Archaeology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Program Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or PhD in archaeology? Find out program requirements, online options and information about courses and archaeology programs.
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Studying Archaeology: Degrees at a Glance

Archaeologists are social scientists who perform research on the human past by examining material culture. This includes artifacts as well as plant and animal remains found at sites. Collection and interpretation of findings deepen the archaeological record, and are the primary methods used by scholars for understanding cultures that existed in prehistoric context. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for archaeologists and anthropologists are expected to grow 21% in the years 2010-2020. Museum-related jobs, such as curators and museum technicians, and are expected to see an employment growth of 16% over the same time period.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in teaching at the junior college level or working in many fields in the private or public sector People who want to work in academia as professors and researchers, or as principal investigators
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Archaeologist and anthropologist ($56,000)*
Museum technician and conservator ($38,000)*
- University professor of archaeology ($75,000)*
- Museum curator ($49,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full time 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-15 graduate-level courses
- Master's exams
- Master's thesis
- Field school
- Roughly 16-25 graduate-level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Foreign language requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in archaeology or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in archaeology or related field
Online Availability None found at this time None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Archaeology

The basic professional degree for an archaeologist is a master's degree either in archaeology or anthropology with an archaeological concentration. Those who have completed a degree program are qualified to perform archaeological analysis, take part in research, direct field teams and even lead projects. Those looking to continue with academic work, either teaching or continuing to the doctoral level, will want to complete a master's thesis as part of their program. Students may choose to focus on specific geographical areas or certain types of analysis.

Pros and Cons


  • The master's degree is the basic professional degree for this field
  • A master's degree program will take significantly less time than a PhD program
  • Master's programs offer field school experiences that assist in the development of hands-on archaeology skills


  • Companies hiring for some leadership roles may prefer applicants with a PhD
  • Geographic specialization may limit access to certain jobs
  • Entry-level positions as a field tech do not require a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

The courses required for a master's degree in archaeology cover methods of research and analysis as well as the laws surrounding the preservation of cultural heritage. Programs generally also have field schools for training archaeologists in effective methods of data collection and interpretation. Topics covered may include:

  • Archaeology of North America
  • Archaeological ethics
  • Artifact analysis
  • Cultural Resource Management (CRM)
  • Field methods in archaeology
  • Historical archaeology

Online Degree Options

Because of the hands-on nature of archaeology, not many courses are delivered in an online format. Some courses in specific areas may be available online, but full programs are not offered at this time, nor are they likely to be because of the fieldwork and laboratory requirements of graduate programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're looking to stand out in an archaeology master's program, in addition to excelling at coursework, you may want to become involved at an early stage with ongoing research. That research may be used to develop thesis options, as well as opportunities for publications. Research projects may be found through the academic program, field schools or related work experiences. Selection of a thesis topic should be made with the help of your advisor, with an eye to both developing practical experience and possible publications.

Doctoral in Archaeology

A doctorate in archaeology is generally an academic research degree. Coursework is tailored to provide background for the original research required for a dissertation. Selecting a school may also include conversations with prospective advisors, as it is their experience, professional networks and research topics that will inform your career long after graduation. Early selection of a dissertation area of focus will allow you to tailor your coursework to specific research and career goals.

Pros and Cons


  • For those seeking an academic career in archaeology, a doctorate will be necessary in order to compete for many positions
  • A doctorate in archaeology, or in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology, can increase competitiveness for some positions
  • Some programs will offer a master's degree on the way to a PhD


  • Specialization in specific geographical areas may limit job opportunities
  • Because of the small number of positions, competition for jobs can be quite high
  • Tenure-track academic positions are highly sought after, and competition for these positions is fierce

Courses and Requirements

The courses for a doctoral degree in archaeology are widely varied, and specific courses will be tailored to student's research needs as determined between them and their advisors. In addition to courses that are specific to geographical areas of study, representative topics might include:

  • History and theory of archaeology
  • Geoarchaeology methods and practices
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • Introduction to Akkadian cuneiform
  • Heritage management
  • Prehistoric and historical collections
  • Remote sensing technologies in archaeology

Online Degree Options

Archaeology is a hands-on discipline, and online doctoral programs in this field aren't currently available. Both field research and laboratory analysis of artifacts requires that students be present on location. Further, career development can depend on relationships developed through fieldwork. For this reason, the coursework necessary for archaeological training is conducted in face-to-face environments and may involve significant travel.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you are looking to get ahead with a doctoral degree in archaeology, or in anthropology with an archaeological focus, with the goal of becoming an academic, then there are two steps that you might strongly consider taking. First, gaining teaching experience through teaching assistantships can strengthen your resume when it comes to teaching positions while providing a means of livelihood in the graduate program. Second, developing a strong record of publications while in graduate school may be a necessary part of career development.

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