BSc (Hons) Bioarchaeology

UCAS code Typical offer Length
V403 ABB-BBB (See full entry requirements) 3 years full-time
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Archaeologists study the human past not only through the material culture of past socieities, but also the remains of environmental evidence, animals, and even people. Biological Archaeology (applying biological and chemical sciences to archaeology) brings new and exciting techniques to the discipline, and is increasingly important to our understanding of the past.

At York we have a large team working on a wide array of bioarchaeological research, and you will explore them alongside us in specialist laboratories.

Course overview

Bioarchaeology attracts people from a wide range of backgrounds, but typically appeals to students who have a good grounding in the sciences, and also have an interest in using those skills to answer questions about people in the past. If you've always loved history but have a particular aptitude for biology or chemistry, or you're a history buff who likes working in the lab as well, Bioarchaeology might be for you.

My dissertation involves analysing residues of foods once cooked in prehistoric pottery - I get to interpret how some of the world’s earliest pots were used by people, whilst also developing advanced Biology and Chemistry laboratory skills.

David, BSc Bioarchaeology

This is a relatively new degree course, growing rapidly in popularity as the biosciences bring more exciting discoveries to archaeology. For example, we can see what people ate in the past by studying food waste left on archaeological sites.  We do this by a variety of methods, including:

  • The examination of animal bones
  • The identification of plant remains
  • Biomolecular analysis of the residues on cooking pots

Isotopic analysis on human bones can also give us an insight into past diets, as well as tell us about where people came from and whether they travelled long distances in their lifetimes. We can also investigate ancient populations through the study of human bones and DNA, discover whether people had diseases, and whether populations were healthy or not. Bioarchaeology extends not only to analyses of humans, but also of animals. We can analyse the proteins in fragments of Viking-Age haircombs to determine the animals from which they were made, or examine wool clothing or parchment to assess the use and management of livestock in industry.

York is also home to the interdisciplinary BioArCh centre, in which staff from archaeology, biology, and chemistry come together to formulate scientific approaches to understanding the past. Our expertise includes human bones, shells, fish and animal bone, plant remains, pottery residues, and biomolecular analysis including isotopes, ancient DNA, proteins, and lipids. Through lectures and practicals, students studying bioarchaeology at York get the opportunity to learn about these methods, and to participate first-hand in new research on questions related to our staff's current projects.

Unique facilities

The Department of Archaeology is housed in our own building in the centre of the city of York - the historic and truly unique King's Manor, but as BSc students you will also make great use of the state-of-the-art facilities available on our Heslington campuses. More generally, archaeology students benefit enormously from having full access to their own dedicated space, which they can choose to use in addition to all the facilities the main campus has to offer.

In Kings Manor, you have access to a range of in-house facilities, including:

  • our own seminar rooms and state-of-the-art lecture theatres;
  • computer labs with printers, scanners, and specialized photo, digital drawing, and mapping software;
  • a dedicated library with subject-specific books, access to the York Library System resources, and plentiful study space;
  • a large lab space for working with artefacts, soil and environmental samples, and skeletal remains;
  • an extremely wide range of archaeological equipment available for student use, including fieldwork tools, Total Station theodolites, geophysical survey equipment (resistivity, magnetometry, ground penetrating radar), handheld GPS systems, a laser scanner, and a variety of photo, imaging, and information technology.

The King's Manor also has dedicated social spaces, including a refectory and a Senior Common Room in which you can relax and read a newspaper or magazine, chat with your friends, study on your own or in groups, or peruse the regular exhibitions of local and national artists that we host in the SCR. The King's Manor building is built around two courtyards, both of which provide ample space to work, socialize, or just relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Provision for science

The BSc in Bioarchaeology also benefits specifically from its twin locations in the King's Manor and our purpose-built science facilities on the main campus, which will be brand new in 2015:

The King's Manor houses specialist laboratories for:

Soils analysis:

  • thin sectioning
  • microscopy
  • wet chemistry

Osteology laboratory:

  • human and animal reference collections
  • digital x-ray facilities

Our BioArCh laboratories offer:

  • Dedicated laboratory for bone preparation (bone saws, drills etc).
  • Gas Chromatography
  • Optical microscopy
  • expansive preparative laboratories
  • Scanning and Transmission Electron Microscopy
  • State-of-the-art protein mass spectrometry
  • NERC-recognised amino acid dating facility
  • ZooMS bone identification service
  • state-of-the art Ancient DNA facility

Course content

What you'll study

Our course structure pages will give you specifics about how York's Archaeology degree programme is structured, as well as the range of modules you can take over your three years with us.  Below you'll find a quick 'at-a-glance' guide to each year.

