Archaeology Course and Class Descriptions

Students learning about archaeology discover the past through physical trace evidence that was buried or covered for decades, centuries or even millennia. These courses can be taken as part of a degree program at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Essential Information

Bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in archaeology are commonly available at colleges and universities. Courses in the subject may also be taken as part of an archaeology concentration in an anthropology, classical history, art history or medieval studies degree program. Working as an actual archaeologist normally requires a master's or doctoral degree in archaeology, although individuals may do fieldwork, work as laboratory technicians or assist other professionals in the field with only a bachelor's degree.

Depending on the program, students may choose a concentration that allows them to focus on a specific time period or geographical location. Some examples include Mediterranean archaeology or prehistoric archaeology. Archaeology programs of all levels normally require field experience at a location within the United States or abroad. There is usually a foreign language requirement, and a final research project or dissertation is often completed.

List of Courses

Some common courses completed during a degree program in archaeology are described below.

Principles of Archaeology

This is a platform course for students who wish to major in history, art, archaeology or anthropology. It explores how objects can be uncovered and studied to help scientists and scholars reconstruct societies, cultures, ceremonies and historical peoples and civilizations. Students study the methods and tools used by archaeologists to discover remains and objects and how they piece them together into a historical setting. Archaeologists can focus their study on animal, human or sea life, a geographical area or a time period.

Field Research

This course may be taken in a classroom, where professors review methods of dating and excavation, as well as a practicum in the field. Courses in field research are often taken at the beginning of an archaeology program and before students are allowed to do fieldwork. Stratigraphy, carbon dating and cross-dating are a few of the methods used by archaeologists working on site. In addition to these procedures, students learn about site survey, analysis, recording and excavation methods. Preservation of artifacts and the funding of private and public excavations may also be covered.


Paleoanthropology is the study of human origins and evolution, and students typically take this course near the beginning of an archaeology or anthropology program. Through fossil- and artifact-based evidence, as well as the context of culture and history, students construct their own ideas about how society's views on evolution have changed.


Zooarchaeology is the study of the bones and shells of ancient animals. By studying the remains, students learn how to identify the evolution and roles of animals, such as how they were used as food, tools, ritual sacrifices and transportation. Students learn how to determine the role of an animal by studying its vertebrae and identifying slaughter methods. Since the course prepares students to discuss the use of animals in a cultural context, it is usually taken early on in a program.

Ancient Egypt

As a specialized archaeology course, the study of Ancient Egypt focuses on the period between 6000 B.C. and the Roman occupation. Students learn about Egypt's gods and goddesses, rulers, architecture, medicine and economy. By studying the artifacts found in national and international museums, students can actively piece the culture together. Students may also study hieroglyphics and the Giza pyramids.

The Classical World

Students can enroll in this class after they have completed their introductory coursework. They study ancient Greece and Rome and the material culture found in these city-states. Key works of literature and letters are studied in comparison to the political and social events of the period. Philosophy, laws, architecture, warfare and rituals are also covered, and students acquire a better perspective of the social traditions, celebrations and problems of the classical world and its influence on contemporary culture.

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