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What is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of the past from its material remains, meaning everything that past generations have left behind for us to study from their artefacts to the DNA in their bones. Its theories and methods embrace the humanities and sciences. Its time range extends from the evolution of humans millions of years ago to the archaeology of the 21st century, through major transitions in human history including the beginnings of farming, states, empires and globalization. The complex role of the archaeological heritage for our own societies is another major interest of Cambridge archaeologists. The Department of Archaeology and McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research make up one of the largest centres of archaeological research in Britain, indeed in the world. Recently we were awarded top place in the Good University Guide for Archaeology in the UK. And Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology has even wider interests: Assyriologists and Egyptologists study the first civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt through their ancient languages and history as well as their archaeology. Biological Anthropologists study the interactions between biology and culture throughout human evolutionary history, so their interests range from primatology and human ecology to health and disease today.

Students taking any of these courses benefit enormously from direct, hands-on access to world-class collections in Cambridge’s many museums, especially the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (whose curators contribute to Archaeology teaching), the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Duckworth Laboratory, one of the world’s largest repositories of fossil human remains. As well as being taught through Cambridge’s outstanding mix of lectures, practicals, seminars and supervisions, Archaeology students are trained in fieldwork techniques. Excavations and field trips are key components of the course and students spend at least seven weeks in the field. Every summer, students doing dissertations go to the field, with a choice of field sites from all over the world. .

The Archaeology degree programme

Most students come new to the four subjects taught by the Department of Archaeology, so the Archaeology Tripos is designed to give students a taste of them in the first year (Part I) and then specialise or maintain combinations in the second and third years (Part II) as their interests develop. For more information on the course, please see the Archaeology admissions page.

Why study Archaeology at Corpus?

Corpus has a strong tradition in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and the ancient languages. We have Fellows and supervisors across the broad range of papers that are offered, which makes for an exceptional learning environment. Archaeology has a long and distinguished history at Corpus, extending back to the time of William Stukeley, who is generally regarded as the first major ‘field archaeologist’, in the seventeenth century. Corpus-trained archaeologists, many of them students of Sir Paul Mellars, one of the most distinguished prehistorians of the age, occupy senior positions in the subject all over the world. Prof Graeme Barker, Disney Professor of Archaeology Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, is the Director of Studies in Archaeology for Corpus students.

Course requirements

The four disciplines within Archaeology span an exceptionally broad range of subjects across the humanities, social sciences and sciences, students with almost any combination of subjects can apply, as there are no specific required or recommended courses. We welcome applications from students studying humanistic fields such as History, English, Classics, and ancient languages; social sciences such as Geography, Sociology, Psychology, or Anthropology; and sciences such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. Applicants for Egyptology and Assyriology are strongly encouraged to study an ancient or modern language.

Our typical minimum offer level is the same as other Arts and Humanities courses at Cambridge, namely A*AA or an IB overall score of 41-42 with 776 in HL subjects.

The application process

Candidates should usually expect two interviews. There is – cannot be! – a standard background for any or all of the four disciplines taught within the Archaeology Tripos. The subjects are not often taught at school. However, applicants should be prepared to discuss their relevant interests, how they have developed them, and potential directions they may wish to follow. All applicants will take a college registered written assessment, based on the reading of material that will be supplied in advance. This hour-long assessment is designed to provide evidence of a candidate's ability to interpret texts and analyse them. No special preparation or prior knowledge is required.

Why not have a look at our suggested reading list appropriate level for a year 12 or year 13 student? You can find a link on the right side of this page. None of these is required, but they may give you a good sense of what the academic studies of Archaeology, Assyriology, Biological Anthropology and Egyptology are all about.