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Degree type


Course length

2 years full-time, 3 years part-time


Durham City

Programme code


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Course details

Note: This course replaces the MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects, which was previously offered. 

The MSc in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Professional Practice) combines specialist conservation skills with theoretical knowledge and a year-long placement. You will develop the skills to research, analyse, preserve and care for historic and archaeological objects, and safeguard them for future generations.

This practical course, which is studied over two years full time or three years part time, is designed for those interested in a career as a conservator of historical objects, or in the fields of artefact research or collections care. While we draw students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, they share a number of essential traits, those of manual dexterity, a knowledge of chemistry and the desire and commitment to work with museum objects.

Taught by qualified conservators, you will learn about conservation skills, artefact studies, methods of conservation, and how to care for collections. One day you might be looking into the ethics of conservation, the next you could be learning about chemical compositions used in the preservation of different materials.

You will spend the final year on placement. The placement year is normally spent developing your skills in a conservation laboratory at a major museum. Previous industrial partners have included the Museum of London, the National Museum of Wales and the York Archaeological Trust.

As a conservation student you will have access to many of the Department’s state-of-the-art facilities, these include a photographic studio, internationally renowned research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotope analysis, and environmental archaeology, luminescence dating as well as unique collections of artefacts.

We are also home to Archaeological Services Durham University, a leading commercial archaeological fieldwork unit. This means we can provide expert training on the latest fieldwork practices from professional archaeologists.

The Department of Archaeology at Durham is one of the largest in the world and is considered a leader in archaeological research in the UK. We have a global reputation for our academic standards and the quality of teaching. We are also highly fortunate to be based in the city of Durham which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and located near some of the country’s renowned archaeological sites, such as Hadrian’s Wall and the Saxon monastery at Jarrow.

Course Structure

Conservation Theory and Method provides the knowledge to professionally plan the conservation of archaeological and museum objects. You will develop an understanding of the evolution of conservation, its organisation, present day aims and methods used. You will also consider how ethical factors influence the approach to work.

Conservation Skills is a practical module that gives you the opportunity to work on archaeological objects and carry out a range of laboratory, fieldwork, documentation, cleaning, adhesion and replication activities. You will learn to examine and successfully treat archaeological objects and to document the impacts of their interventions in preparation for later practical coursework.

Artefact Studies provides an understanding of the theory, practice and status of artefact studies, with a particular focus on museum collections and archives. You will learn about the physical properties and the traditional production and use of materials and products and also develop skills in handling, analysing, interpreting and recording objects by examining and comparing collections from different periods and cultures.

Care of Collections (Conservation) introduces the concept of preventative conservation and the issues involved with caring for collections. It provides a detailed understanding of the environmental factors that cause deterioration and presents ways they can be monitored and tackled. 

Conservation Practice requires you to conserve three or more complex objects made of a range of materials. You will gain experience in making decisions about the conservation treatment of objects, undertaking research, 'hands on' cleaning, stabilisation and restoration work, and recording details of your work. You will also develop an understanding of prioritising and organising your work, securing materials, facilities and working with curators. 

The 10-month Professional Practice Placement is a valuable opportunity to develop your skills in a professional conservation environment and to experience firsthand the responsibilities and day-to-day pressures of a working environment. Alongside your conservation skills you will begin to develop the organisation, judgement and management skills required for a career in the sector.  


The first year is delivered through a mixture of University-based lectures, seminars and practical classes along with site visits. Contact time typically comprises 4-5 hours a week of lectures, 6 hours of practical work including seminars, 3 hours of structured self-development learning and up to 9 hours of conservation skills working in the conservation laboratory.

Lectures provide key information on a particular topic and identify areas for discussion and debate. Seminars and practical sessions then provide opportunities for you to further develop your knowledge and skills, based on the knowledge gained from lectures and your own independent study. The Department also hosts a programme of weekly research seminars linked to topics covered on the MSc, which will give you further insight into the subject. 

You will have plenty of opportunities to spend time in the conservation laboratory, learning about methods of conservation, developing skills in handling and analysing artefacts and learning how to make decisions to help safeguard this material for the future as your ability to work independently grows.The second year is spent on an industrial placement, gaining direct experience of the practical and applied skills you will need to work in conservation.


Assessments are rigorous and continuous throughout the course. Assessment methods vary and are designed to demonstrate your skills and understanding of the coursework. They include essays, reports, exams and portfolio write ups based on your practical work.

The professional practice placement, which is completed in the second year, is assessed by a portfolio, reflective essay and research paper.

Entry requirements

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent in any subject and a pass in Mathematics Grade 4 (or C) or above at GCSE level, or equivalent.

Applicants without a degree will be required to demonstrate sufficient academic capability to satisfactorily complete this degree. Chemistry requirements, one of the following: An 'AS' level in Chemistry or its equivalent, A degree that included a significant science component, e.g. Biology or Material Science, An A, B or C grade for Chemistry in a Scottish 'Higher' or similar high grade in the Irish 'Leaving Certificate' may also be acceptable, Completion of university level course units in Inorganic and Organic chemistry - this is particularly appropriate for students from North America, Completion of the 'Chemistry for Conservators' course. This is a correspondence course, which lasts approximately 6 months. Details of the course are available here.

All students need to be able to accurately distinguish between colours and safely handle objects, scalpels, and other conservation tools. Students may be required to undertake tests to ascertain the levels of some of these skills, if they are invited to visit. Evidence of engagement with and interest in archaeological and museum objects, while not formally required, is highly recommended. This may be in the form of employment, internship or volunteer work in a museum, historic house, or a collecting institute, such as an archaeological repository, or through archaeological site work.

