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Degree type

MSc

Course length

1 year full-time, 2 years part-time.

Location

Durham City

Program code

F4KB09

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Please note: Courses may be affected by Covid-19 and are therefore subject to change due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. Applicants will be informed of any changes which we are required to make to course entries as a result of Covid-19.

Course details

Bioarchaeology is a branch of archaeology that focuses on the study of biological materials found in archaeological contexts to provide information about the life and environment of humans in the past. It is a fast-paced and continually evolving field, with new breakthroughs and discoveries emerging almost every month. Studying the subject at Durham University opens the door to the latest developments in archaeological science, including human bioarchaeology and palaeopathology, stable isotope mass spectrometry, ancient DNA, and environmental archaeology.

The Bioarchaeology Research Group at Durham works in cutting-edge laboratories, specialising and teaching in the areas of human health and well-being, diet and lifeways, human and animal identities, dispersals and mobility, the reconstruction of palaeoenvironments, and human-animal-environment relations. Many of the assemblages our students work with for their research derive from staff research projects, or the excavations of our in-house commercial unit, Archaeological Services.

Durham University’s unique MSc Bioarchaeology is aimed at inquisitive graduates from archaeology or science backgrounds, and those with professional experience in commercial archaeology or museums, who are interested in learning how biosciences can be applied to field research or museum collections. It provides high quality training in analytical, research, and communication skills, which prepares students for progression to doctoral research in bioarchaeology.

Course Structure

The MSc Bioarchaeology comprises five modules totalling 180 credits, one of which is a compulsory research skills module (30 credits), one a compulsory bioarchaeology thematic module (30 credits) and one of which is a supervised research dissertation (60 credits). The remaining two modules (each 30 credits) differ according to the pathway selected through the degree.

Potential routes:

The general Bioarchaeology degree will provide you with a broad understanding of bioarchaeology and does not place an emphasis on one particular specialism. You will be able to choose your optional modules from all of those on offer to MSc Bioarchaeology students. If you wish to specialise you may do so in either Environmental Archaeology or Biomolecular Archaeology and for these routes through the degree you will be required to take specific options.

Core modules (all routes):

  • Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 1): The foundational skills module for the degree, which provides you with an advanced understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods, research design, and presentation and communication skills required for post-graduate level study and beyond. It will be team taught by a range of staff in the Department and Archaeological Services.
  • Topics in Archaeological Science (30 credits, Term 2): This module explores key topics, research themes, and scientific methods in bioarchaeology, and enables you to critically evaluate their potential and limitations. It will be team taught by five of the Departments bioarchaeologists.
  • Dissertation (60 credits, Term 3): The capstone of the degree, this 15,000-word thesis provides you with experience of sustained, rigorous, independent research on a bioarchaeology topic selected by you or a member of staff and guided and supervised by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field.

If you elect to take the general Bioarchaeology degree you will complete your degree by selecting any two of the modules from list A, or one from list A and one from List B.

List A modules:

  • Environmental Archaeology (30 credits, Term 1): This module combines theoretical lectures, data analysis and presentation, and practical laboratory experience in three key strands of environmental archaeology: geoarchaeology, archaeobotany and zooarchaeology. It will be led by Professor Mike Church and Dr. Karen Milek.
  • Osteoprofiling (30 credits, Term 1): This module is taught through lectures and practical laboratory sessions. In this module you will learn all aspects of skeletal analysis, including bone fragment identification, techniques of sex determination, estimating age-at-death (children and adults) and metrical and non-metrical assessment. As well as experience with different skeletons each week, you will be given a skeleton to work on and to present a report on at the end of term. It will be led by Professor Becky Gowland, Dr Daniel Gaudio and Dr Tina Jakob.
  • Isotopic and Biomolecular Archaeology (30 credits, Term 2): This module focuses primarily on aDNA and isotopes. It combines theoretical lectures, data analysis and presentation, and practical laboratory experience. You will be expected to work as a team to produce datasets on which your three assessments (a specialist report, an academic poster and a non-specialist science communication) will be based. It will be led by Professor Janet Montgomery and Dr Eva Fernandez-Dominguez.
  • Practical Guided Study (30 credits, Term 2): This module involves a practical-based research project on a topic selected by you in which you already have prior expertise, with training and supervision provided by a member of staff who is an expert in the chosen field. It results in a specialist report of 4,000 words.

List B modules:

  • Themes in Palaeopathology (30 credits, Term 2): This module will be lead by Dr Tina Jakob and provides you with knowledge about how to conduct palaeopathological research using a biocultural approach, by considering specific themes and the evidence used to investigate them.

  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Migration and Movement of People in Medieval and Post-Medieval Britain (30 credits, Term 2): This module will be led by Dr Andrew Millard and explores the isotopic evidence and the ancient and modern genetic evidence for the movement and migration of people in the past.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Vikings, Fire and Ice – Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands (30 credits, Term 2): This module will be led by Professor Mike Church and examines the nature of human-environment interactions across a variety of island systems in the North Atlantic, and addresses themes of colonisation and human impact, adaptation to marginal environments, and economic continuity and change.
  • Research Topics in Archaeology: Current Geoarchaeology – Reconstructing Archaeological Sites (30 credits, Term 2): This module will be led by Dr Karen Milke introduces you to the range of geoarchaeological approaches currently being used to research daily life, living conditions, the use of space, and human-animal relations on archaeological sites.

