Master's degree programs in archaeology are rarely available online due to the heavy fieldwork involved in this discipline. Interested students should pursue campus-based study or online master's degree programs with similar coursework, like a Master of Science in Anthropology. Applicants should have related undergraduate study or professional experience. Students will also need to defend their thesis and complete a program's field and laboratory work requirements in person.
Students interested in most archaeology careers will likely need master's-level training, but students interested in advanced technical positions may need to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) instead.
Master's Degree in Archaeology
Archaeology is the study of the human past and our imprint on the landscape through investigation of material remains. In the U.S., archaeology programs are traditionally housed within anthropology departments. Those with prerequisite knowledge, gained from undergraduate study in a related field or through extensive professional experience, will further their understanding of artifact and architectural conservation, site preservation and project management through campus-based study.
Program Information and Requirements
A master's degree can be obtained typically within 2-5 years by completing on-campus courses and an original thesis. Once the fundamentals of archaeological methods and theories are covered, students concentrate on their specific research interests and geographical specialization; programs can be customized to the various specializations within archaeology. For example, a student interested in cultural resource management (CRM) may take courses in project planning, mitigation and data management. A historical archaeologist might find coursework in recording architecture and site preservation more useful. Aspiring museum curators would focus on conservation and restoration.
Archaeology courses at the master's level provide candidates study in relevant case studies illustrating the practical application of archaeological theories and techniques.
Field Methods in Archaeology Course
Excavation techniques are best learned through practice. Students acquire first-hand knowledge of local environmental conditions, differential preservation and sampling methodologies. For those with prior fieldwork experience, supervisory opportunities are available for instructing undergraduate field schools.
Materials Analysis Course
Laboratory analysis ranges from collecting basic metric and quantitative data on artifacts to using the latest technology to understand how objects were made or used. Interdisciplinary training in the chemical analysis of ceramics allows archaeologists to figure out the contents of, for instance, jars. Identifying pollen from soil samples tells students about the plants grown in an area. Analyzing lithic materials from a site may reveal where stone tools were made.
Conservation and Preservation Course
In this course, techniques for the preservation of standing architecture and conservation of perishable artifacts are studied in both field and laboratory settings. Contemporary issues in the field of heritage management are also addressed.
A master's degree in archaeology meets the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's requirements for eligibility to become a professional archaeologist with federal, state and tribal agencies, as well as a principal investigator for a CRM firm or a specialist for a research museum. Because of the diversity of public and private institutions employing archaeologists, wages are highly variable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $61,220 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
For those whose dream is to teach at the university level or run a CRM firm, a Ph.D. may also be obtained through on-campus learning. This decision should be made prior to applying to a program; typically, students enter archaeology programs as either doctoral or terminal master's candidates.
Online master's degree programs in archaeology are extremely rare; students interested in this field are more likely to find distance-learning courses related to the human past in anthropology programs. Curriculum requirements include field and lab work that students must be present for.