Year 1

In the first year, you will be introduced to the background and history of archaeology, and will discuss the contribution of our discipline to the contemporary world. You will explore why we go about the subject in the way we do, as well as learning about (and trying out) the different approaches available to the 21st-century archaeologist. 

We use a range of traditional and 'hands-on' approaches to teaching, including practical fieldwork and excavation. The year is structured around 6 modules:

  • Accessing archaeology
  • Prehistory to the present
  • Field archaeology
  • History and theory
  • Archaeological science
  • Archaeological excavation

More information on each module is available by following the links on our course structure pages.

Year 2

In the second year, you begin to specialize in your chosen discipline by choosing option courses. In the first term, you will explore a topic in world archaeology; we offer a range of options such as mummification, the development of  Greek and Roman civilisation, or the colonisation of the New World. You will also begin to study the themes and debates that characterise the archaeology of either the prehistoric or historical period: that means you'll be studying things like identity, landscape, death and burial, and the development of human thought. 

You will also have the chance to learn a particular skill. This may be working with human or animal bones, artefacts, computers or beyond; there is a real range to choose from. You can then put into practice what you've learned by undertaking a team project on the subject. These projects are based on real archaeological material, and provide a first chance for you to make your mark in archaeology.

In addition to this specific training, we also introduce you to a range of transferable skills: the sorts of things that are invaluable whether you stay in archaeology and heritage, or go into a different career. You'll learn to collect and analyse diverse data, to critique literature, to construct a logical argument, and to professionally present that argument both in print and in person.

Again, further information on each module is available by following the links on our course structure pages.

Year 3

By the third year, you can really specialise in the subjects that interest you, in addition to writing your dissertation, which is the result of your own independent research. First, in the autumn term, you study an advanced 'Special Topic' in real depth. This will be a subject of your choice, and may cover anything from prehistoric landscapes, to human evolution, to food and diet in the past. In the spring and summer terms we offer you our flagship 'Assessed Seminar' series, when again you may pick from a range of topics, and you have the chance to design and deliver the content of a seminar yourself. This is a great opportunity to develop your inellectual, organizational, and presentation skills, and our students find that it gives them a real boost in confidence, alongside the formal lecture on your dissertation research that you present to your colleagues at the end of the year.

Once again, further information on each module is available by following the links on our course structure pages.

Fieldwork and practicals

York emphasies the combination of theoretical and practical aspects of archaeology. Early in your first year, our fieldtrips introduce you to the modern and historic landscape, and you will also participate in various field activities, including fieldwalking, geophysical survey, and buildings recording, and you will also have a chance to learn how to process these records. You'll also get introduced to the exciting world of archaeological science, and the new techniques that are revolutionising archaeology. This all leads up to the summer term, when you will receive intensive training on a departmental excavation, as well as taking on post-excavation analysis, and finally presenting your findings in a exhibition. This provides an opportunity to contribute to genuine archaeological research, as well as to learn new skills, and to really get to know your classmates.

For many students, this is the just the beginning. There are plenty of opportunities to become involved in further field or lab-based projects throughout your three years, and some students enjoy this side of archaeology so much that they make their careers in it. It is, however, just one of archaeology's many components, and whatever your interests in the past, you'll find something for you.

Academic integrity module

In addition to the above you will also need to complete our online Academic Integrity module. This covers some of the essential skills and knowledge which will help you to study independently and produce work of a high academic standard which is vital for success at York.

This module will:

  • define academic integrity and academic misconduct;
  • explain why and when you should reference source material and other people's work;
  • provide interactive exercises to help you to assess whether you've understood the concepts;
  • provide answers to FAQs and links to useful resources.


