skip to primary navigationskip to content

Year 1




The first year is designed to give you a broad range of skills.  You can follow your existing interests, and/or explore new ones.  In Cambridge, courses are known as 'papers'. Formal paper choices are not due until several weeks into term, so that you will be able to “shop around” for a while to see which courses most excite you. 

You take four papers in your first year. All of these can be chosen from the seven core papers offered by Archaeology, or you can take three papers from Archaeology and borrow a fourth from another tripos. The papers available in Part I are as follows:

 World_Archaeology.png         Archaeology in Action.png        Cult_Eg_Mes.png       Akkadian.png
   Egyptian.png       Being_Human.png       Humans_in_Bio_Pers.png


One of the advantages of the Archaeology Tripos is the degree of flexibility available, and there are a number of possible course combinations. See course combinations below for examples.

Students intending to follow the Archaeology or Biological Anthropology/ Archaeology tracks should do the two-week training excavation based in Cambridge during Easter Term -- students intending to follow other tracks are welcome and encouraged to take part in it if they wish.


Archaeology Papers


A1. World Archaeology

This paper focuses on key thresholds in the unfolding story of how and why societies change, starting from the origins of the human species.  You will study the emergence of culture and the use of symbols, domestication of plants and animals, and the development of social inequalities and leadership. Further themes will include the analysis of archaic states and early empires, the impact of writing systems, and the appearance of cities. You will gain an understanding of the relationship between archaeological data (sites and artefacts) and the diverse theories that help to explain long-term societal change, including ecological and evolutionary models, current social theory, and the post-colonial critique.The place of archaeological heritage in the modern world will also be discussed. 


Archaeology in Action.png

A2. Archaeology in action

This course gives a comprehensive introduction to the methods and practices involved in archaeological field and lab research. It comprises taught lectures, practicals and field trips. The field trips introduce you to archaeological research on the ground (and from the air), including ways of surveying and mapping landscapes, the reconstruction of the environment in the past, and the investigation of human life-ways in settlements. The course also introduces you to the work that takes place after excavation, particularly the investigation of time and dating. You also learn to analyse different types of artefacts, including material culture of various types, plant remains, animal remains and human remains. 



A3. Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia

This paper provides a broad survey of the archaeology and history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, introducing you to key themes and approaches in the study of these two regions. The paper provides outline histories of the regions and introduces the geography, archaeology, society, literature, art, belief systems and mortuary practices of these areas. The integration of archaeological, textual and artistic evidence as complementary sources for interpreting historical cultures is stressed throughout.  Teaching is through a mixture of lectures and seminars.



M1. Babylonian language (previously Akkadian Language I)

With destruction of Mesopotamian antiquities underway in Iraq and Syria, the study of Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) has never been more relevant. This paper, which presumes no previous knowledge of languages, introduces you to Babylonian as used in the Law Code of Hammurapi (c. 1760 BC) and the inscriptions of Sennacherib, king Assyria (c. 700 BC).  You will learn to translate both ways, and to read original cuneiform.  We will visit museum collections, where you can test your new knowledge against original inscriptions.  You can then take further courses in years 2 and 3, and also learn Sumerian in year 3.



E1. Egyptian language 1

This paper offers an introduction to Middle Egyptian, the classical phase of the ancient Egyptian language that developed around 2000 B.C. The aim of the course is to provide a firm grounding in the fundamentals of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script and grammar, using a range of ‘set texts’ drawn from original sources. Additionally, the paper is intended to serve as the foundation for future advanced training in the different stages of ancient Egyptian. At the end of the year the student should be in a position to read straightforward texts in Middle Egyptian, such as many of the ones found in museum collections or carved on the walls of most Egyptian temples and tombs. 



A4. Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives

This paper introduces students to ways of looking at humans in different relevant disciplines, including social and biological anthropology. How does understanding humans as biological organisms or as members of cultures sometimes radically different from ours change how we understand the past and human societies?



B1. Humans in biological perspective

This paper provides a broad introduction to biological anthropology and covers major subject areas such as primate biology and behaviour, human evolution, adaptation to different environments and life history theory. Through studying this course, students will gain a strong foundation in the field of biological anthropology and an understanding of how different approaches can be used to address specific questions about human origins and diversity. The paper begins with an introduction to non-human primates, highlighting the importance of the comparative approach for understanding evolutionary processes. We then go on to discuss human evolution, diversity and adaptation, including introductory lectures on human genetics and health. The paper concludes with a module on human growth and ecology.


Papers from the HSPS Tripos:

POL1. Analysis of politics

SAN1. Social anthropology: the comparative perspective

SOC1. Modern societies I: introduction to sociology


Paper from the Psychology Tripos:

PBS1. Introduction to psychology


Course Combinations


One of the advantages of the Archaeology Tripos is the degree of flexibility available, and there are a number of possible course combinations. For example, within the Archaeology Tripos it is possible to choose a combination of courses in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and comparative approaches to being human, for example:


A1 World archaeology
A2 Archaeology in action
A6 Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives
B1 Humans in biological perspective



It is also possible to choose courses that comprise a traditional Archaeology and Anthropology degree:

A1 World archaeology
A4 Being human: interdisciplinary perspectives
B1 Humans in biological perspective
SAN1 Introduction to Social Anthropology



Furthermore, within the Archaeology Tripos it is possible to choose courses that combine the study of more general archaeology alongside those focusing on the archaeology and languages of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as:



A1 Introduction to archaeology
A2 Archaeology in action
A3 Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
M1 Babylonian language I or E1 Egyptian language I




It is also possible to focus more explicitly on the archaeology and languages of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia:



A1 Intro to archaeology or A2 Archaeology in action
A3 Introduction to the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia
M1 Babylonian language I
E1 Egyptian language I




On arrival in Cambridge, you will be able to discuss your choice of papers with the Director of Studies in your College, who will provide advice on which papers best suit your interests.

In addition to lectures, practicals and supervisions, you will be involved in a range of field trips, and a two-week training dig during your first year.




Archaeology undergraduates on training excavation with Cambridge Archaeological Unit at Northstowe, April 2017. Image credit: P. Nigst