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South Asian Archaeology

South Asian Archaeology



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.