Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2018/2019

MA (Hons) Archaeology and Social Anthropology

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: N/A
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: Archaeology and Social Anthropology
UCAS code: VL46
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Archaeology and Social Anthropology
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: SHCA Quality Director
Date of production/revision: May 2012

External summary

Archaeology can be defined as the study of the human past through material remains with a chronological range from the earliest hominids five million years ago to the present day and provides a unique perspective on the human past and the understanding of human cultural development. Social and cultural anthropology focuses on the study of more recent human societies giving a greater insight to our understanding of human behaviour. The two disciplines complement each other in providing knowledge and understanding of these two general aspects of the study of current and past human culture and society which are linked together by this programme of study.

Students will be expected to:

  • work independently, to organise and synthesise data derived from a range of sources, to critically assess evidence and assess a variety of competing or conflicting factors, to review differing theoretical perspectives, to develop and organise their arguments, and to present a coherent, reasoned and well supported set of conclusions.
  • make effective use of a wide range information sources and data.
  • present arguments and results in written form, in clear and correct English.
  • present information and arguments orally with clarity and confidence.
  • manage their time effectively.
  • show their ability to use information technology.
  • demonstrate an ability to use, evaluate and criticise quantitative, spatial and visual evidence where relevant to their work.
  • appreciate the material basis of archaeology, the contested nature of objects, the social relationships that are spun around them and the people who use and interpret them
  • understand, evaluate and use a range of theoretical frameworks in the study of social and cultural anthropology
  • employ appropriate participative team skills and team leadership skills.

Educational aims of programme

The programme aims are:

  • to provide an intellectual framework of study linking the two disciplines and to deliver a broad based curriculum incorporating major fields of study in archaeology, and in social and cultural anthropology.
  • to provide an education in archaeology or anthropology appropriate to the requirements of the vocational and non-vocational student within specific geographic, chronological or thematic frameworks and to provide this within a curriculum supported and informed by a rich and active research culture. 
  • to equip students with substantive knowledge of a range of social, cultural and archaeological contexts, institutions, processes and ideas.
  • to enable students to understand, evaluate and use a range of theoretical frameworks in the study of social and cultural anthropology or in the study of archaeology and to understand the relationship between the two disciplines.
  • to develop the intellectual and professional tools required to work effectively with material drawn from many forms of archaeological and anthropological investigation.
  • to enable students to apply their knowledge and skills to the understanding and evaluation of issues and problems in the contemporary world. 
  • to give some practical experience either in the field of archaeology or of social and cultural anthropology.
  • to enable students to develop and apply key generic skills in critical thinking, research and oral or written articulation of information and argument.
  • to encourage, through the acquisition of a wide range of transferable skills, our students’ intellectual and creative independence and to equip them for progression to a wide variety of careers or to further academic study.
  • to enable students to develop and apply their knowledge and skills to the understanding and evaluation of issues and problems in the contemporary world.
  • to enable students to appreciate the interdisciplinary research across these disciplines and how it can focus on the complex reflexive interconnections between human societies and ecological systems with the aim to establish methodologies and insights linked to human behaviour and sustainability in the long, medium and short terms.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

Depending upon the focus of their studies, a graduate should have gained experience in most of the following and should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:-

  • the archaeology of some areas/periods, including areas beyond Britain and on a regional scale.
  • major conceptual issues of prehistoric archaeology and familiarity with related issues in proto-historic and historic archaeology.
  • archaeological theory and principles, and an historical background to the changing thinking and attitudes to the archaeological past, its study and contemporary use.
  • archaeological methods, techniques and practices, and the nature and limitations of archaeological data.
  • some aspects of archaeological science as well as practical experience both in field archaeology and in the laboratory.
  • different social and cultural contexts, institutions, processes and ideas.
  • the evaluation of alternative explanations of particular social contexts, processes and events.
  • different theoretical, conceptual, and key methodological approaches used in anthropological analysis.
  • the social and historical processes that influence the objects of anthropological study.
  • the methods and value of cross cultural comparative analysis.
  • the comprehension, evaluation and communication of ethnographic information.
  • the nature of explanation and interpretation in social anthropology and the nature of evidence in such accounts.
  • an alertness to potential applications of anthropological knowledge and their ethical implications in a variety of contexts.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Depending on the focus of their studies a graduate should have acquired experience in the following:

