Online Archaeology Masters Degree Program Information

A master's degree in archaeology is required for project directors, principal investigators and other administrative positions in the cultural resource management industry. Online master's programs aren't generally offered in the U.S. due to heavy fieldwork and materials analysis components. Campus-based study provides the hands-on training required to gain employment in archaeology.

Essential Information

A master's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement for many archaeologist positions, although some of the more technical positions, and those in leadership roles, often require a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). However, master's degree programs in archaeology are not typically available online. Archaeologists typically have either a on-campus terminal master's degree or a Ph.D.

Related Degree Programs

Due to the lack of online availability, alternative programs are available online that include similar coursework. Alternative online degree programs include:

  • Master of Science in Anthropology
  • Master of Arts in Sociology
  • Master of Arts in Psychology

Master's Degree in Archaeology Overview

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 Offered

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.

Employment Options

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 mean annual salary for anthropologists and archaeologists was $60,230 as of May 2012 (

Continuing Education

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.

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