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Archaeological Science (MSc)

  • Duration: 1 year
  • Mode: Full time

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Start date

Open day

Find out more about studying here as a postgraduate at our next Open Day.

Why study this course

The MSc Archaeological Science will provide you with a solid grounding in the theory and application of scientific principles and techniques within archaeology.



Master the skills of an archaeological scientist in a dynamic programme taught by leading experts.


Scientific, thematic and period-based

Our training gives you excellent foundations, with flexibility to specialise.


Taught by experts

From biomolecular and osteoarchaeology to zooarchaeology, adapt to suit your interests.


Purpose-built laboratories

Suite of laboratories including scanning Electron Microscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared and visualisation technologies.

The MSc Archaeological Science will provide you with a solid grounding in the theory and application of scientific principles and techniques within archaeology. The programme also develops critical, analytical and transferable skills that prepare you for professional, academic and research careers in the exciting and rapidly advancing area of archaeological science or in non-cognate fields.

The programme places the study of the human past at the centre of archaeological science enquiry. This is achieved through a combination of science and self-selected thematic or period-based modules allowing you to situate your scientific training within the archaeological context(s) of your choice. The programme provides a detailed understanding of the foundations of analytical techniques, delivers practical experience in their application and data processing, and the ability to design and communicate research that employs scientific analyses to address archaeological questions. Upon graduation you will have experience of collecting, analysing and reporting on data to publication standard and ideally equipped to launch your career as a practising archaeological scientist.

Where you'll study

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Curious about the human experience across millennia and cultures, we are seeking to better understand our past, to illuminate our present and improve our future.

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  • MarkerColum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU

Admissions criteria

The programme is suitable for Archaeology BSc, BA and other BSc graduates interested in acquiring multidisciplinary skills in this expanding area of archaeological science research.

  • Applicants are required to have a minimum 2:1 undergraduate degree in Archaeology, History, Ancient History, Conservation & Heritage, Geology, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Zoology. Students with a high 2:2 (57+) will only be considered in exceptional circumstances when they have relevant experience (e.g. field/laboratory work, or excellent marks in relevant modules).

Typical offers for other qualifications: applicants without the usual formal qualifications but extensive relevant experience, for example, working in archaeological fieldwork or post- excavation may be considered for entry to the diploma scheme.

The Archaeology and Conservation section is already familiar with considering potential students from non-traditional backgrounds with a range of other experience rather than formal academic qualifications. Such potential students will normally make an enquiry prior to application; however, they can then apply in the normal way, but are required to submit evidence of their relevant work, and are interviewed in relation to this.

The principal concerns of the admissions panel will be that their experience is up-to-date and sufficiently substantial to support their admission to a master's scheme; the interview tests their personal understanding both subject area and the practical structure of this level of postgraduate work.

Typical IELTS offer: An overall IELTS score of 6.5, with at least 6.0 in each sub-score is required for non-native English speakers or those who have not had a substantial part of their education taught in the English language.

Admissions appeals can be made following established protocol, starting with informal feedback and if necessary progressing to a formal appeal.

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must present an acceptable English language qualification in order to meet UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) requirements

Criminal convictions

You are not required to complete a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service) check or provide a Certificate of Good Conduct to study this course.

If you are currently subject to any licence condition or monitoring restriction that could affect your ability to successfully complete your studies, you will be required to disclose your criminal record. Conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • access to computers or devices that can store images
  • use of internet and communication tools/devices
  • curfews
  • freedom of movement, including the ability to travel to outside of the UK or to undertake a placement/studies outside of Cardiff University
  • contact with people related to Cardiff University.

Course structure

MSc Archaeological Science commences with stage one, a seven month, taught component taken between September and May. You will complete taught modules totalling 120 credits, which can lead to the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Archaeological Science.

On completing stage one, you apply and further develop advanced skills and expert knowledge by undertaking a four-month research project between May-September (stage two). You will choose your own MSc project and this will culminate in the submission of an MSc Dissertation.

Stage one will equip you with a range of methodological, discipline-specific and transferable skills, including communication and scientific data handling skills. You will progress from graduate standard at entry to a research base level by completion of this stage, and will be tasked with increasingly complex challenges with which to test your emerging skills. Stage one also provides you with discipline-specific knowledge in preparation for the research stage in Stage two.

Stage two comprises a 60 credit Archaeological Science Dissertation (16-20,000 words, topic or theme chosen in consultation with academic staff)

Topics can range from entirely theoretical evaluations of archaeological science values, through assessment of materials, to a case study based project related to an object, assemblage, collection or site. Hence, the differentiation from graduate-based learning develops systematically into research-based learning as the programme progresses.

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2020/21 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2020.

The autumn semester offers you a choice of two 20 credit modules in archaeological science of which at least one must be selected (e.g. Human Osteoarchaeology and Zooarchaeology). At the same time a 20 credit compulsory core study skills module provides essential training in master’s level research, presentation and planning skills.

In the spring semester a further 20 credits archaeological science modules are available to make up the required minimum of 40 credits of taught science modules. You will also complete a 20 credit core module on archaeology and conservation specific training (covering quantification, communication, employment and independent research skills).

