon Stoddart

The Course

This MPhil teaches the prehistory of Europe, covering the span from about 10,000 BC through the Roman period. Covering the area from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia and from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic, it traces and discusses the dramatic changes characterising this span:

  • the post-glacial recolonisation of Northern Europe
  • the origins and spread of agriculture
  • the development of broad horizons of material culture, long-distance exchange networks and economic intensification in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC
  • the monumentalisation of the landscape and the rise of new deathways in megalithic cultures throughout Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe
  • the rise of the first states in Europe, and the development of complex relationships with civilisations of the Near East, and, increasingly, the Eastern and Central Mediterranean

Cross-cutting themes linking treatment of periods include material culture, social aspects of technology and economy, symbolism and culture, and social identities and values such as gender, the body, and political status and affiliation. This course option is appropriate for both students with background in European prehistory and students new to the subject.

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. All students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)   European Prehistory (2T)

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)   Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in European Prehistory. The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff; some are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature.

Recent MPhil Dissertations

Some recent MPhil dissertations topics in European Prehistory include:

  • Stable isotope analysis of diet in human bones from a Neolithic Italian ritual cave
  • Re-analysis of radiocarbon dates and material culture for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Scotland
  • Analysis of Mesolithic micro-fauna from a Croatian cave site
  • Early metallurgy as a social technology in Iberia
  • Neolithic feasting in Britain: a review and social contextualisation
  • Neolithic and Copper Age figurines in Sardinia: style, context and social interpretation

This MPhil option sometimes offers the possibility of field trips to sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as practical work with prehistoric European collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

For further information, contact Dr Simon Stoddart, co-ordinator for this option and overall MPhil co-ordinator for the Department of Archaeology.

Medieval Archaeology

Co-ordinators:  Dr Susanne Hakenbeck  and Dr James H. Barrett

The Programme

This MPhil track explores the place of medieval Europe in what was an increasingly yet variably connected world. Its core module spans the period extending from the highly globalised later Roman empire to the demographic crises of the fourteenth century – the Great Famine and the Black Death – prior to the European colonisation of the Americas. This module aims to 'decolonise' the traditional curriculum by highlighting the diverse experiences of people during this time.

We will explore how globalisation theory may be applicable to medieval archaeology, and how material and ideological factors both shaped socio-economic change. We will consider the interaction between natural and anthropogenic environmental change, in the context of fluctuating demographic and settlement histories. Equal weight will be given to archaeological, environmental and historical evidence. Key themes will include inter-regional communication, mobility, trade and cultural influence. Case studies from Europe will be considered alongside examples drawn from the Arctic, the Asian Steppe, East Africa and the Indian Ocean.

The Themes

Medieval archaeology benefits from a wealth of archaeological, scientific and historical sources, ranging from molecular evidence (DNA and isotope data) to entire landscapes best viewed from the air. This course uses the full range of archaeological method and theory, and also fosters interdisciplinary approaches in incorporating the study of history, art history, anthropology, historical geography, literary sources and scientific methods (a rare combination of approaches for which this subject is unusually well suited). There are ample opportunities for fieldwork including group visits, volunteering on established research programmes and independent research.

As a wide-ranging course the Medieval Archaeology MPhil option is intended for students with a diverse range of educational backgrounds (indeed such diversity enriches the learning environment). Students can come to the Medieval Archaeology MPhil option from previous study in archaeology including medieval or historical archaeology, from related subjects such as history, anthropology or geography or be new to the subject.

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one or two terms (1T/2T) long. Students complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

  • Medieval Europe on a Global Canvas (2T). This module is based on weekly seminars and lectures, as well as four practical classes and a fieldtrip to the British Museum. This module is assessed through two essays of not more than 4000 words length (each counting for 50% of the final mark of the module).
  • Archaeological Concepts (1T), a seminar-based module shared with other students of the MPhil in Archaeology which reviews fundamental concepts in archaeological theory and practice and provides a shared basis for approaching archaeology.
  • Any other Mphil module(s) (totalling 3 terms) taught within the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, you would attend a Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Medieval Archaeology.

You may also choose to attend lectures offered by Cambridge's Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.

The MPhil Dissertations

The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff. Some projects are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature. Specific dissertation supervision expertise at Cambridge includes:

Time, Space and Themes:

  • Dr Susanne Hakenbeck (Population Mobility; Identity; Isotopic Analysis; Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 5th-8th centuries AD)
  • Dr James Barrett (Ecological Globalisation; Glocalisation; Environmental Archaeology and History; Glacial Archaeology; Ivory, Fur and Fish Trade; Northern Europe; Britain; 8th-15th centuries AD)
  • Dr Anna Gannon (Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic: Art History; Numismatics)
  • Dr Sam Lucy (Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, particularly Burial Practices; Archaeologies of Identity; Roman-Saxon Transitions)

Scientific Methods:

  • Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres (Archaeological Materials)
  • Dr Charly French (Geoarchaeology)
  • Dr Preston Miracle (Mammalian Zooarchaeology)
  • Dr Tamsin O'Connell (Isotopic Analysis, Ancient Diet and Climate)
  • Dr Susanne Hakenbeck (Isotopic Analysis)
  • Dr James Barrett (Fish and Marine Mammal Tissues, Interdisciplinary Approaches)

For further information, contact Dr James Barrett, or Dr Susanne Hakenbeck, the co-ordinators for this option.

