MA in Field Archaeology

Course director: Steve Roskams

At a glance

Training the next generation of archaeological pioneers

Why choose this course?

The MA in Field Archaeology offers a perfect blend of theory and practice, equipping you with wide-ranging, advanced practical skills, while giving you a deep theoretical knowledge and understanding of the logistical challenges, legal requirements and ethics involved in archaeological fieldwork. It is both challenging and rewarding.

York has been called the ‘heritage capital of the UK’. Here, we have routine contact with local, national and international leaders in archaeology and heritage management. We work closely with our neighbours at the Council for British Archaeology, English Heritage and Natural England, as well as local commercial units including York Archaeological Trust. You will also meet visiting lecturers of national standing, including John Oxley, the most experienced Local Authority Archaeologist in the UK, and Patrick Ottaway, formerly Fieldwork Director of York Archaeological Trust and now a respected archaeological consultant. You will also:

  • Develop wide-ranging advanced field skills
  • Build a deeper understanding of the theoretical, legislative and ethical context of archaeological fieldwork
  • Study among a community of practitioners that is unrivalled in the UK
  • Gain work experience with nationally significant public and private organisations
  • Develop skills and knowledge essential for varied archaeological careers and research
  • Learn from leading figures in archaeological research and fieldwork
  • Receive close personal mentoring from experienced, well-connected staff

What does the course cover?

The MA in Field Archaeology is a flexible course, devised to meet demand for professional training in the UK and worldwide. It will give you a thorough knowledge of how, and why, archaeological fieldwork has arrived at its current state and acquaint you with the key methods employed in modern fieldwork, analysis and dissemination. It will enable you to think strategically about project design and tactically about project implementation.

Who is it for?

The course aims to ground you in European, and particularly UK, archaeology, so it is well suited to graduates of Archaeology. However, graduates in History, Geography and related disciplines often bring complementary perspectives that are greatly valued by both teachers and students. Also lessons and perspectives from Europe are relevant to archaeological fieldwork contexts worldwide. Individuals with some practical experience who wish to develop their careers by advancing their appreciation of the wider context of archaeology will also benefit from this course.

What can it lead to?

The MA in Field Archaeology aims to turn out not just archaeological practitioners, but leaders and creative thinkers with the imagination to advance the discipline, as well as their own careers. Some of our graduates go on to become project officers, curators and managers in the heritage industry. Others progress to further study, including doctoral research.

See what our alumni have to say about the course:

“The culture of sharing skills and knowledge among peer students provided me with a perfect atmosphere to study and, above all, to advance my understanding of the many aspects of field archaeology, which has been key to my career development.”

Brevis Chan (2014) Exhibition Curator, Hong Kong Museum of History, and Manager of the Eastern Han Dynasty Museum

Course content

Develop advanced practical skills and theoretical knowledge

This one-year MA course is taught via a combination of lectures, seminars and field work. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter practical field skills modules of your choice. You can also take one or two optional 10-credit work placement modules.

Finally, you will hone your research skills by producing a dissertation and presenting an assessed lecture on your chosen topic.

AUTUMN AND SPRING TERMS

During the autumn and spring terms, you will study two core modules, each worth 20 credits. These are:

Context and practice of gathering field archaeology data
Explore the major historical, theoretical and legislative frameworks within which modern fieldwork takes place and understand their impact on how archaeologists gather data in the field, through a range of methods. Understand the goals and practical challenges of designing and implementing archaeological projects

Analysis, interpretation and dissemination of field archaeology data
Discover concepts and methods for analysing, disseminating and archiving field data. Understand how such analyses have been affected by research agendas, developments in IT and organisational factors. Analyse stratigraphic and spatial data, and explore the potential of assemblage analyses for social interpretation.

You will study two further 20-credit modules and four shorter 'skills' modules from this module table

We always try to give everyone their first choice of modules, although this cannot be guaranteed. Some skills modules required by particular programmes may be over-subscribed. Take a look at the full modules list for scheduling information, as some modules run concurrently.

