MA in Mesolithic Studies

Course Director: Prof. Nicky Milner

At a glance

Study at the world centre for Mesolithic research

Why choose this course?

The University of York is the only place in the world where you can study a Masters programme Mesolithic archaeology. Mesolithic studies have gathered huge momentum in recent years, with academics at York leading the way in uncovering significant new evidence on sites such as Howick and the internationally renowned Star Carr – not far from York.

The lack of detailed study into the Mesolithic period means there is a huge amount waiting to be discovered. Almost any project investigating the period is sure to uncover something new and previously unknown. That gives our students an incredible opportunity to become leading specialists in the period, and to get involved in truly pioneering projects.

  • Study in the globally recognised centre for Mesolithic archaeology
  • Make new discoveries in this under-researched field of study
  • Get involved in globally significant Mesolithic field projects
  • Gain ‘hands-on’ experience of experimental archaeology at our Mesolithic camp
  • Work alongside world leaders conducting pioneering research
  • Learn about cutting-edge techniques, such as ancient DNA and stable isotope analysis and climate-change reconstruction
  • Receive career and research guidance from experienced and knowledgeable staff

What does the course cover?

The MA in Mesolithic Studies provides an important review of the European Mesolithic, exploring the ways in which the period has been interpreted from the 19th century, up to the present day. It also explores key topics such as technology, consumption practices, death and burial, plants and animals, and settlement, drawing on the research carried out in the department.

Students have the opportunity to get involved in one of several Mesolithic excavation projects, including nearby Star Carr, site of the oldest house and oldest carpentry in Europe, Howick in Northumberland, and coastal shell middens in Europe, all of which have featured on TV and in the media.

Who is it for?

This course is suitable for graduates of archaeology, anthropology, biology or related fields, as well as for people with relevant experience or enthusiasm for the subject.

What can it lead to?

This masters course gives you the chance to specialise in an exciting area of archaeology, but also gives you the essential skills and knowledge required for many different archaeological and related careers or further study. While some students take the course as the gateway to further specialist research at PhD level, others go on to a wide variety of careers.

You can find out more about what our students have gone on to do in the alumni tab:

“The course at York allowed me to focus specifically on aspects of Mesolithic research which were not covered in Masters degree programmes elsewhere.”

Ben Elliott (2010), Teaching Fellow, University of Leicester

“The skills that I learned while completing the Mesolithic Studies programme have helped me exponentially. From academic writing to time management, I was able to develop many skills that have been transferable to my current employment.”

Marina McCaffrey (2012), Senior Archaeologist

Course content

Study on the front line of Mesolithic research

This one-year MA course is taught via a combination of lectures, seminars, field work and lab-based practicals. You will study two core modules, two optional modules and four shorter skills modules of your choice. Finally, you will hone your research skills by producing a dissertation and presenting an assessed lecture on your dissertation topic.

AUTUMN AND SPRING TERMS

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

Mesolithic lifeways
Examine how Mesolithic lifeways are interpreted. Understand the environmental and climatic changes, interactions with animals, landscapes, consumption and settlement practices, the use of structures, technology, art and ritual practice. 

Mesolithic Funerary Archaeology
Examine the wide variety of burial practices employed in the Mesolithic (cremations, inhumations, skull nests, disarticulation), the development of cemeteries, violence and sacrifice, who was buried, gravegoods and belief systems such as shamanism and animism.

You will study two further 20-credit modules and four shorter 'skills' modules from this 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 may not be available in some years, and some run concurrently. 

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 dissertations:

  • Assessing the extent to which ritual behaviour towards animals can be identified from Mesolithic faunal remains
  • Demonstrating coastal identity: burials and shell middens in Mesolithic Europe
  • Coastal consumption in the Irish Mesolithic
  • An assessment of seasonality of shellfish from the site of Baylet
  • An evaluation of the exploitation of eels in Mesolithic Europe
  • Searching for Mesolithic sites in the Vale of Holderness using LiDAR data
  • The treatment of the dead in Britain, 13,000-3000 BC
  • Artefact biographies of the Star Carr barbed points

Hands-on experience

You will have the opportunity to handle artefacts on this course, which may also include some experimental archaeology. In addition, you can volunteer to work on post-excavation processing in the lab, which might include refitting flint, or processing environmental samples. In the years when an excavation is running, it may be possible to gain experience on the project, or gain experience on another excavation project in Europe through the Director of Studies’ contacts.

The Mesolithic Studies programme is also available for study as a Postgraduate Diploma or Certificate in Mesolithic Studies.

 “I thoroughly enjoyed the small group teaching elements of the masters course, and the opportunity to devote a considerable amount of time to independent research as part of a dissertation allowed me to pave the way for an AHRC-funded PhD in Mesolithic archaeology.”

Ben Elliott (2010), Teaching Fellow, University of Leicester

“The course not only built on my previous research but also enabled me to explore areas that are often neglected. I thoroughly enjoyed the closeness of my peer group, as well as the opportunity to devote a considerable amount of time to independent research as part of a dissertation.”

Harry Robson (2012), PhD student

Staff

Learn from the leading researchers in Mesolithic Studies

As Director of Studies, Prof. Nicky Milner provides the principal teaching and support for this course. Nicky is a leader in this field, with over 75 publications on Mesolithic archaeology. Her book on Star Carr (2013) has been highly commended in the Council for British Archaeology awards. She is also editor of the international journal, Mesolithic Miscellany. Nicky specialises in excavation, palaeodiet and consumption practices, shell midden studies, and death and burial. She has worked on shell midden sites in Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Portugal and has co-directed excavations at Howick, Baylet, Star Carr and Flixton Island.

