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What is archaeology?

If you have a passion for history but want to get physical with your studies, archaeology offers you the chance to be the first to uncover hidden remnants of the ancient world.

A unique combination of history and science, of looking at the past to inform the future, and blending groundbreaking technology with antique skills, the study of archaeology gives you the opportunity to take a deep dive into the lives of your ancestors. As the subject is so closely linked to the advancement of technology, archaeology is one of the fastest moving industries and offers careers that will change and adapt over time.

Whilst you won’t be tomb raiding like Indiana Jones on a daily basis, archaeology will offer you a fascinating profession that could take you all over the world.

Archaeology course entry requirements

Archaeology is a unique subject, which teaches you brand new skills you may not have touched upon in your previous studies. This is good news for the budding archaeologist, because it means that many universities don’t require you to have taken certain subjects to get a place on their degree. Those that do will often mention history, to show passion and grounding in the subject, and a science, to show your analytical and laboratory skills.

With relatively loose entry requirements, your focus should therefore be on your application and personal statement. You’ll want to show your passion for history, but also your skills with computers and technology. Knowledge of another language, or at least an interest in travel, would also be beneficial, as archaeology is a global field which requires frequent international communication.

A levels – Entry requirements range from BBB to ABB, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for BBB.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBBBB to AABBB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring BBBBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for BBB.

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by 15 January
  • Write a personal statement
What you won’t need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Attend an interview
  • Pass an entry test
  • Show work experience

Will I get to travel during an archaeology degree?

The vast majority of archaeology degrees will require you to conduct field work, whether this is in your local area or further afield. Many universities will also offer overseas placements and trips, which are common for practising archaeologists.

Why study archaeology at university?

Archaeology is a study of passion, rather than profession. If you’ve always been interested in ancient history, and you like the idea of a job that can blend physical and theoretical work, then archaeology may be ideal for you. You may also be attracted to how broad the subject is, as it can stretch from the study of scrolls to the excavation of ruins, from searching for ancient texts to mapping trade routes of lost civilisations.

Archaeology is also a field where jobs are becoming more and more available. It can be easy to think that all archaeologists are looking for the next Tutankhamun, but in reality many of them are employed by construction companies to excavate sites before building can begin. There are many ways in which an archaeologist can make a living, and most will go into their first jobs earning around £18k.

If the employment prospects for archaeology don’t inspire you, bear in mind that this degree will give you a whole host of transferable skills that can be put toward other careers. The need for high levels of accuracy and analysis, whilst also requiring physical stamina, comfort with travel, skills with languages, and a good memory for facts, are all attractive qualities.

Some modules you may study are:

  • Business law
  • Archaeology and forensic science
  • Essential archaeological methods
  • Patterns of the past
  • Excavation
  • Aerial surveys
  • Palaeobotany
  • Analysis of artefacts

Can I study archaeology without a history background?

While you can probably get onto an archaeology degree without having studied history before, you’ll need to show a passion and interest in the subject. This isn’t only to convince the university of your suitability, but with archaeology so linked to history it’s for your benefit and enjoyment too.

What can you do with an archaeology degree?

Studying archaeology at degree level will most often lead to:

  • prehistoric archaeologist
  • classical archaeologist
  • medieval archaeologist

Your transferable skills can also equip you for jobs as a:

What’s it like to study archaeology?

The study of archaeology will combine lots of learning styles and environments into one course, as much of archaeology as a profession calls for adapting in real-time. One day you might be reading ancient dusty books in a library, the next you might be crawling through caves to uncover ruins. This is reflected in your studies, which will take you from the library to the laboratory in quick succession.

The life of an archaeologist involves a lot of individual research, so don’t be surprised if your degree reflects this. On average, you’ll only spend around nine hours per week in the classroom, giving you lots of time to pursue your personal archaeological interests and complete your assignments.

You’ll also spend a good amount of time conducting fieldwork, developing your practical skills, and making your own discoveries. These placements may offer you the opportunity to travel abroad, to countries like Greece and Egypt, which are steeped in ancient history.

You can choose to study archaeology as a BA or BSc. While there aren’t a lot of differences, in general you can expect more theory and study in the BA, and more practical laboratory work in the BSc. Both will give you what you need to become a talented archaeologist.

Like many degrees, you’ll spend your first year learning the foundations: these will include the development of archaeology, the basic tools and techniques of excavation, the art of reading ancient texts, and much more. In your second and third years, as well as your placements, you can follow your individual passions more closely and look toward certain cultures, civilisations, or eras.

Studying an archaeology degree is likely to involve:

  • writing reports and essays
  • conducting research projects
  • attending lectures and seminars
  • hearing from practicing archaeologists
  • field work and placements
  • laboratory sessions and experiments
  • project, presentation, and group work

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