Work placements

You will have the option to experience one or two work placements in a professional field environment. These are organised with the help of the course director, following a discussion of your interests and aspirations.

Placements give you a valuable opportunity to put the knowledge and skills you have learned into practice and to further develop your skills and expertise. Although optional, most students take the placements as they not only provide excellent work experience, but are an invaluable addition to your CV.

SUMMER TERM

In your final term of study, you will carry out research for your dissertation and give an assessed lecture on your dissertation topic.

Here are some examples of previous dissertation topics:

  • The Methodology and Techniques in Stratigraphic Identification and Interpretation: The Case in Hong Kong Field Archaeology. (2012)
  • Including the Community: The Reality of Public Archaeology in the Professional Realm. (2012)
  • A Comparison of Romano-British Identity Formation: The Personal Ornaments of Pre- and Post-Roman Britain. (2013)
  • Finding Swinside’s Lost Circle: Its Location and Significance. (2013)

This programme is also available for study as a Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in Field Archaeology.

“The Field Archaeology programme has equipped me with the sensibility of both archaeological practices and theories, which serves as a solid grounding for my current duties of interpreting and curating archaeological data and disseminating archaeological knowledge for greater utility by the public.”

Brevis Chan (2014) Exhibition Curator, Hong Kong Museum of History, and Manager of the Eastern Han Dynasty Museum

“One of the best things about the MA in Field Archaeology is that experts from the various spheres are brought in to give lectures. We got to hear about the topic from specialists with ‘real world’ experience in the discipline.”

Rachel Wood (2012), PhD student

Placement

Put your field skills and knowledge into practice

MA Field Archaeology students have a unique opportunity to gain practical work experience in a professional field environment with one of the many leading archaeological organisations based in and around York. You will work alongside experienced professionals on projects that enable you to gain new skills, as well as put into use those skills gained during your taught courses.

Aims

  • To provide experience of organising archaeological fieldwork and interpreting results within a professional environment.
  • To consolidate knowledge and understanding of data gathering or analysis as developed in one or more of the taught modules.

Learning outcomes

During your placements you will get involved with one or more of the following:

  • develop a practical understanding of how archaeological fieldwork is planned and carried out in an integrated way.
  • gain detailed knowledge of how ecofactual or artefactual assemblages might be identified, quantified, analysed and interpreted.
  • become familiar with the ways in which field archaeology is organised and administered, and of the pressures it is subject to, working with a local government organisation or national organisation with offices in York.

Placement opportunities

Although the organisations providing placements vary from year to year, according to availability, those regularly offering such opportunities include City of York Council, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the York Archaeological Trust, AOC Archaeology and various other commercial archaeology units.

Staff

Learn from nationally renowned practitioners

Teaching for this course is conducted in small groups by experienced and respected practitioners of field archaeology. Departmental instruction is supplemented by lectures from visiting professionals, including leading figures in archaeological investigation and discovery, such as John Oxley, Archaeologist for the City of York, and Patrick Ottoway, York Archaeological Trust’s former Director of Fieldwork, now a successful consultant.

The following staff provide the principal teaching and support for this course:

Steve Roskams
Director of Studies, MA in Field Archaeology. Steve has particular interests in the Roman and post-Roman periods, urban archaeology, field archaeology and stratigraphic analysis.

Dr Helen Goodchild
Project and Fieldwork Officer. Helen teaches geophysical and landscape survey and the use of Geographical Information Systems. She has research interests in landscape archaeology.

“I particularly enjoyed the effective and thought-provoking classes taught by the experienced and professional staff of the Archaeology Department.”

