Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

MA (Hons) Archaeology

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
UCAS code: V400
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Archaeology
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: SHCA Quality Director
Date of production/revision: May 2012

External summary

Archaeology provides a unique perspective on the human past, on what it is to be human. As the only subject that deals with the entire human past in all its temporal and spatial dimensions, it is fundamental to our understanding of how we evolved and how our societies came into being. 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. It is a discipline with its own methods and theory drawing on a rich archive of past work; research and teaching in archaeology are therefore multi - or interdisciplinary: a particular topic or theme may be approached from different perspectives, and with different methodologies. At Edinburgh the main focus is on the prehistory of Britain, temperate Europe, the Mediterranean and Near East with a range of specialisms in bioarchaeology, illustration and landscape archaeology.

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
  • employ appropriate participative team skills and team leadership skills.

Educational aims of programme

  • to provide an education in Archaeology appropriate to the requirements of the vocational and non-vocational student. 
  • to provide a multidisciplinary understanding of Archaeology within a specific Geographic and Chronological framework.
  • to explore the theoretical and methodological basis of Archaeology and its relationship to other disciplines and the contribution which it makes to the past and contemporary worlds.
  • to develop the intellectual and professional tools required to work effectively with material drawn from all forms of archaeological investigation. 
  • to develop the student’s ability to evaluate and question different bodies of data, formulate and test hypotheses and to present evidence using the full range of written, numeric and graphic skills.
  • to give practical experience of the practice of archaeology.
  • to encourage the students’ intellectual and creative independence, through the acquisition of a wide range of transferable skills.
  • to equip students for progression to a wider range of carers or further academic study.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

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

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

  • ability to identify, define and analyse archaeological 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.

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

  • openness to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking.
  • ability to identify processes and strategies for learning.
  • independence as a learner, with readiness to take responsibility for one’s own learning, and commitment to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement.
  • ability to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought.
  • ability to test, modify and strengthen one’s own views through collaboration and debate
  • intellectual curiosity.
  • ability to sustain intellectual interest.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

  • ability to make effective use of oral, written and visual means convey understanding of archaeological problems and issues and one’s interpretation of them.
  • ability to marshal argument lucidly and coherently.
  • ability to collaborate and to relate to others.
  • readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness.
  • ability to articulate one’s skills as identified through self-reflection.

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

  • an ability to employ appropriate participative team skills and team leadership skills (notably managing a small group and directing the work of others in the context of archaeological fieldwork).
  • an ability to manage their own time and of 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

  • an understanding of the relationship between the theory and practice of archaeology.
  • an understanding of the ethical, social and political issues which surround the practice of archaeology and the interpretation of archaeological data.
  • an understanding of the professional organisation and structure of archaeology in one or more countries.
  • undertaken a substantial basis of training in field archaeological techniques, or training in related areas of applied archaeology.
  • an understanding to an appropriate level of laboratory-based techniques and applications.
  • an understanding of the processes of data management and quantitative methods as applied to archaeology.
  • an ability to read a foreign language, where relevant.
  • an ability to use a range of presentation aids and electronic resources for effective communication.

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 of level-eight courses from a prescribed list, and 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 40 credits of courses from a prescribed list, and 40 credits of outside subject(s).

Progression Requirements: A pass in Archaeology 2A and 2B at the standard required for admission to honours (currently an average mark of 50% for these two 20-credit courses at the first attempt) and a pass (40%) in the other second year courses taken (total 120 credits).  A student who does not achieve the 50% level may exceptionally be permitted to proceed to honours under College Regulation 1.12 (c).

Year 3:

Theoretical Archaeology and Archaeology in Practice and four honours option courses chosen from Archaeology or Classical Archaeology (120 credits).

Year 4:

Four honours option courses chosen from Archaeology or Classical Archaeology and a Dissertation (120 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)

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 material 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 121790
Year 223770
Year 314860
Year 49910

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

Essays

Source Analysis

Written Examinations

Tutorial assignments

Computer-based practical

Practical reports

In Year 2

Essays

Written examinations

Tutorial assignments

Class participation

Practical reports

Portfolio of practical work

Written presentation report

Multiple Choice Test

In Year 3

Essays

Written examinations

Seminar Presentations

Class participation

Practical reports

Group report

In Year 4

12,000 word dissertation

Essays

Written examinations

Seminar Presentations

Class participation

Practical reports

Group report

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 157043
Year 250248
Year 315481
Year 48686

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.