Please note there are a maximum of ten places available on the course each year, due to the size of the teaching laboratory.

We will only consider applications from those where English is not their first language if they have taken a relevant English Language test which meets the minimum requirements.

Reference requirements:

One satisfactory academic reference is required, however, an additional reference from someone familiar with any museum, archaeology, art or laboratory experience you may have is always welcome.

Application deadlines

As there are a finite number of places on this course and demand is quite high, we operate a staged admissions process with three rounds of application deadlines.

If you apply before the Application deadline for a particular stage, as shown below, you will normally receive a response on or before the Decision by date. In some instances, it may be necessary for us to roll your application forward to the next round.

  • All deadlines are 23:59 UK time (GMT)
  • Although we aim to give you a decision on your application by the listed date, due to the volume of applications this may not always be possible. Please note that we reserve the right to issue offers to exceptional candidates in advance of each deadline.

Applications received after the Round 1 deadline will be considered in Round 2. Applications received after the Round 2 deadline will be considered in Round 3. Applications received after the Round 3 deadline will be considered at our discretion only if places are still available on the course.

Applicants are strongly recommended to apply well in advance of the application deadline.

Round One:

Application by: Jan 2nd  2024

Decision by: February 1st 2024

Round Two:

Application by: March 1st  2024

Decision by April 1st 2024

Round Three:

Application by: May 15th  2024

Decision by June 15th 2024

Tuition fee deposit

All self-financing overseas students are required to pay a £1000 tuition fee deposit if an offer from the Department of Archaeology is accepted. The tuition fee deposit is paid before the University issues a Confirmation of Acceptance to Study (CAS) number, which is required in order to apply for a visa. £500 deposit is also payable by UK applicants if an offer of a place from the Department of Archaeology is accepted. 

English language requirements

Fees and funding

Year 1

Home students £15,500 per year
EU students £34,000 per year
Island students £15,500 per year
International students £34,000 per year

Year 2 

Home students £5,400   per year
EU students £11,500 per year
Island students £5,400   per year
International students £11,500 per year

The tuition fees shown are for one complete academic year of study, are set according to the academic year of entry, and remain the same throughout the duration of the programme for that cohort (unless otherwise stated).

Please also check costs for colleges and accommodation.

Scholarships and Bursaries

We are committed to supporting the best students irrespective of financial circumstances and are delighted to offer a range of funding opportunities. 

Find out more about Scholarships and Bursaries

Career opportunities


Many of our postgraduates move into an academic career, either teaching or by taking up post-doctoral research positions in universities. Others join museums or national and regional heritage organisations. Some work in professional archaeology, in national or local planning departments, while others elect to use their analytical and presentation skills to gain positions in industry, commerce and government.

Department information


The Department of Archaeology is home to one of the largest postgraduate communities in Europe who benefit from world class academic teaching and leading-edge facilities to be able to pursue their passion for studying the past, interpreting the present and understanding the future.

The wide-ranging courses are research-led and delivered by staff who are recognised experts in specialisms that span world, European and British archaeology from the last ice age to the post-medieval period.

Our taught courses provide the ideal grounding for further academic research at a higher level but also offer essential preparation for entering a professional career.

They include MA Museum and Artefact Studies, MA International Cultural Heritage Management, and MA Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects, all of which have strong vocational themes. The MSc Bioarchaeology and MA Archaeology offer ideal preparation for research careers and specialisation and our unique MSc Human Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology and MSc Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology are ideal for postgraduates nurturing both academic and professional aspirations.

We welcome applications from researchers seeking MRes and PhD qualifications tailored to specific interests, and we offer strong developmental support.

With our expertise in a wide range of archaeological disciplines and significant research activity across the globe, our aim is to create a top-class learning environment that is vibrant and supportive and enables you to make a difference in your chosen field.

For more information see our department pages.


  • 10th in the QS World University Subject Rankings for Archaeology 2023
  • 1st in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024
  • 3rd in The Complete University Guide 2024
  • 6th in The Guardian University Guide 2024


For a current list of staff, please see our Archaeology pages.

Research Excellence Framework

  • 97% of our research outputs graded world-leading or internationally excellent (REF 2021)
  •  2nd in the UK top ten for the overall quality of research (REF 2021)


The Department of Archaeology has a reputation for excellence and connections across the world.

We are home to state-of-the-art laboratories, specialist technology and some of the best library resources in the UK. We have project rooms with interactive technology, teaching laboratories, a computer suite, a photographic studio and scientific research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotopes, environmental archaeology, luminescence dating, palaeopathology and bone chemistry, many of which are used as learning resources for out postgraduate community.

Taught courses and researchers alike benefit from our status as co-owners of a UNESCO World Heritage site and the extensive range of library, museum and artefact collection resources on offer at Durham.

The Department of Archaeology can be found in the Dawson Building, which is ideally situated at the heart of the Durham city campus, next to the Bill Bryson Library and the Palatine Centre.

More information on our facilities and equipment.


Find out more:

Apply for a postgraduate course (including PGCE International) via our online portal.  

Visit Us

The best way to find out what Durham is really like is to come and see for yourself!

Join a Postgraduate Open Day
  • Date: 01/09/2023 - 31/08/2024
  • Time: 09:00 - 17:00
Find out more
Self-Guided Tours
  • Date: 01/09/2023 - 31/08/2024
  • Time: 09:00 - 16:00
Find out more

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