Brevis Chan (2014) Exhibition Curator, Hong Kong Museum of History, and Manager of the Eastern Han Dynasty Museum

Careers

Preparation for varied archaeological careers and further study

By the end of your MA in Field Archaeology you will have:

  • developed an awareness of the organisational and legislative context within which fieldwork operates in the UK
  • gained a detailed knowledge of the varied techniques of site evaluation used today
  • become aware of the practicalities, and problems, of implementing archaeological projects and understood the implications of this for strategy and project design
  • grasped the processes of analysing stratigraphic, spatial, artefactual and palaeoecological material, the objectives of this work, and how it is managed
  • surveyed the range of mechanisms for synthesising, archiving and disseminating the evidence generated by fieldwork
  • developed your understanding of how the profession operates in “the real world”, through work placements and field visits
  • developed your ability to gather and organise information and arguments in a critical and independent manner, through writing essays and producing projects
  • undertaken a piece of independent research on a topic within field archaeology
  • developed your presentational skills through the delivery of seminar papers on a range of diverse topics

The practical skills and theoretical knowledge gained on the course are applicable to a wide range of archaeological careers, as well as further study and research.

Course postgraduates have gone on to pursue research degrees or take up managerial positions working for museum, conservation and archaeological services and for local councils, national authorities, field units and heritage bodies. Others have set up their own archaeological businesses, both within the UK and in other countries. Some of the organisations now employing our students include:

Find out what some of our alumni have said about the course and how it improved their career prospects:

“In the project management module we had to create archaeological ‘companies’ and pitch for a job, just as units do in the commercial world. I found this a very valuable experience and it opened my eyes to the business side of archaeology.”

Rachel Wood (2012), PhD student

Alumni

Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MA in Field Archaeology have gone on to take up varied careers in the archaeology and heritage sectors and in a whole a range of academic and research posts, thanks to the experience and knowledge gained during their studies at York.

Here’s what some recent graduates have said about the course:

Brevis Chan (2014) currently Exhibition Curator, Hong Kong Museum of History, and Manager of the Eastern Han Dynasty Museum

“My experience of studying at King’s Manor was joyful. I'll always miss my days in that lovely, homely place! I particularly enjoyed the effective and thought-provoking classes taught by the experienced and professional staff of the Archaeology department. And the culture of sharing skills and knowledge among peer students provided me with a perfect atmosphere to study and, above all, to advance my understanding of the many aspects of field archaeology which have been key to my career development. The Field Archaeology programme has equipped me with the sensibility of both archaeological practices and theories, which serves as a solid grounding for my current duties of interpreting and curating archaeological data and disseminating archaeological knowledge for greater utility by the public.”

Rachel Wood (2012), currently PhD student at York, studying Roman pottery production in northern England.

Rachel Wood

“King's Manor is steeped in its own history and a fantastic place to work. It allows you to really get involved with your department and provides a great working space for students – if you don't mind the odd group of tourists!

“The MA in Field Archaeology was my first experience of academic archaeology – I had done my undergraduate degree in History. I found the course a fantastic way to get into archaeology properly and a great introduction to the discipline.

“My favourite module in the MA in Field Archaeology focused on project management skills. At the end of this module we split into group to create archaeological ‘companies’ and then had to pitch for a job, just as units do in the commercial world. I found this a very valuable experience and it opened my eyes to the business side of archaeology.

“One of the best things about the MA in Field Archaeology is that experts from the various spheres are brought in to give lectures. We got to hear about the topic from specialists with ‘real world’ experience in the discipline. They maintained contact with us and were helpful when it came to planning essays. This was a great feature of the course and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Entry

How to apply

To apply for this course, you will need: 

  • A good honours degree (upper second or first class) or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution in archaeology or a related subject.  

Mature students or those with less conventional qualifications but with relevant professional experience in this field will be considered. 

Candidates lacking sufficient previous experience will be required to spend at least three weeks prior to entry on either one of the department’s own training excavations or another approved project. 

To find out if your experience or qualifications are appropriate, please contact the Course Director. We normally interview applicants before making an offer. 

apply now button

First, check our How to apply page, which explains what information the Department needs from you.

 

Steve Roskams Marxist Archaeology

“This course aims to produce the well-rounded, adaptable, creative project designers and managers that the archaeological profession needs worldwide. We teach students essential practical field skills, to an advanced level, but also ensure they are well versed in the history, theory and legislation that underpin archaeological investigation.”

Steve Roskams