Archaeological Science masters

Archaeological Science

Archaeological Science


The Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art offers a one year Master of Science course and a one year Master of Studies course in Archaeological Science. The courses are designed to give a broad but detailed grounding in the theory as well as practical experience in the major applications of science in archaeology. They are intended for archaeologists or scientists who wish to go on to undertake research in archaeological science, or archaeologists who intend to pursue a career in the management of archaeological projects or become policy makers in this area and would like to have a sound understanding of the potential of science to elucidate archaeological problems. The courses can be taken for their own sake, or (MSc) as preliminary training for doctoral research.

Applicants may have either a predominantly archaeological or science based education, although it is advantageous to have some experience of both subjects.

The MSc consists of two nine-week terms of taught material and a five month research project. The MSt shares the taught component of the MSc course, but instead of the research project, the candidates are required to submit a 5000 word report on a practical project of approximately 6 weeks duration.

Bursaries are available from the Edward Hall Memorial Fund for MSc students.

Course Director: Victoria Smith

Course subjects

The Course is based on the research strengths of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology.

The pre-set essay and dissertation provide opportunity for specialisation within these areas. Further details on each area are given below.

Topics assessed by examination (List A) Coordinator(s)
Materials analysis and the study of technological changeDr Nathaniel Erb-Satullo
Molecular BioarchaeologyDr Rick Schulting
Principles and practice of scientific datingProf Christopher Ramsey
Subject topics (List B)
Topics from Archaeology MSt/MPhil
Topics from Classical Archaeology MSt/MPhil

Most students study all three options in list A, but it is possible to replace one of these with an option from one of the other Masters courses run by the department (list B). Students can also supplement the course by attending teaching in another course in preparation for the extended essay. One option which provides very useful supplementary skills is the Practical Archaeobotany option from the MSt in Archaeology.

Academic staff

Course coordinators:

Also teaching on the course:

    Amy Bogaard
    Angela Trentacoste
    Chris Doherty
    David Chivall
    Daniel Miles
    Greger Larson
    Jean-Luc Schwenniger
    Julia Lee-Thorp
    Michael Charles
    Paul Albert
    Rick Schulting
    Richard Staff
    Thibaut Deviese
    Tom Higham
    Victoria Smith


Formal coursework finishes in April, and written examinations, including submission of the pre-set essay(s) are sat in early May. Project work for the MSt Report or MSc Dissertation starts in May and finishes in June (MSt) or mid-September (MSc). Candidates for the MSc must submit a 15-20,000 word dissertation on a research area or topic selected in consultation with their supervisor.

MSt candidates are required to submit a 5000 word report on a practical project of approximately 6 weeks duration chosen in consultation with their supervisor.

A viva voce examination may be held at the end of September, when candidates' work-books may also be examined, at the discretion of the examiners.

Examples of past dissertations include:

  • Developing the use of supercritical fluids for the characterising Andean colourants and pretreatment of dyed textiles for radiocarbon dating
  • Must the pot be destroyed? A comparison of approaches to organic residue extraction from ceramic fabrics
  • Molecular clocks and domestication, using rabbits as a model organism
  • A Combined Approach of ZooMS Faunal Identification and Stable Isotope Analysis to the Diet and Chronology of Palaeolithic Hominins at Vindija cave, Croatia 
  • Subsistence in the Upper Palaeolithic of Estremadura: Stable isotope analysis of Solutrean and Magdalenian human remains from Gruta do Caldeirão (Tomar, Portugal)
  • Extraction and characterisation of absorbed organic residues from South African archaeological ceramics using CO2 supercritical fluid extraction and gas chromato-graphy techniques
  • Study of the cobalt source for blue and white porcelains from Luomaqiao Site during  the Ming (1368-1644AD) and the Qing (1644-1912AD) Dynasties
  • The influence of seasonality on radiocarbon dates: investigating an offset with the calibration curve during the medieval period in England
  • An investigation into climatic and Paleoenvironmental change across the Late Pleistocene to Early Holocene transition in Lesotho, Southern Africa, through the use of Stable Carbon and Oxygen isotopes
  • Weaning in a Mid-to-Late Roman population at 11 Wittenham Lane, Dorchester-on-Thames
  • Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopic Analysis of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Fisher-Hunter-Gatherers from Lake Baikals (southern Siberia) Little Sea, Upper Lena River, and Selenga River Regions
  • El Castillo - Utilising ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry), Mitochondrial DNA and Stable Isotope Analysis to Investigate the Transitional Aurignacian in North-Western Spain
  • The Bio-Cultural History and Conservation of Fallow Deer in Western Eurasia
  • The Islamic population of Sindicatos, Ibiza: Dietary investigation through stable Carbon and Nitrogen isotope analysis of bone collagen
  • A Framework for the Study of “Mercury Jars” and Other Stoneware from the Temasek Period of Singapore, alongside 12th-Century Stoneware from Kota Cina, Sumatra
  • Exploring the potential use of the CERN Medipix 3 chip as a particle camera for dose rate measurements in luminescence dating 
  • Sedimentological and geochemical soil analysis of Lazaret Cave to determine post-depositional effects on organic molecule preservation
  • Stable isotope analases of oxygen-18 in bone collagen as a means of determining mobility during the  Neolithic and Early Bronze Age at Baikal
  • An aDNA Analysis of Early "Domestic" Cats in Britain
  • Lipid distribution in Middle Palaeolithic sediments from Lazaret Cave, France. A pilot study using biomolecular analysis
  • Characterisation and provenance of 'Le type Besançon' pottery. Petrological study of Late Iron Age

Subject details

Please click here for more information about subjects