Mesopotamian Archaeology

Please see also the MPhil in Assyriology for additional courses

Co-ordinator:  Dr Augusta McMahon

The Course

This MPhil course covers the archaeology of the prehistoric and historical periods of Mesopotamia, from c 6000 BC to the Persian Period. The course is divided chronologically, with each half taught in alternate years:

  • Archaeology of Mesopotamia: Prehistory and early states [taught in 2020–21]
  • Archaeology of Mesopotamia: Territorial states through empires [taught in 2019–20]

The Themes

Themes addressed include:

  • origins and development of urbanism, complex societies and empires
  • development of religious institutions and economic bureaucracies
  • trade, diplomatic exchange and the creation of value
  • funerary rituals
  • the impact of climate change on settlement
  • elaboration of technology and hybridization in art.

This course option is appropriate for students with some background in Mesopotamian archaeology and for students new to the subject. Students wishing to combine study of the ancient languages with the archaeology and culture of Mesopotamia should apply for the MPhil in Assyriology.

 

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. All students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)   Mesopotamian Archaeology I (2T)

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)   Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Mesopotamian Archaeology. The dissertation is an independent in-depth research project; it may be based on fieldwork or museum collections, or on analysis of existing literature.

For further information, contact Dr Augusta McMahon, co-ordinator for this option.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology

Co-ordinator:  Dr Philip Nigst

The Course

This course provides a foundation in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology. We start with the emergence of the first evidence of hominin material culture 2.5 million years ago. We then move on to the evolution, adaptations, and dispersals of hominins in Africa and into the rest of the Old World. We examine in detail the emergence and dispersal of anatomically modern humans, giving particular focus on the diversity of their cultures and adaptations in different parts of the Old World. We will finish with how people made sense of and responded to the dramatic environmental changes that occurred leading up to the end of the last ice age 11,500 years ago.  Students will be expected to acquire a good foundation in Early Prehisotric archaeology, including theoretical approaches to the subject, methods of analysis, material culture, and the different hominin species that created this record.

The Theme

  • Initial hominin colonization of Eurasia
  • Palaeolithic Transitions
  • Palaeolithic “Art”
  • The Peopling of the Americas
  • Archaeological signatures of dispersal and contact
  • Continuity and change after the Ice Age

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. Students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)   Palaeolithic Archaeology (2T)

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)   Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology.

For further information, contact Dr Philip Nigst, co-ordinator for this option.

South Asian Archaeology

Co-ordinator:  Dr Jason Hawkes

The Course

This MPhil teaches the archaeology of the prehistoric, proto-historic and Early Historic periods in South Asia, covering the span from about 7,000 BC through AD 450. The course presents an integrated perspective on the archaeology of South Asia, and puts the subcontinent into its broader regional context. It traces and discusses the dramatic changes characterising this span, which include:

  • the origins of the first village settlements and the spread of agriculture
  • the transformation of early village societies and the rise of the Indus Civilisation
  • the development of long-distance exchange networks and economic intensification
  • the rise of urbanism and the development of integrated cultural assemblages throughout the western subcontinent
  • the development of complex relationships with civilisations of the Near East, and the populations of the peninsula India
  • the decline and transformation of the Indus urban system
  • the secondary urbanism of the Early Historic period
  • the interplay between religion and society
  • the development of complex states and empires

This MPhil option offers the possibility of trips to museums in the UK that have important collections of South Asian artifacts, as well as practical work with South Asian collections in the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 

The Theme

The investigation of individual issues and periods will be linked by themes focusing on material culture, social aspects of technology and economy, symbolism and cultures. This course option is appropriate for both students with background in South Asian archaeology and students new to the subject.

 

The Structure

The structure of this MPhil follows the structure of the MPhil in Archaeology. For their three modules, students take:

  • Core Archaeology (G02), a seminar-based module shared with most other MPhil in Archaeology students, which reviews fundamental concepts in archaeological theory and practice and provides a shared basis for approaching archaeology. This module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
  • South Asian Archaeology (G09), This module offers a foundation in the pre- and proto-historical or the Early Historic archaeology of South Asia. This module is lecture-based, but also includes seminars, practical sessions, and small-group discussions. The module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
  • Any additional module(s) from among the other modules taught within the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil in Archaeology co-ordinator. This allows the student to take a wide range of modules, including methodological courses in archaeological techniques and analyses, other area or period based courses, and thematic courses in museums and heritage.

In addition, students take the Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in South Asian Archaeology.

 

The Dissertation

The dissertation is an independent in-depth research project; it may be based on fieldwork or museum collections, or on analysis of existing literature. The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff; some are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature. Some recent MPhil dissertations topics in South Asian archaeology include:

  • Dimensions of architecture, religion and sacred landscape in ancient India
  • Social space and the spatial analysis of material culture

For further information, contact Dr Jason Hawkes, co-ordinator for this option.