How you'll be taught

Highly rated teaching

At York, we are very proud of the experience we offer to our students.  Our teaching approach has been consistently highly rated in both student feedback and peer review, and we have received consistently high scores in the National Student Survey.

There are many reasons for this, but key is our emphasis on diversity of experience, and on student development. Occasionally you will work together in teams, and at other times will take full individual responsibility for your work. You will be asked to take notes in lectures, participate in and even lead group discussions, and perform a range of practical skills and fieldwork. First year courses offfer a mixture of formats, but as you progress through your time here, you will begin to spend more time in intensive small group teaching and individual study, culminating in running your own seminar, producing a dissertation, and presenting an academic lecture.

Using this wide-ranging approach to teaching and learning, we help you to develop confidence in your own abilities, and cultivate the transferable skills which are in high demand amongst your future employers, both inside and outside archaeology.

A flexible programme of study

York is well known for its flexible patterns of study and the variety of choices we offer in our options. Our course structure pages will give you specifics about the modules you can take over your three years in archaeology, and York's modularized curriculum also allows you to take modules from designated courses in other disciplines if you choose to do so. In this way, with the help of your supervisor, you can tailor your degree course to suit your individual interests and career aims

Small group teaching

York prides itself on a wide variety of teaching methods, but the most distinctive is our commitment to small-group teaching. But what does 'small group teaching' mean in practice? Seminars are a key component of our teaching and learning strategy, and may be a format that's new to you, as most school curriculum focuses on formal lectures. In seminars, reading and preparation in advance of the class are essential. In a few cases the class will simply be open, directed discussion, but in most seminars the content is delivered by you to your fellow students, in the form of short, topical presentations. This style of teaching means not only that all students need to engage with the subject in detail, and thus get more out of it, but also that you develop important intellectual skills, such as the ability to communicate complex information, or to logically pursue an argument 'on your feet'.

Overall workload

As a guide, students on this course typically spend their time as follows:

Year 1Year 2Year 3
Lectures and seminars300 hours
156 hours
72 hours
Independent study900 hours
1044 hours
1128 hours

The figures above are based on data from 2016/17.


How you'll be assessed

Along with a wide variety of teaching methods, York emphasizes a diverse range of assessment. Our methods include short and long essays, a variety of innovative writing tasks, online assignments, team and independent projects, portfolios, and presentations, as well as some traditional exams. We know that every student has their strengths, and we believe firmly in allowing you to shine in what you already do well, but also in training you and challenging you to improve in all forms of academic expression.

We encourage this development through the use of 'formative' assessments: practices that take place ahead of your formal 'summative' assessments, and which ensure that you are developing the necessary skills and understanding to progress.  We provide detailed feedback on all assessment, and one-on-one sessions with markers allow you to make sure that you you are clear on what you need to do in order to improve your work.  This approach is now well-developed in the department, and our students value our assessment and feedback practices very highly, as can be seen from our National Student Survey scores. Indeed, we are frequently asked to advise other departments on best practice with regard to feedback.

Both the range of assessments that you undertake at York, and our proactive and personal approach to feedback are fundamental to developing highly sought-after transferable skills, and preparing you for future success in any career.

Percentage of the course typically assessed by coursework and exams

Year 1Year 2Year 3
Written exams33%17%0%
Practical exams8%16%23%

The figures above are based on data from 2016/17.


Careers and employability

Skills Development

Our degrees train you in the latest archaeological methods, techniques, and theories, preparing you to pursue a career in the archaeology or heritage fields. However, archaeology is also an excellent general degree course, which provides you with an unparalleled range of transferable skills. For example, you’ll learn how to carry out primary research in libraries, archives, the internet, in the lab, and in the field. You'll also develop excellent written and verbal communication skills through regular essays, seminar presentations and discussions, and ultimately, through an assessed lecture in your 3rd year. You’ll be able to organise and manage meetings, and throughout, you will learn how to work closely with others, both as a leader and a team-player in the classroom and in the field.

You will learn to combine skills and approaches from across the sciences, arts, and humanities: how many other degrees combine elements of maths, science, languages, history, politics, economics, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology? This diverse package means that our students are uniquely placed to accept the challenges of the modern workplace, from using complex statistical computer software to the ability to 'sell' an argument to a sceptical audience.

