Why study archaeology?

Archaeology students on a field trip

If you’ve always wondered what life in the past was like, then there’s no better choice than to study archaeology at university. Archaeology aims to understand historical societies by uncovering and analysing remains discovered in excavations – from tools and foundations to human bones. You'll study everything from human evolution to more specialist areas, such as local history and architecture. If you have questions about our modern-day culture and identity, archaeology is a great way to uncover those answers.

Fields of archaeology

There are three main branches of study:

  • Prehistoric archaeology– cultures that do not have writing
  • Protohistoric archaeology– cultures that have incomplete records
  • Historic archaeology– cultures that have well-developed historical records.

Importance of Archaeology

There are many benefits to studying archaeology at undergraduate level:

Make new discoveries

Archaeology is a dynamic subject that constantly changes with the development of new research techniques. New discoveries are always a possibility, and the findings you make can have a significant impact on our understanding of history and humanity.

Varied and hands-on

Archaeology is one of the most varied academic subjects you can study at university. It includes elements of many other subjects, such as history, geography, politics, chemistry, biology and sociology. It is also a practical subject, with hands-on work and the opportunity to travel.

Career flexibility

Archaeology courses give you a variety of skills that prepare you for a wide range of careers. You’ll have the option of entering archaeology-related fields, such as conservation and museum work, as well as other industries such as education, law, business, finance and defence.

Why study archaeology at Durham University?

Durham’s Department of Archaeology is one of the largest Archaeology departments in the world and is currently ranked 8th in the world (QS World Subject Rankings by Subject 2022). It is the national leader for archaeological research, ahead of Oxford, Cambridge and University College London.

You will be taught by professional archaeologists whose expertise span the Palaeolithic period to the present day. 73% of the Department of Archaeology’s research is considered internationally excellent or world-leading (REF 2014).

You will gain expert training on fieldwork techniques, as well as take part in exciting excavation work. This includes the opportunity to work on the University’s internationally significant excavations at Auckland Castle. As a part of the SOCRATES/ERASMUS programme, Durham encourage students to study for part of their course at a university in another country in the EU. Taking part in the Year Abroad exchange programme allows for you to study an extra year in between your second and final years. You may be able to take part in a work placement programme.

The teaching and learning facilities are world-class, and the Department recently underwent a £3.2 million refurbishment.

Facilities include:

  • Archaeological chemistry labs
  • Conservation labs
  • Environmental archaeology labs
  • Human osteology and luminescence labs
  • Drawing office
  • Photographic studio

Key skills from studying archaeology

Studying archaeology gives you transferrable skills that will help you to succeed throughout your degree and future career. These include:

  • Project management
  • Planning and budgeting
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation skills
  • Public engagement
  • Scientific lab work
  • Health and safety awareness
  • Sampling techniques and strategies
  • Interpretation of maps and satellite imagery
  • Teamwork

What archaeology degrees can I study at Durham University?

If you are looking to pursue archaeology after a foundation year, BA (Hons) Archaeology gives you an international understanding of archaeology, from prehistory to the modern day. This three-year archaeology degree combines the latest research with hands-on fieldwork and excavation.

Degree preparation at the International Study Centre

Our International Foundation Year in Humanities, Law and Social Science prepares international students for an archaeology degree at Durham.

You will develop your English language skills and academic skills, and study archaeology-focused modules that give you the knowledge you need to succeed in your degree.

What makes archaeology at Durham great?

What makes archaeology at Durham great?

Archaeology degree jobs

There are many different careers and further study options you can pursue with an archaeology degree.

Jobs you can pursue with an archaeology degree

Some of the jobs you could follow include:

  • Archaeologist
  • Heritage Manager
  • Ancient monuments inspector
  • Archivist
  • Conservation manager
  • Museum curator
  • Conservator
  • Forensic scientist
  • University lecturer
  • Education officer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is studied in archaeology? 

Archaeology studies human history through the analysis of material remains, such as artifacts, structures, and ecofacts, to understand past societies, cultures, and environments

What are the benefits of archeology?

The benefits of archaeology include enhancing our understanding of the past, preserving cultural heritage, contributing to historical narratives, and providing insights into human behavior, adaptation, and societal development.

What skills are needed for archeology?

Skills needed for archaeology include attention to detail, critical thinking, fieldwork abilities, data analysis, and knowledge of research methods. You'll also require a basic strong understanding of history, anthropology, and science.


(The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022)


(QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022)