Urban Archaeology Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Oct 10, 2019

Urban archaeology involves the excavation, preservation and study of cities. Explore the undergraduate and graduate degree program options, common coursework and employment opportunities.

Essential Information

Urban archaeologists study cities that are over 5,000 years old with societies that assigned specific tasks to citizens, had a social ranking system, maintained a political structure, and developed a complex economy. Bachelor's degree programs give students a firm background in the field through courses and on-site experiences, but graduate study is necessary to work in archeology.

For admittance into a master's program, students must have a bachelor's in a related subject, such as archaeology or anthropology, but a school may consider degrees in other fields. Some degree programs require applicants demonstrate reading proficiency in a foreign language. Most programs also require applicants to submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), transcripts, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Some institutions may only accept applicants to a master's program who are planning to complete a Ph.D. A master's degree program takes two to three years to complete. Before graduating, a thesis is required.

Doctoral programs are required for individuals who wish to conduct advanced research or teach at the university level. Students must complete at least a bachelor's degree in a related discipline, such as anthropology, history or archaeology. A university may ask for transcripts, GRE scores, a scholarly work sample, letters of recommendation and a study plan. There may be a foreign language requirement. To qualify for doctoral candidacy, applicants must pass qualifying written and oral examinations to demonstrate competence in the subject. A doctoral program can be finished in two to five years. A dissertation is required for graduation.

Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology

A Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology provides a student with a thorough understanding of the theory of archaeology, along with learning the associated and necessary skills to become an archaeologist. A student who wishes to focus on urban archaeology may choose a related concentration, such as archaeology in complex societies, or urbanism and cities. Other classes include archaeology, anthropology, history or classic arts. A program may require students to be fluent in a foreign language, complete a fieldwork experience, or allow a student to undertake a research project. Some schools offer summer fieldwork opportunities in places like Europe.

The first years of a bachelor's program consists of introductory courses in the principles of archaeology as well as instruction in fieldwork, laboratory and research methods. Students also take courses in computer and statistical methods. In the latter half of the degree program, students may select elective courses in topics like:

  • Ancient city-states
  • History of architecture
  • Urbanization in society
  • Historical urbanism
  • Egyptian art and architecture

Master of Arts in Archaeology

Students interested in pursuing advanced positions or entering a career in research can pursue a Master of Arts in Archaeology. The program offers students a variety of concentrations, such as archaeology materials, classical Rome and Greece or historical archaeology. Students take graduate courses, attend seminars, and participate in science labs and fieldwork. In addition, they can choose elective courses in anthropology, geography and history. Specific courses may include:

  • Medieval archaeology
  • Political economy and classical civilizations
  • History of Mesoamerica
  • Greek ceramics
  • Archaeology research design
  • Law and ethics in archaeology

Ph.D. in Archaeology

Students who want to conduct advanced research and teach within academia earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Archaeology. Students in their first year examine related topics such as hieroglyphics and socio-cultural anthropology. They may also take courses in archaeological theory and interpretation, which may be beneficial to graduates who decide to conduct independent research of archaeological sites around the world. The last years of study are devoted to teaching undergraduates and completing research. Students who wish to focus on the sub-discipline of urban archaeology may seek a university with faculty who specialize in urban domestic, landscape or historical anthropology.

Students may be required to enroll in core graduate level courses and seminars, such as complex societies archaeology and ancient society materials. Students have to take courses in field techniques if they don't meet the necessary background requirements. Other courses may include:

  • Archaeological chemistry
  • Asian archaeology
  • Archaeology of colonial cities
  • Industrial archaeology
  • Research design for archaeology

Popular Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cultural resource management (CRM) is the preservation of historical and archaeology sites that are found on public and private land ( Bachelor's degree graduates may find positions with a CRM firm working in archaeology education or public programs (some teaching experience may be required). Graduates with a master's or doctoral degree can apply for jobs in museums, government agencies, nonprofits and academia. Graduates may pursue the following careers:

  • Community college professor
  • Pre-construction archaeology consultant
  • Archaeology educator in a museum
  • Archaeology researcher, writer or technician
  • Field archaeologist (needs fieldwork experience)
  • Archaeological interpreter

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS reported that employment of anthropologists and archaeologists was expected to increase 10% between the years 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations ( In order to preserve historical sites and cultural artifacts uncovered during construction and road projects, cities may require the services of more urban archaeologists. Employment for archaeologists was anticipated to be best with scientific research and development firms; those with a Ph.D. and relevant fieldwork experience are projected to have the best opportunities. The BLS also reported that, in May 2018, the median annual wage of anthropologists and archaeologists was $62,410.

Continuing Education and Certificate Options

An institution may offer undergraduate non-degree certificate programs in subjects related to archaeology. Students or professionals interested in urban archaeology may wish to obtain an undergraduate certificate in historic preservation. Courses may include CRM, archaeological resources conservation and historical archaeology, as well as an internship. A certificate may be offered with a bachelor's degree.

Students can explore additional subjects in more detail or acquire practical skills related to urban archaeology by earning a graduate certificate in GIS (geographical information system) or historic preservation. Certificates may be taken independently or with a degree program.

Students interested in studying urban archaeology can earn a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree in the field to learn about past civilizations and archaeology research design methods. Graduates can work for the government, nonprofits or academia, and may wish to obtain certifications through non-degree certificate programs.

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