Archaeometallurgy Graduate Programs

Feb 15, 2019

Those who wish to enter the field of archaeometallurgy, and study and analyze the metal remains of past cultures, will have options at the masters and doctoral level for graduate study.

Archaeometallurgy concerns the study of past cultures through the examination of their material remains, specifically those made of metal. Those who wish to pursue the study of archeometallurgy typically pursue advanced study in the fields of archaeology. Study in the field of materials science may also provide an excellent background for this work.

Program Options

Master's Degrees in Archaeology

One option for graduate study is to pursue the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in Archaeology. Successful completion of this degree may lead to careers in cultural resource management, project management, or as a field or laboratory assistant. Typically, two years of full-time study is required to complete the M.A. or M.S. in Archaeology. To complete this degree, students typically undertake a core set of archaeology courses and then choose additional courses or seminars within an area of specialization. Students also typically complete either a thesis or capstone project. Qualifying exams or knowledge of foreign languages may also be required. To apply, students should hold a bachelor's degree with some coursework in archaeology. They should submit transcripts, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, resume, and recommendations to be considered for admission.

Master of Science in Materials Science

As a closely-related degree, an M.S. in Materials Science may also be taken before advancing to the Ph.D. in Archaeology. Materials scientists focus on the properties and applications of a wide range of materials. Typically, a range of coursework and a final thesis or project will be required for the completion of the degree. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, GRE results, recommendations, and a resume or other evidence of research experience. Some background in engineering or physical sciences may be required.

Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology

For those interested in research and teaching in the field of archaeometallurgy, consideration should be given towards earning a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., in archaeology. Students may enter this degree program with an M.S. in archaeology or a closely related discipline; or might earn the master's degree as they progress through the Ph.D. Typically, students will begin their program of study with coursework. Students then sit for a qualifying or general exam, which measures familiarity with the literature of archaeology and the student's chosen subdiscipline; as well as a preliminary exam, which demonstrates the ability to complete the dissertation. To complete the degree, students then produce a dissertation which provides independent research into their field of specialization. Foreign language competency may be a graduation requirement as well. Usual application requirements include GRE scores, a statement of purpose, transcripts, CV, and recommendations. A writing sample or provisional doctoral research topic may be requested as well.

Program Information and Courses

Successful completion of a program of study leading to a career in archaeometallurgy will require a range of courses in the fundamentals of archaeology, metal science, and an understanding of cultures of the past. Some of the courses that graduate students may encounter are provided here.

Heritage and Resource Management

This course may help students develop an understanding on how historic sites, buildings, and archaeological sites are managed both in the United States and abroad. A range of issues related to conservation may be discussed. Case studies or visits to heritage sites may provide hands-on learning opportunities.

Composite Materials

This course may focus upon the technology of composite materials, including metals and ceramics. The properties of these materials, including structural arrangements and thermomechanical responses may be considered. Assessments and other materials used to study composite materials may be further considered.

Archaeological Ethics and Law

A course in ethics and law may consider the current legal framework of the practice of archaeology. Current regulations including excavation and study may be considered. Modern issues, such as the antiquities market, maritime law, and looting may be explored as well.


This course may provide an introduction to the various principles of the corrosion of materials, and how materials can be protected from corrosion. Topics may include thermodynamics, electrochemical corrosion, and kinetics. The various types of corrosion, including pitting, crevice, and intergranular, may be reviewed as well.

Metallurgy of Asia

The dramatic development of metallurgy in Asia is a very important consideration for cultural shifts within the ancient world. A course on the metallurgy of Asia will focus upon the appearance of copper, bronze, and other metals in China and across other parts of Asia. The roles of metal in ritual, military, and economic aspects of Asian culture may be studied.

Material Culture and Cookware

This course may begin with a general overview of material objects and culture. Students may then delve into the uses of various forms of cookware, including pots, pans and utensils across a wide range of cultures. Various traditions and fashions associated with types of cookware may be considered.

Archaeological Materials Identification and Analysis

A course in materials identification may focus on how to classify, quantify, and interpret materials retrieved from archaeological sites. The use of various technologies to age the artifacts may be considered. Students may be able to gain hands-on laboratory experience with these technologies.

Ancient and Historic Metals

This course may begin with an overview of the beginnngs of metalwork in ancient times, including the transformation of ore to metal and distribution of metal. Students may then review the use of metals in a range of times and places, including Bronze Age Europe, Japanese swordmaking, and South and Central American copper and copper-gold alloys. Laboratory procedures such as mass spectrometry and microscopic examination may provide hands-on experience in archaeometallurgy.

A graduate degree can provide students a solid understanding of the research and laboratory-based techniques involved in analyzing and understanding archaeological metal samples. These degrees can help students to develop a career in this area.

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