  • ability to identify, define and analyse archaeological and/or social anthropological problems.
  • ability to develop a reasoned argument, support it with relevant evidence, and communicate it appropriately and persuasively.
  • ability to extract key elements and meanings from complex data sets.
  • ability to create own research questions and to undertake independent research.
  • ability to design a research programme and to formulate and test hypotheses through the collation of existing data and/or the generation of new information.
ability to exercise critical judgement in the evaluation of the  opinions and arguments of archaeologists and/or social anthropologists.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

The programme is designed to encourage students to develop, or progressively acquire, intellectual skills which allow them to:

  • find, extract, organise and evaluate information from primary and secondary sources.
  • apply different theories to the interpretation and explanation of human conduct in patterns of behaviour or material culture.
  • judge the value and relevance of empirical evidence or theoretical argument and interpretation with the outcome of being able to construct a reasoned argument, support it with relevant evidence, and communicate it appropriately and persuasively.
  • carry out independent research; to design a research programme, to formulate and test hypotheses through the collation of existing data and/or the generation of new information and to communicate their own findings and conclusions appropriately and persuasively.
  • question cultural assumptions.
  • interpret and analyse a variety of textual, oral, visual, artefactual, ecofactual or site and landscape  forms of evidence.
  • assess the ethical implications of anthropological or archaeological research and enquiry.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By participation in the programme students should be able to:

  • engage interactively in discussion and evaluation with peer groups and others.
  • communicate effectively orally and in writing.
  • express the outcome of learning exercises in coherent and accurate written, numeric, graphical or illustrative form to pre-determined specifications.
  • ability to collaborate and to relate to others.
  • readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

  • evaluate critically a body of data and to generate from it inferences or interpretative models against a given set of criteria.
  • undertake self-directed learning exercises using resources such as the library, the Internet and national archives.
  • employ appropriate participative team skills and team leadership skills (notably managing a small group and directing the work of others).
  • manage their own time working to defined objectives within strict limitations of time and/or resources.
  • possession of the confidence to make decisions based on one’s understanding and personal/intellectual autonomy.
  • ability to transfer knowledge, learning, skills and abilities flexibly from one context to another.
  • ability to work effectively with others, capitalising on diversities of thinking, experience and skills.
  • working with, managing, and leading others in ways that value their diversity and equality and that encourage their contribution.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

On completion of their degree, students should have acquired:

  • an understanding of the relationship between theory and practice.
  • an understanding of the ethical, social and political issues which surround professional practice and the interpretation of data.
  • an understanding of the professional organisation and structure of each discipline in one or more countries or schools of thought.
  • a substantial basis of training in field techniques, or training in related areas of applied fieldwork.
  • an understanding to an appropriate level of laboratory-based techniques and applications.
  • an understanding of the processes of data management and quantitative methods.

Programme structure and features

Each year of the programme carries 120 credit points. In first year students must take 40 credits of the level-eight archaeology courses, Archaeology 1A and Archaeology 1B, plus 40-credits Social Anthropology 1A: an Introduction and Social Anthropology 1B: the Practice of Social Anthropology  plus 40 credits of outside subject(s). In second year students must take 40 credits of level-eight Archaeology courses, Archaeology 2A “Scotland before History” and Archaeology 2B “Archaeology in Action”, plus Social Anthropology 2: Into the Field (20 credits),  Social and Political Enquiry 2 (20 credits) and  Social and Political Theory 2 (20 credits) and 20 credits of an outside subject.