The University of York has a vibrant Mesolithic research group, including the staff listed on this page, post-doctoral researchers (such as Aimée Little) and a large number of PhD students. We hold regular Mesolithic discussion groups, publish a Mesolithic journal and frequently host visiting speakers.

Alongside Nicky, a number of specialists lead various optional modules on the course. These include Dr Penny Spikins, Dr Kevin Walsh, Professor Matthew Collins and Dr Oliver Craig.

 “It was Nicky Milner leading the Mesolithic Studies programme which helped me develop a confidence in my own ideas and this has beyond anything helped me pursue the career I have now.”

Marina McCaffrey (2012), Senior Archaeologist

Careers

Unlock diverse opportunities for work or continued study

By the end of the MA in Mesolithic Studies course you will have:

  • a thorough understanding of the history of research and the theoretical approaches in Mesolithic Studies
  • a broad foundation in the key aspects of Mesolithic lifeways
  • developed a critical understanding of the key debates in the period
  • developed an ability to gather and organise information and arguments in a critical and independent manner through writing essays under various conditions
  • undertaken a piece of independent research on a topic within the field of Mesolithic archaeology
  • developed presentation skills through the delivery of seminar papers on a range of diverse themes

Many course graduates go on to further specialist research at PhD level, many of which have been funded, and then pursue careers in academia. Others have gone into a range of careers, from teaching and digital archiving to commercial archaeology work and wilderness training.

Some of the organisations our past students now work for include the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, Council for British Archaeology, Yorkshire Museums Trust, archaeological consultancies and even Wikipedia.

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

 “The MA in Mesolithic Studies helped to set many wheels in motion which are still pushing me forward with my career today; such as key skills, contacts and experiences which I have built on in the subsequent course of my PhD and postdoctoral employment.”

Ben Elliott (2010), Teaching Fellow, University of Leicester

Alumni

Where next? A word from our alumni

Alumni of the MA in Mesolithic Studies have gone on to take up varied careers and research posts in the archaeology sector and associated fields.

Here’s what some recent graduates had to say about the course:

Ben Elliott (2010), currently Teaching Fellow at the University of Leicester:

Ben Elliott

“I chose to pursue an MA in Mesolithic Studies in 2009, having discovered a passion for the period during my undergraduate degree. The course at York allowed me to focus specifically on aspects of Mesolithic research which were not covered in masters degree programmes elsewhere – despite the recent growth in work concerning this fascinating period there is still a distinct lack of tailored post graduate courses which take the Mesolithic as the primary point of concern.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the small group teaching elements of the masters course, and the opportunity to devote a considerable amount of time to independent research as part of a dissertation allowed me to pave the way for an AHRC-funded PhD in Mesolithic archaeology. Having completed this, I went on to work for the POSTGLACIAL project, excavating at the sites of Flixton Island and Star Carr, and developing long-term archiving strategies for the data gathered as part of this work, funded by the Institute of Field Archaeology/HLF and in association with Archaeology Data Service.

“I am currently a Teaching Fellow at the University of Leicester, and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of York. The MA in Mesolithic Studies helped to set many wheels in motion which are still pushing me forward with my career today; such as key skills, contacts and experiences which I have built on in the subsequent course of my PhD and postdoctoral employment.”

Marina McCaffrey (2012), currently Senior Archaeologist and Administration at an archaeological consulting company in British Columbia, Canada:

Marina McCaffrey, alumnus of the MA IN Mesolithic Studies

"I now work for an independently owned archaeological consulting company in British Columbia. We are located in a remote community, pop. ~2800, in the northeast corner of the province and do year-round archaeological consulting for resource development. Working in all seasons may mean being dropped off by helicopter in the summer into remote locations with only our shovels and screens, or snowmobiling in the winter and using cement saws and pickaxes to remove frozen soils for processing later.

“One might think a Masters done at the University of York has little to do with helicopters and -30°C temperatures in Canada, yet the skills that I learned while completing the Mesolithic Studies programme have helped me exponentially. From academic writing to time management, I was able to develop many skills that have been transferable to my current employment. Ultimately though, it was Nicky Milner leading the Mesolithic Studies programme which helped me develop a confidence in my own ideas and this has beyond anything helped me pursue the career I have now.”

Harry Robson (2012), currently studying for a PhD at the University of York:

Photo of Mesolithic Studies alumnus Harry Robson on site

“I decided to undertake the MA in Mesolithic Studies after becoming enthused by the period at the beginning of my undergraduate degree at the University of Bradford. Despite ongoing development and research into the period over the past decade, the course remains the only one of its kind. The course was split into a number of seminars that focused on specific research questions: burial, economy, life-ways, subsistence and ritual – to name but a few. This part of the course not only built on my previous research but also enabled me to explore areas that are often neglected. I thoroughly enjoyed the closeness of my peer group, as well as the opportunity to devote a considerable amount of time to independent research as part of a dissertation. The course undoubtedly paved the way for an AHRC-funded PhD in Mesolithic archaeology at York.”

 

Entry

To apply for this course, you will need:

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

Mature students or those with less conventional qualifications but with relevant appropriate experience will also be considered. 

If you are uncertain whether your qualifications or experience are appropriate, please contact the Course Director for more information. 

apply now button

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

 

Professor Nicky Milner

 

"As the only course of its kind in the world, the MA in Mesolithic Studies offers a genuinely unique opportunity to study at the forefront of archaeological research. Working with the leading researchers in Mesolithic study, you will use the latest techniques to investigate newly emerging evidence about how hunter-gatherers lived and adapted to their ever-changing world.”

Prof. Nicky Milner