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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Department of Archaeology offers 2 PhD programmes: the PhD in Archaeology and the PhD in Biological Anthropology. We provide an outstanding environment for independent research leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The Archaeology Programme at Cambridge has been ranked number one overall in the UK for the fifth year in a row by the independent Complete University Guide, and number one in the world for several years in a row by the QS Research Ranking guide. As a place to learn, Cambridge is remarkable – one of the largest and most active archaeological communities in the world, with staff, post-docs and graduate students from around the world working in all areas of the field and an abundance of discussions and events where you can learn about cutting edge work from the people doing it. 

Our supervision expertise in archaeological topics ranges in time from the Palaeolithic to the modern day, and in space from the Americas to the UK and Europe, Africa, the Ancient Near East (including research in the languages, texts, history, and archaeology of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia), South Asia, South East Asia and Australia. We also offer PhD supervision in archaeological theory, archaeological science, human evolution, material culture studies and museum and heritage studies.

PhD students are required to submit a dissertation of up to 80,000 words. This work will represent a significant and novel contribution to the fields of Archaeology, Assyriology, Biological Anthropology, Egyptology or Heritage Studies.

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If you are interested in applying for admission as a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, you are strongly encouraged to email your potential supervisor(s) about your research topic before applying. The PhD programmes are three years in duration (five if undertaken part time), so it is important that applicants have a well-developed project at the point of application.

General queries about the PhD programmes should be addressed to the Department's Postgraduate Admissions Administrator. A searchable list of PhD courses at the University of Cambridge can be found in the Postgraduate Admissions Course Directory.

To apply for admission to PhD research in the Archaeology Department, you should visit the Postgraduate Admissions Office website and consult the information on the application procedure found in the University of Cambridge Postgraduate Studies Prospectus.

Applicants for this course should have done a Masters course, and to have achieved a level equal to a UK Merit on both the overall course average and the dissertation. If your degree is not from the UK, please check International Qualifications to find the equivalent in your country. Current MPhil students in Assyriology or Egyptology at the University of Cambridge wishing to continue to the PhD with an ancient language-based research topic must achieve a Merit in relevant language exams (as well as a Merit in the MPhil course) in order to be permitted to continue. Admission for the PhD is not automatic on achieving a Merit; other factors, including the availability of appropriate supervision and relevant research experience, are taken into consideration. All applicants for the PhD will be contacted to arrange a brief interview prior to any offer of a place being made; this interview may be in person, by telephone, or over video conferencing as appropriate.


All PhD students are assigned a supervisor and an advisor and may have additional co-supervisors and/or advisors who make up their ‘supervisory team’. You will have frequent meetings with your supervisor and other team members, either together or individually.  PhD students receive regular progress reviews throughout the course of their programme.

During the first year, we provide training in research skills and appropriate research methods (e.g., GIS, lab skills, advanced languages).


Our facilities for supporting PhD research are excellent, and our postgraduate community is vibrant and stimulating. The Haddon Library is conveniently located within the main Archaeology building and houses a wide range of specialist archaeological and anthropological literature, journals, access to online catalogues and wireless internet access.

Our Archaeological Science Laboratories support specific scientific research projects, including Geoarchaeology, Bioarchaeology, Computational Archaeology, Archaeogenetics, Zooarchaeology, Isotopic Analysis and Material Culture.

The Department of Archaeology hosts an official student society, the Archaeological Field Club, which runs a speaker series and organizes other events. Students in Archaeology publish their own academic journal - the Archaeological Review from Cambridge.

The postgraduate community also organises subject-specific discussion groups which run events throughout the academic year; please see the Departmental Seminar Series calendar for examples of current events.

How to select a college

All colleges admit postgraduate students in Archaeology, whether or not they have fellows in the subject. Some considerations might be whether you want a historic or a newer college; a college in a central location or a more spacious outlying one; or a college with a large or small student body. Some colleges also have strengths in particular activities you may be interested in (often sport, drama or music). We recommend visiting various colleges, either in person or virtually, and picking one you like the feel of. Some colleges may also offer studentship funding; check the individual colleges' webpages for information.


There are many different sources of funding available to support UK and international students at the
Department of Archaeology but full scholarships are highly competitive. The Department of Archaeology enters exceptionally strong candidates for Gates Cambridge, AHRC and ESRC scholarships and scholarship schemes administered by the Cambridge Trust.

The Department of Archaeology also administers several funds which aim to support archaeological fieldwork and will endeavour to support students in obtaining funding from University and external sources.