Progression to Honours normally requires successful completion of the first two years of the curriculum with an average mark for Archaeology 2A & 2B combined of 50% or higher at the first attempt, and a mark of 50% or higher at the first attempt in Social Anthropology 2, Social Enquiry 2 and Social and Political Theory 2. A student who does not achieve the 50% level may exceptionally be permitted to proceed to honours under College Regulation 1.12 (c).

In third year  students take Theoretical Archaeology (20 credits) and (2) Archaeology in Practice (20 credits), and two of the following Social Anthropology courses to a value of 40 credits:  Anthropological Theory;  Consumption, Exchange, Technology;  Kinship: Structure and Process;  Ritual and Religion, plus further courses in Archaeology or Classical Archaeology or Social Anthropology (40 credits).Students proposing to write a Social Anthropology dissertation, are required to take Imagining Anthropological Research. In the final year opt to take a dissertation in either Archaeology or Social Anthropology and a further 80 credits.

The Dissertation is written on a subject chosen and researched by the student under the supervision of a member of staff and is regarded as a key indicator of the ability of the student to bring to bear all the skills promoted by this degree programme. 

Students who wish to graduate with evidence of their practical archaeological experience, undertake ten weeks approved practical archaeological work during the vacations between the end of their second year (i.e. when they are admitted to honours) and the start of their final year and take the final year option, Archaeological Fieldwork.  This course is assessed solely by coursework, which consists of a portfolio based on the practical work undertaken, giving both a factual record of the student’s practical experience and placing this work in its regional and theoretical archaeological context, and a seminar presentation, which is a critical analysis of one project attended in relation to other similar projects and to the broader theoretical concerns of the discipline as a whole.

Exit awards

  • Certificate of Higher Education: year one.
  • Diploma of Higher Education: year two.
  • BA in Humanities and Social Science: year three (although entry to honours means the commencement of two years of integrated study leading to an honours degree and not all students will be qualified for the BA AHSS).
  • MA Honours in Archaeology and Social Anthropology: year four .

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

The learning outcomes are achieved through a variety of modes of study and assessment practices.

In first and second year the courses are of a broad survey type. These deal with a wide span of chronology and, sometimes, of geographical area. Teaching is delivered at this level through a combination of lectures to the whole class and small group sessions. A variety of different pieces of work will be assessed. These may include: essays, examinations, seminar presentations, tutorial performance, portfolios and seminar diaries.

In third and fourth years students take more specialised courses which are partly defined by the research interests of the members of staff. These are taught in seminar classes where a greater degree of independent study is required. These classes engage in a deeper way with the relating to the course and may involve work with primary source materials.

In fourth year the engagement with primary evidence is central to the work of all classes and the writing of a dissertation which is an exercise in independent study. In the Honours years work will be assessed through a variety of different means: essays, examinations, seminar presentations, seminar performance, document commentaries, projects, dissertations and seminar diaries.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 119810
Year 222780
Year 320800
Year 415850

Assessment methods and strategies

Courses can be assessed by a diverse range of methods and often takes the form of formative work which provides the student with on-going feedback as well as summative assessment which is submitted for credit.

Various assessment methods are used dependent on course options taken, but may include:

In Year 1


Source Analysis

Written Examinations

Tutorial assignments

Computer-based practical

Practical reports

In Year 2


Written Examinations

Visual slide test

Tutorial assignments

Class participation

Practical reports

Portfolio of practical work

Written presentation report

Multiple Choice Test


In Year 3


Written Examinations

Seminar Presentations

Practical reports

Group report

Class participation

In Year 4



Written Examinations

Seminar Presentations

Practical reports

Group report

Class participation

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 155342
Year 240060
Year 332959
Year 401486

Career opportunities

Many Archaeology graduates find employment in related areas working for government agencies and universities, or working as professional archaeologists for museums and heritage organisations. The transferable skills you develop during your degree also prepare you for other careers in business, management, accountancy, teaching, journalism, radio and television and the Civil Service.

Other items

Archaeology is fortunate in having a dedicated suite of laboratories for environmental archaeology and archaeological science.