Just as importantly, dealing with the complexities of archaeological data and theory is a great way of training the mind to think logically and critically about the world around you; this is why our graduates are so well-prized by such a range of professions. In today's competitive employment environment, a degree in Archaeology may just give you the edge over your rivals.


Students with a BSc in Archaeology can, of course, enter a variety of heritage professions, such as museums and galleries, experimental labs, or archaeological units. In addition, many of our students go on to provide archaeological expertise to local authorities and heritage bodies. However, students might also use the skills they develop here to enter a wide range of professions outside of archaeology, particularly those which value skills such as:

  • problem solving;
  • creative thinking;
  • laboratory techniques;
  • analysis and interpretation of evidence;
  • project management skills;
  • public engagement;
  • IT literacy and numeracy;
  • equal aptitude in written and verbal communication;
  • a sense of geography and space, and a global perspective.

Clearly these skills are in high demand, and though many disciplines offer the opportunity to excel in some of them, few will allow you to develop across the whole spectrum.  In short, our students graduate with a very attractive and highly unusual skillset. Further details, including stories from some of our recent graduates are available here.


How to apply

Archaeology is one of the few subjects that is equally relevant to those whose interests lie in the humanities and those who prefer the sciences, as the discipline incorporates methods, theories, and approaches from historical disciplines, the social sciences, and the hard sciences. For that reason, we accept students with a wide range of academic backgrounds, and we are popular with mature students and those who have non-traditional academic and work experience. We also don't require you to have done any archaeology before you apply. If you have an interest in scientific approaches to the past, its people, and its material culture, you can pursue a degree in Bioarchaeology.

All applications must be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Our undergraduate admissions officer is happy to answer any questions you may have about our department, our degrees, and the application process.

We ask that you take one Science A-level or equivalent for entry to Bioarchaeology, but apart from that we accept any combination of A levels, including General Studies and Critical Thinking, and we encourage you to undertake independent projects and experiential learning. We also accept a wide variety of equivalent overseas qualifications, and request a 6.5 IELTS score for non-native English speakers. Please see our typical offers for more information about the grades we require for entry onto our courses.

We encourage you to visit York on one of the university Open Days throughout the year, which will provide you with an opportunity to visit the Department and talk to staff about the courses and your interests.

Direct second year entry

For direct second-year entry, you must take our accredited programme via the Centre for Lifelong Learning, passing 120 credits in 3 core modules, with an average mark of 60+. 

If you have completed the first year of an Archaeology or cognate degree at another university, you may be able to enter directly into our second year through an Accrediation of Prior Learning. Please contact the department if you would like to enquire about APL for second-year entry.

Entry requirements

A levels


A Level General Studies and Critical Thinking are accepted. An A Level or equivalent qualification in science is required.

International Baccalaureate

Obtain Diploma with 34-31 points

Scottish Highers / Advanced Highers


Irish Leaving Certificate

H2,H2,H3,H3,H3,H3 / H3,H3,H3,H3,H3,H3


BTEC National Extended Diploma (QCF): DDM.
We accept a range of BTEC qualifications equivalent to 3 A Levels.
An additional A Level or equivalent qualification in science is required alongside any BTEC qualification.

European Baccalaureate

Overall average grade of 75% or higher

Other qualifications

•Cambridge Pre-U: D3, M2, M2-M2, M2, M2
Obtain Access to HE Diploma with 36 credits at Distinction and 9 credits at Merit or higher

Other qualifications are accepted by the University. Please contact Undergraduate Admissions

English Language Requirements

  • IELTS: 6.5 with a minimum of 5.5 in all units
  • Pearson PTE Academic: 61 overall with 51 in all parts
  • Cambridge Advanced English (CAE): grade A
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE): grade C
  • GCSE/IGCSE/O level English Language (as a first language): grade C.

Mature students

We welcome applications from mature and non-traditional students. Archaeology is a popular degree for people coming back to education, and if you have an interest in the course, we encourage you to get in touch with us to talk about your experience and qualifications.

Any questions?

Contact our friendly admissions tutor if you've got any questions:

Admissions Tutor

Dr Penny Bickle

  • 01904 323935



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