Archaeology

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

This is a new course! Archaeology has been previously taught within the Human, Social and Political Sciences course, but will now become a degree in its own right. It includes archaeology, Assyriology, Egyptology and biological anthropology - you can specialise from Year 1 or opt for a broad start before concentrating on up to two subjects from the second year. Archaeology explores the nature and development of particular societies through material culture; Assyriology is the study of the languages, cultures, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia (Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria); Egyptology is the study of the history, languages, society, archaeology and religion of ancient Egypt; Biological anthropology explores human evolution, biology and behaviour, and the interaction between biology and culture. There might be some questions about the new course that we are unable to answer, but here’s still a bit from students about what it’s like to study these subjects.

Archeaology

What about studying these subjects appealed to you?

Ellen, Biological Anthropology (Archaeology course), Homerton, 2nd year
Ellen
Biological Anthropology, Homerton, 2nd year
Emma, Archaeology, Emmanuel College
Emma
Archaeology, Emmanuel College

Ellen: Biological Anthropology really appealed to me because I’d always enjoyed both sciences and arts at school, and I was looking to find a subject that combined the two. For me, the study of evolution and human ancestors was something that I found very interesting, and I really enjoyed genetics at school. Biological Anthropology covers a wide range of topics, and incorporates a work and study from many other disciplines, with lecturers coming from all sorts of departments, like Zoology and Archaeology. On a day-to-day basis I can go from a lecture on primate gestural communication to a lecture on the genomic sequencing of Palaeolithic remains, but both are interesting, and feed into one another. The work in Biological Anthropology is such that, while there is a lot of scientific fact to back an argument or point up, there is still a great deal of room for debate and discussion on topics, offering the perfect balance between a more scientific degree and an arts degree.

Emma: I first started looking at degrees in history, but at an open day in Durham I sat in on a talk about history and archaeology, and realised that archaeology was far more suited to me. I had been on quite a few excavations, but archaeology seemed so fun I didn’t actually realise you could do it as a degree! I think it’s really important to explore subjects, like archaeology, that you haven’t done at school, as they might be perfect for you. I have always enjoyed both the arts and sciences, and archaeology perfectly combined my chemistry and history subjects at A-level. The idea of being able to dig up and handle objects from the past, gives you a direct connection with the people, that I think you never quite reach through history. As part of the course we get to do a lot of object handling in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, as well as researching an artefact of choice, which I really enjoyed. I’d say my favourite thing about archaeology though is the people, they really make the department, everyone is incredibly friendly and supportive!

What is your faculty/department like?

Ellen, Biological Anthropology (Archaeology course), Homerton, 2nd year
Ellen
Biological Anthropology, Homerton, 2nd year
Emma, Archaeology, Emmanuel College
Emma
Archaeology, Emmanuel College

Ellen: Currently, Biological Anthropology is split between two sites, the Henry Wellcome Building on Fitzwilliam Street, and the Pembroke Street Building on New Museums Site. The Henry Wellcome Building is a new build, with skeletons lining the walls of the lecture theatre, and some state of the art genomics labs, although as an undergraduate I’ve not actually had anything to do with them. The Pembroke Street Building is a much older building, with a new build lecture theatre and a break room for students to spend time between lectures and supervisions in.

Emma: Archaeology is based on the Downing site, across a couple of different buildings. Students will have most of their lectures in the North or South Lecture Room in the main building, and quite a lot of supervisions here as there are a lot of academics who have their offices in these buildings. This building also houses the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where we have our object handling session, and the Haddon Library where we have all the Archaeology and Anthropology books we could ever need (it’s also staffed by super friendly librarians!) If you end up pursuing archaeological science, you will also have a lot of teaching in the West Building and McDonald Institute, where most of the labs are based (material culture lab, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology, isotopes, genetics, computer lab) - but all students will probably have supervisions in these buildings too, as again there’s a lot of offices. We also have two tea rooms, where you can go to get a cup of tea between lectures.

What types of work do you have to do?

Ellen, Biological Anthropology (Archaeology course), Homerton, 2nd year
Ellen
Biological Anthropology, Homerton, 2nd year
Emma, Archaeology, Emmanuel College
Emma
Archaeology, Emmanuel College
Types of work

Ellen: In my second year (2015-2016), I took three Biological Anthropology modules, and each lecturer sets their own supervisions and supervisors. Each module has either two or three supervision a term, for which you write an essay, which works out as roughly ten essays a term. Each essay comes with about seven or so academic papers to read, and along with lecture notes, you use those to write your essay. The university library computer systems are set up so that you can access any academic paper you could need. Many of the lecturers also run lab practicals and classes or seminars to compliment their lecture series, so we’ve done things such as measuring skull cranial capacity, and testing the faecal matter of snub-nosed monkeys for levels of stress hormones, which was dependent on the altitude at which they lived.

Emma: There’s a massive array of modules (we call them papers to choose from) - in first year I did biological anthropology and social anthropology, in second year I took archaeological science, and european prehistory, then in final year I took archaeological science part II, the Indus civilisation, and also did a dissertation (a 10,000 word research project). For each paper we had about 2 hours of lectures a week, and for science we also had practicals and seminars (classes where we discussed set readings). In terms of work I had about 4 essays per term and two supervisions a week. Usually we’d be given a couple of essay titles which we could choose from, and a reading list for each title. We did have some coursework - for each of the period papers (prehistory and Indus) I did an artefact project, where we researched an artefact in the museum, and for science we had to do a lab project and keep a lab book. Most examination though was through end of year exams. The course has however just changed, so things might be slightly different from my experience. In terms of resources the Haddon Library has most things, and you can download most of the articles you need from the university's library search website.

Do you have career plans?

Ellen, Biological Anthropology (Archaeology course), Homerton, 2nd year
Ellen
Biological Anthropology, Homerton, 2nd year
Emma, Archaeology, Emmanuel College
Emma
Archaeology, Emmanuel College

Ellen: At the moment I’m looking into a career in commercial law, but I’m not set on it, and if I can, I would love to do further degrees in Biological Anthropology if I can find the right one and the right funding. The other Biological Anthropology student at my college is planning on travelling after she has graduated, and has no firm idea as to what specifically she wants to use the degree for.

Emma: I am looking at doing a masters degree in textile conservation at Glasgow University, but am still considering options as it’s a rather expensive two year programme so I feel I need to be quite certain about it! I have just graduated and my year group have gone on to do lots of different things, a couple are excavating with commercial firms and a few have gone on to do masters in various areas of archaeology, but by no means has everyone gone into archaeology. Various paths include TeachFirst, drama school, journalism, and quite a few taking gap years before they go on to work or further study.

What has been going on at Archaeology?

- Recent Events -

Training Excavations

Second years currently have a 2 week training excavation with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (the commercial unit in Cambridge), to get an understanding of commercial excavation. We also have to do 4 weeks field experience between second and third year

Archaeology Fieldtrips

First years have traditionally gone on a fieldtrip to Stonehenge (where we actually get to touch the stones!) and Avebury for a few days - this is as much a bonding trip for the first years as it is educational.

Biological Anthropology Fieldtrip

We went on a fieldtrip to Twycross Zoo, as part of a the Behavioural Ecology course. We designed a study, then tested it by watching the different primate behaviours.

Do you have a question?
Ask a student!

Don't forget to check our FAQ section first!

* Indicates required field

Please note that as student volunteers we are unable to answer questions on admissions requirements - e.g. school/college qualifications needed to apply. You are best asking these questions to admissions@cam.ac.uk