MSc Bioarchaeology (Biomolecular Archaeology)

The MSc Bioarchaeology (Biomolecular Archaeology) enables you to specialise and focus your studies on biomolecular methods applied to organic remains recovered from archaeological sites, e.g. humans, animals, plants and soils. You will be able to gain expertise in the samples you wish to study and aDNA and isotopic methods used to investigate them.

If you wish to graduate in Biomolecular Archaeology, you will choose either Environmental Archaeology OR Osteoprofiling in Term 1 and Isotopic and Biomolecular Archaeology OR Migration and Movement of People Research Topic OR Practical Guided Study in Term 2.

MSc Bioarchaeology (Environmental Archaeology)

The MSc Bioarchaeology (Environmental Archaeology) enables you to specialise and focus your studies on environmental methods applied to organic remains recovered from archaeological sites, e.g. animals, plants and soils. You will be able to gain expertise in the samples you wish to study and the methods used to investigate and reconstruct human-animal-environment interactions in the past.

If you wish to graduate in Environmental Archaeology, you will choose Environmental Archaeology in Term 1 and Isotopic and Biomolecular Archaeology OR Current Geoarchaeology Research Topic OR Environmental Archaeology of the North Atlantic Islands Research Topic OR Practical Guided Study in Term 2.

Learning

The course is delivered through an exciting and challenging mixture of lectures, seminars, tutorials, workshops, practical classes, and a supervised dissertation. Lectures provide students with key information on a particular topic in bioarchaeology, and identify the main areas for discussion and debate. Seminars and tutorials provide opportunities for smaller groups of students to discuss and debate particular issues, based on the knowledge gained through lectures and independent study outside the programme’s formal contact hours. Practical classes and workshops allow students to gain direct experience of and acquire essential practical skills in the recording, analysis, and interpretation of bioarchaeological data, with guidance from experienced, world-leading scientists. Finally, through supervised projects and dissertations, students have the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills into practice, and to design and execute a substantial piece of independent, original research.

Throughout the degree emphasis is placed on working independently outside the formal contact hours, reading widely, exploring and synthesising large datasets, and to developing critical and analytical skills to an advanced level. The degree assessed through a variety of essays, reports, and skills-based exercises, culminating in the written dissertation based on original research.

Throughout the course students also have access to an academic advisor, usually the leader of their selected degree pathway, who provides them with academic support and guidance. All members of teaching staff have weekly office hours when they are available to meet with students on a ‘drop-in’ basis, but the Department’s teaching staff are renowned for being friendly, approachable, and helpful should you have queries at any time. The department and its Bioarchaeology Research Group are a vibrant research community, offering an exciting programme of Departmental, Bioarchaeology, and Postgraduate Research seminars that students are strongly encouraged to attend.

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class (2:1) degree (GPA 3.3.) or equivalent in Archaeology, Anthropology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geography, or related disciplines. Relevant working experience will also be considered.

Reference Requirements

One satisfactory reference is required.

Application Deadlines

There is no specific deadline for applications, although applications for any given academic year must be received before the start of that academic year (i.e. applications for the 2020/21 academic year must be received before October 2020).

Home/EU applicants are strongly recommended to apply by September to allow sufficient time for their applications to be processed before the start of the academic year. Overseas applicants are strongly recommended to apply by July, since they will need their Confirmation of Acceptance to Study (CAS) number to be issued before they can apply for a visa.

Tuition fee deposit

All self-financing overseas students are required to pay a £1,000 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.

A £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

Full Time Fees

Tuition fees
Home students £11,000 per year
EU students £23,750 per year
Island students £11,000 per year
International students £23,750 per year

Part Time Fees

Tuition fees
Home students £6,050 per year
EU students £13,070 per year
Island students £6,050 per year
International students £13,070 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

Archaeology

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

Archaeology

Our internationally respected research expertise will provide you with some of the best resources available for archaeological research. Here at Durham, we have one of only three commercial archaeology units in the UK based in a university department. You will be able to work with experts and have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and specialised facilities in the Department of Archaeology.

For more information see our department pages.

Rankings

  • 4th in the QS World University Subject Rankings for Archaeology 2021.
  • 3rd in The Complete University Guide 2021.
  • 3rd in The Guardian University Guide 2021.

Staff

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

Research Excellence Framework

  • Ranked joint 1st in the UK for Internationally Excellent and World-leading research impact (REF 2014).

Facilities

We are one of the most comprehensively equipped archaeology departments in the UK. Our facilities include project rooms with state-of-the-art interactive technology, teaching laboratories, a computer suite, a photographic studio, internationally renowned scientific research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotopes, environmental archaeology, luminescence dating, palaeopathology, soil and bone chemistry, and collections that support research in biometrics, informatics, and Anglo Saxon stone sculpture.

More information on our facilities and equipment.

Visit Us

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

Postgraduate Open Day
  • Date: 24/11/2021
  • Time: 09:00 - 17:00
Register for open day
Discover Durham Tours
  • Date: 25/10/2021
  • Time: 13:30 - 16:00
Register for open day