Students may have to bear additional costs in relation to PhD-associated data collection, research visits or fieldwork. These costs will be specific to the individual student and project. The Department considers the intellectual merit of proposed projects as well as the availability of appropriate supervision and resources. Applicants must discuss any potential costs for all aspects of their research with their potential supervisor prior to application. You should include with your research statement a listing of specific resource needs for your research (such as travel requirements, likely budgets, laboratory equipment, fieldwork etc).  

Once students are in the Department there are limited Department funds for which students can apply to cover such additional costs. However, this is likely to be insufficient to cover substantial costs, so students are likely to have to find additional funding elsewhere, e.g. University/College or external funding.

Suggestions for successful application

Suggestions for successful graduate applications to Archaeology

We strongly encourage you to answer all the questions on the GRADSAF and to use the full character count allowed for each question. Acceptance to our courses is competitive, and giving us the maximum information gives you the best chance.

Research Experience:

This is the most important question. Examples of research experience might be your BA or Master’s thesis, a long research paper submitted as coursework, work on an excavation or in a lab as part of a team, or development of a database within an internship. This research does not have to be archaeological in nature. Be as descriptive and detailed as possible—what were the research questions, methods and outcomes? What was your role?

Reason for Applying

This section should describe your research project or interests (e.g., theoretical approach, regional culture, archaeological science application, heritage issues) and why you think these interests will be best supported in Cambridge (for instance, by a particular supervisor, by Department or McDonald Institute facilities, or by participation in seminar groups). Please do not quote sections of our website back to us, but do read through it and find where you would fit.

Career Goals

An ambitious Plan A is great (e.g., university professorship, head of UNESCO). You might also reflect on a more accessible Plan B. This question does not need to identify a particular target employment position—instead you might describe the kind of impact you would like to have: e.g.engaging with refugee communities about heritage, writing the Best Book Ever on Mayan headrests. For MPhil applicants, would your degree with us be a step on a trajectory to a PhD in the same subject or might it provide a turning point to a different career—such as a move to heritage law or conservation?

Additional Information to Support Application

This question is not mandatory but it is an opportunity to tell us about how you became interested in archaeology, or a little about your background or challenges you have overcome.

Academic Awards

These should be university/college and external, but not high school/secondary school. Include both financial awards/prizes and non-financial awards that are markers of esteem (e.g., Dean’s List, medal for best performance in a subject).

Other applications made

We understand that you must apply widely to maximise your chances of funding. But we strongly discourage you from applying to more than one faculty or department at Cambridge (e.g., to Archaeology and also to History and/or Classics). Your interests should be strong enough and the fit good enough that one course and faculty/department at Cambridge is best.

Supporting Documents

It should go without saying, but please scan any transcripts or certificates clearly and with the top of the page at the top of your scan. Blurry documents uploaded sideways will not help your case for admission.


It is important that your referees know you and can address your recent or current work and research abilities as well as your future potential. Good options are your thesis supervisor, or a lecturer from whom you have taken several courses/classes and to whom you have submitted several pieces of written work.

If you are a Cambridge MPhil student applying to continue to a PhD, in some cases, it may be appropriate to ask your current Cambridge supervisor or a lecturer for a reference. But be aware that if you are applying in the first term, in order to make deadlines for funding, that your local supervisor is unlikely to know you well enough to provide a strong and well-informed reference. You should seek an additional reference from someone at your prior institution.

The Gates application asks for a third ‘personal’ reference. Ideally, this should be a different person than your two academic referees. If you wish to use one referee for two letters, please let them know that they should address different aspects of your career in each letter—one regarding your academic abilities, the second (personal reference) addressing your leadership qualities.

Application Process

Applications are considered on a rolling basis throughout the period that the admissions window is open but quotas are in place so you are encouraged to submit your application as early as possible. Always take note of any funding deadlines that affect you when making your application.

Your application will be reviewed by a small panel of staff members, including your probable supervisor. The time taken for your application to be fully reviewed and a decision made can vary depending on the time of year and the panel involved but we aim to move things along as quickly as we can. It is possible that the panel may request further information to support your application or ask that you attend an interview either in person or via Skype. In this situation, you will be contacted with the relevant details by the Postgraduate Admissions Administrator.

Once a decision has been made your self-service account will be updated. If an offer has been made to you, the details and any conditions will follow in a letter from the Postgraduate Admissions department. Do make sure that you read any documentation they send you thoroughly and address any associated questions directly to them.

PhD Enquiry to the Department