African Archaeology

Co-ordinator: Professor Paul Lane

Other staff teaching on this course: Dr Jane Humphris, Dr Giulio Lucarini

The Course

This MPhil focuses on the later archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa from c. 200,000 BP to the present day, with particular emphasis on the last 10,000 years and the role of archaeology and heritage in contemporary Africa. Its core module provides a general overview of the intersections between archaeological, palaeoecological, palaeogentic and historical linguistic evidence across sub-Saharan Africa from the first appearance of Homo sapiens to the early twentieth century.

Two central threads throughout the course are how archaeological discoveries and research have challenged preconceptions of Africa’s diverse pasts, and how researchers have sought to combine multiple strands of evidence and data type in reconstructing technological, socio-cultural, economic, population and landscape histories of the deep past. Key topics include ‘becoming human’, ‘hunter-gatherer diversity’, ‘multiple pathways to food production’, ‘metals, society and symbolism’, ‘urbanism and trans-continental exchange networks’, ‘archaeologies of enslavement, colonialism and conversion’, and ‘usable African pasts for future sustainability and cultural resilience’. The module aims to 'decolonise' the traditional curriculum by highlighting the diverse experiences of Africa’s populations over millennia and their contributions to global processes and events.

The Themes

One of the enduring reasons for study the archaeology of Africa is the opportunity it provides to explore multiple narratives about the past from the perspective of different lines of evidence – from material records to genetic signatures, linguistic cues to palaeoenvironmental proxies. At times many of these lines of evidence intersect, and align also with the oral histories African societies have produced and/or the written record. Yet, it is also common for different sources to tell rather different stories about the same set of historical events or processes. How should scholars deal with this dissonance between sources? Why are there gaps in these diverse records, what do these ‘silences’ tell us about the task and process of ‘history making’, and how might they (or should they?) be filled? What are the political and contemporary implications of favouring one interpretation over another? Does the material record provide a more objective account, or a more democratic one? And, who has the authority to generate these narratives and decide on how Africa’s multiple pasts should be represented, displayed and protected? These are among the recurrent questions tackled in this course, through lectures, seminars, group work and independent research projects.

Students from a diverse range of educational backgrounds and interests are welcome, whether coming from previous study in archaeology (including historical archaeology), archaeological science, or from related subjects such as history, anthropology or geography, or are new to the subject. Whether you aspire to apply the skills and analytical frames of archaeological science to answering questions about Africa’s past, or are interested in undertaking a study of a specific time period of class of artefact, or are more fascinated by learning more about how Africa’s heritage can be enabled, the course has something to offer everyone.

 

The Structure

MPhil modules can either be one term or two terms (1T/2T) long. All students must complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

(a)   The Archaeology of Africa (2T)

(b)   Archaeological Concepts (1T) plus one other one term module

(c)   Either one two term module or two one term modules offered in the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

In addition, you would attend a Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in African Archaeology and Heritage.

 

The MPhil Dissertations

The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff. Some projects are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature. Specific dissertation supervision expertise at Cambridge in Africa topics includes:

African Quaternary Archaeology & Hominin Palaeoecology

  • Dr Nikhil Chaudhary (hunter-gatherer ecology)
  • Professor Rob Foley (hominin evolution, evolution of behaviour, origins of modern humans)
  • Professor Marta Mirazon Lahr (evolution of modern humans and their diversity, human biology and palaeobiology, evolutionary genetics and adaptation, Stone Age archaeology)

African Holocene Archaeology

  • Professor Paul Lane (transitions to food production, archaeology of pastoralism, historical archaeology, historical ecology, maritime archaeology, eastern and southern Africa)
  • Dr Kate Spence (Ancient Egypt and Sudan)

African Heritage

  • Professor Paul Lane (archaeological heritage management, archaeology and sustainable development, archaeological ethics)
  • Professor Charly French (landscape historical ecology and sustainability)
  • Dr Dacia Viejo Rose (cultural heritage and the politics of the past)

Analytical Approaches in African Archaeology

  • Professor Matthew Collins (palaeoproteomics)
  • Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres (material culture and technology, archaeometallurgy)
  • Professor Charly French (geoarchaeology)
  • Dr Tamsin O’Connell (isotopic analysis, ancient diet and climate)

For further information, contact Professor Paul Lane, the co-ordinator for this option.

MPhil in Archaeology (course not initially specified)

This MPhil option is a general category for those students whose interests do not allow them easily to choose one of the options listed above. Applicants can be accepted into this option as an initial step. Once they have been accepted and have arrived in Cambridge, they can identify a supervisor and a dissertation topic in consultation with members of staff that will enable them to transfer to the appropriate option later in the Michaelmas term.

Archaeology MPhil Degrees

Archaeology

Further information may be obtained from coordinators of the various Archaeology MPhil tracks.

Postgraduate Study at Cambridge