Depending on the number of archaeological science modules selected (40 credits is the minimum), you will supplement your  core skills and science training with a further 20 or 40 credits from a wide range of period (from prehistory to medieval), thematic (e.g. Death and Commemoration or Celts), skills (such as illustration, computing and GIS) and heritage science optional modules. These optional modules can be selected in either semester and some run across both semesters.

On successful completion of the taught stage of the programme, you will progress to your dissertation. The dissertation module focuses on the application of the knowledge of skills gained in stage one through research, culminating in the submission of a 16-20,000 word 60 credit dissertation. Your supervisor will guide, support and encourage you throughout this process.

The University is committed to providing a wide range of module options where possible, but please be aware that whilst every effort is made to offer choice this may be limited in certain circumstances. This is due to the fact that some modules have limited numbers of places available, which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have minimum student numbers required before they will run, to ensure that an appropriate quality of education can be delivered; some modules require students to have already taken particular subjects, and others are core or required on the programme you are taking. Modules may also be limited due to timetable clashes, and although the University works to minimise disruption to choice, we advise you to seek advice from the relevant School on the module choices available.

Learning and assessment

How will I be taught?

Teaching is delivered via lectures, laboratory sessions, interactive workshops and tutorials, in addition to visits to relevant local resources such as the National Museum Wales and local heritage organisations.

Lectures take a range of forms but generally provide a broad structure for each subject, an introduction to key concepts and relevant up-to-date information. The Archaeological Science Master's provides students with bespoke training in scientific techniques during laboratory sessions. This includes developing practical skills in the identification, recording and analysis of archaeological materials during hands on laboratory sessions. These range from macroscopic e.g. bone identification, to microscopic e.g. material identification or status with light based or scanning electron microscopy, to sample selection, preparation and analysis e.g. isotopic or aDNA and include health and safety and laboratory management skills. Students will be able to develop specialist practical skills in at least one area of study. In workshops and seminars, you will have the opportunity to discuss themes or topics, to receive and consolidate feedback on your individual learning and to develop skills in oral presentation.

This programme is based within the School of History, Archaeology and Religion and taught by academic staff from across Cardiff University and by external speakers. All taught modules within the Programme are compulsory and you are expected to attend all lectures, laboratory sessions and other timetabled sessions. Students will receive supervision to help them complete the dissertation, but are also expected to engage in considerable independent study.

How will I be assessed?

The 120 credits of taught Modules within Stage 1 of the programme are assessed through in-course assessments, including:

  • Extended essays
  • Oral presentations
  • Poster presentations
  • Statistical assignments
  • Critical appraisals
  • Practical skills tests
  • Data reports
  • Research designs

You must successfully complete the taught component of the programme before progressing to Stage 2 where assessment is:

  • Dissertation (16-20,000 words)

How will I be supported?

All Modules within the Programme make extensive use of Cardiff University’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Blackboard, on which students will find course materials and links to related materials. Students will be supervised when undertaking their dissertation. Supervision will include scheduled regular meetings to discuss progress, provide advice and guidance; and provide written feedback on draft dissertation contents.

Students will receive written feedback on all assessments, in addition to oral feedback on assessed oral/poster presentations, provided within a maximum of four weeks from submission.

Personal Tutor

We offer one-to-one time in set office hours during teaching weeks, and welcome email contact. Additionally, you can make appointments to see your personal tutor on a one-to-one basis about any issue.  Our professional services team is also available for advice and support.

Your personal tutor is your contact point to discuss any problems arising from the course. Further queries should be addressed to the School’s Director of Postgraduate Taught.

Research Community

An active research seminar programme in Archaeology and Conservation, along with interdisciplinary postgraduate research seminars provide opportunities for discussion across the School and the University, and provides a creative environment in which you will be encouraged to develop your own ideas.


You will be provided with laboratory coats and access to our bioarchaeology and bioanalytical laboratories. These house a large collection of skeletal, molluscan and botanical material from modern samples, which is used as a comparative source for the identification of archaeological specimens. These also provide a full suite of equipment for bioarchaeological sample preparation and analysis, for example freeze-driers, drilling equipment, air abrasion, extraction hoods, ovens and hot blocks. 

There are separate X-Ray and microscopy laboratories which boast an excellent collection of analytical equipment (e.g. FTIR) in addition to SEM and light microscopy. Visualisation of materials and results is enhanced by our photographic equipment, computing facilities and digital illustration suite. Our collections also include a range of 3D printed resources, such as macro versions of microscopic pollen grains. A postgraduate room offers a dedicated space for individual work and informal contact with other students.

Outside the school, you will have access to a range of resources within Cardiff University, this includes aDNA preparation and analysis, Mass spectroscopy, TEM, MicroCT and more. A range of isotope analyses are undertaken in collaboration with School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, including carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium. Finally, Cardiff University libraries hold over 1.3 million printed books and 775k online books and journals including an extensive, established and wide ranging archaeological collection.

What skills will I practise and develop?

You will acquire and develop a range of valuable skills specific to archaeological science as well as generic ‘employability skills’. Through the programme, you will develop technical laboratory skills and be presented with opportunities to extend your communication and presentation skills, both written and orally. You will acquire specific skills, such as the ability to collect, analyse and interpret a range of complex quantitative and qualitative data. You will also develop valuable laboratory research-based skills, through the completion of a dissertation.

Graduates from this Programme will be able to:

  • Independently generate and analyse primary scientific research data in a laboratory context
  • Explain and critique the principles and methods of the major modes of analysis in archaeological science
  • Synthesise archaeological science research in investigating past societies
  • Debate the core principles, current themes and controversial issues in archaeological science
  • Formulate archaeological science research plans using a range of techniques
  • Critically evaluate knowledge at the forefront of a range of archaeological science
  • Undertake and accurately perform various laboratory-based methodologies relevant to archaeological science research.
  • Collect, evaluate, synthesise and interpret qualitative and quantitative data in a variety of ways; and assess means to gather new data where required.

What are the learning outcomes of this course/programme?

Knowledge & Understanding:

On successful completion of this programme you will demonstrate:

  • The ability to judge and critique the interpretative potential and limits of a suite of analyses in archaeological science
  • The ability to appraise scientific methods, data and formulate an interpretation based on this
  • The ability to produce, recommend and defend programmes of scientific analysis in academic and commercial archaeology

Intellectual Skills:

On successful completion of this programme you will demonstrate:

  • A critical awareness of practical, analytical and interpretative approaches in archaeological science
  • Independent analysis and interpretation
  • The ability to devise analytical strategies considering materials, stakeholders, finance, ethics and cultural context
  • The ability to synthesise wide-ranging information pertaining to archaeological science to verify interpretation

Professional Practical Skills:

On successful completion of this programme you will demonstrate:

  • The ability to source, synthesise and critically assess data from subject specific journals and books, including research and advanced scholarship
  • Advanced laboratory and/or field skills in the study of archaeological artefacts, materials and/or ecofacts
  • Proficiency in a selected range of methods and techniques within archaeological science
  • The ability to produce and critically analyse original scientific datasets using statistical and graphical approaches to inform interpretation
  • The ability to compose research designs for programmes of analysis in academic and commercial archaeology

Transferable/Key Skills:

On successful completion of this programme you will demonstrate:

  • The ability to use bibliographic and other research techniques to interrogate specialist topics in detail
  • Clear, concise and persuasive oral and written presentations to suit a range of audiences
  • The ability to produce independent analysis and interpretation drawing on primary source material
  • The ability to operate safely in laboratory environments; to understand, produce and follow standards and H&S procedures such as Risk Assessments
  • Critical self-awareness: self-reflection; self-management; time management; and the ability to continue to learn through reflection on practice and experience
  • The ability to act autonomously in planning, defending, implementing and analysing work

Tuition fees

UK and EU students (2020/21)

Tuition feeDeposit

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

EU students entering in 2020/21 will pay the same tuition fee as UK students for the duration of their course. Please be aware that fees may increase annually in line with inflation. The Welsh Government has not yet confirmed fees and funding for EU students starting in 2021/22. We will provide further details as soon as we can.

Students from outside the EU (2020/21)

Tuition feeDeposit

More information about tuition fees and deposits, including for part-time and continuing students.

Financial support may be available to individuals who meet certain criteria. For more information visit our funding section. Please note that these sources of financial support are limited and therefore not everyone who meets the criteria are guaranteed to receive the support.

Careers and placements

After successfully completing this MSc, you should have a broad spectrum of knowledge and a variety of skills, making you highly attractive both to potential employers and research establishments. You will be able to pursue a wide range of professional careers, within commercial and academic archaeology and the wider heritage sector. Career paths will generally be specialist and will depend on the choice of modules. Graduates will be well placed to pursue careers as a specialist in isotope analysis, zooarchaeological analysis or human osteoarchaeology. They will also be in a position to apply for general laboratory based work and archaeological fieldwork. Working within science communication and management are other options. Potential employers include archaeological units, museums, universities, heritage institutions, Historic England and Cadw. Freelance or self-employment career routes are also common for animal and human bone analysts with postgraduate qualifications.

The archaeology department has strong links and collaborations across the heritage sector and beyond. British organisations that staff currently work with include Cadw, Historic England, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, National Museum Wales, the British Museum,  the Welsh archaeological trusts and a range of other archaeology units (e.g. Wessex Archaeology, Oxford Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeology Unit, Archaeology Wales). In addition, staff are involved with archaeological research across the world. You will be encouraged to become involved in these collaborations via research projects and placements to maximise networking opportunities and increasing your employability.


There are no formal placement or study abroad opportunities associated with this programme. However, such opportunities could be facilitated, particularly as part of the dissertation research.


Master's Excellence Scholarship

This award worth £3000 is open to UK and EU students intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

Postgraduate Master’s Finance

If you’re starting your master’s degree in September 2020 or later, you may be able to apply for postgraduate student finance to support your study at Cardiff University.

Next steps


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