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Archaeological Science (MSc)

  • Duration: 2 years
  • Mode: Part time

Course options See other modes of study
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.

Our MSc Archaeological Science programme combines scientific training with thematic and period-based study, giving you the freedom to tailor your studies to suit your ambitions as a practising archaeological scientist or researcher.

You’ll acquire first-hand experience and a thorough practical understanding of the scientific principles and analytical techniques at the centre of archaeological science.

We create a sound base for you to maximise the impact of your research and propel your career forward. Whether you’re looking to take a general approach or to specialise in biomolecular archaeology, osteoarchaeology or zooarchaeology, you can create your own portfolio, blending modules by period, theme and skill.

Our experts are leading on an exciting range of innovative projects spanning early prehistory to the present day in four major themes: human and animal lifeways; houses and the built environment; materiality; and the social significance of chronology.

Our distinguished archaeology research seminar series provides further opportunities to engage with the latest national and international research developments.

Pursuing your studies in our suite of purpose-built laboratories, furnished with bioarchaeology and bioanalytical facilities and comprehensive reference collections, you’ll have access to a wealth of specialist equipment. In-house resources range from scanning electron microscopy and fourier transform infrared to raman spectroscopy instrumentation and x-ray facilities. Alongside sample preparation equipment and a bespoke photography suite, we offer specialist visualisation technologies from digital microscopy and GIS to digital illustration.

Our ground-breaking projects regularly feature rewarding collaborations with partners including Cadw, Historic England, National Museum Wales and the National Trust.

Celebrating the centenary of Archaeology and Conservation in 2020, we’re ranked in the world top 150 (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020) while our research ranked 12th among archaeology departments in the UK (Research Excellence Framework 2014).

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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  • Telephone+44 (0)29 2087 4929
  • MarkerColum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU

Admissions criteria

In order to be considered for an offer for this programme you will need to meet all of the entry requirements. Your application will not be progressed if the information and evidence listed is not provided.

With your online application you will need to provide:

  1. A copy of your degree certificate and transcripts which show you have achieved a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant subject area such as Ancient History, Archaeology, Biology, Chemistry, Conservation, Geography, Geology, History, Zoology, or an equivalent international degree. If your degree certificate or result is pending, please upload any interim transcripts or provisional certificates.
  2. A copy of your IELTS certificate with an overall score of 6.5 with 6.0 in all subskills or evidence of an accepted equivalent. Please include the date of your expected test if this qualification is pending. If you have alternative acceptable evidence, such as an undergraduate degree studied in the UK, please supply this in place of an IELTS.

If you do not have a degree in a relevant area, your application may be considered on the basis of your professional experience. Please provide additional evidence to support your application such as signed and dated employer references.

Application Deadline

We allocate places on a first-come, first-served basis, so we recommend you apply as early as possible. Applications normally close at the end of August but may close sooner if all places are filled.

Selection process

We will review your application and if you meet all of the entry requirements, we will make you an offer.

Find out more about English language requirements.

Applicants who require a Student 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

The structure of the part-time MSc will allow you to complete the taught requirements (Stage 1) of the programme over 2 years. On completing Stage 1, you apply and further develop advanced skills and expert knowledge by undertaking a research project between (Stage 2). Projects are chosen by students and culminates in the submission of an MSc Dissertation, based on MSc Project findings by the end of year 3.

Stage 1 is taught almost entirely at a small group teaching level, supported by laboratory sessions, interactive workshops and tutorials.

Stage 1 is made up of:

  • 40 credits of Core Skills and Discipline-Specific Research Training modules for Archaeology and Conservation Master's students
  • A minimum of 40 credits of Archaeological Science modules
  • An additional 40 credits of Archaeological Science or Archaeology modules offered to MA and MSc students across the Archaeology and Conservation department;

To aid in planning you will be advised on the purpose, aims and outcomes of each of the modules by their Advisor of Studies/Tutor during the enrolment process. Stage 1 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 Stage 1, and will be tasked with increasingly complex challenges with which to test your emerging skills.

Stage 1 also provides you with discipline-specific knowledge in preparation for the research stage in Stage 2. The two Core Skills modules develop skills in planning, data acquisition, analysis and presentation of research results to a professional level.  Teaching and assessment is structured to allow you to develop their own specialised interests. For example, the module HST 900 provides support for the development and presentation of student research ideas. This becomes the foundation of their Archaeological Science Dissertation culminating in an assessed research design that incorporates both transferable skills, such as time and resource management, with discipline specific skills. 

Stage 2 comprises

  • 60 credit Archaeological Science Dissertation (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.

You will complete one Core Skills module and a further 40 taught credits in each year, either from Science modules or other Master's level modules, but a minimum of 40 credits of taught Science modules must be completed. Part time students have a deadline for completion of the dissertation on the last working day of June twelve months from when they entered the dissertation period* (please note that the graduation ceremony would be the following academic year).

*On successful completion of the taught modules students will enter the dissertation period. The results for taught modules will be agreed at an Exam board set for the latter part of June and students will be notified of this date.

Please note: as many of our part-time postgraduate programmes are over three years in duration, you will need to check your postgraduate loan eligibility status

The modules shown are an example of the typical curriculum and will be reviewed prior to the 2024/25 academic year. The final modules will be published by September 2024.

Year one

Year One comprises Stage 1a and you will study a total of 60 credits. Stage 1a runs from autumn to spring.

Stage 1a

This part of the programme has a flexible structure. You will need to complete at least 20 credits of archaeological science as well as a 20 credit compulsory module on Archaeology and Conservation specific training (covering quantification, communication, employment and independent research skills) that runs during the spring semester.  For your final 20 credits you can chose to either study an additional archaeological science module or from the wide range of period (from prehistory to medieval), thematic (e.g. Celts), skills (such as illustration, computing and GIS) and heritage science optional modules. The 20 credits of archaeological science and archaeology optional modules can be selected in either semester and some run across both.

Modules are delivered through laboratory/practical activities, seminars, lectures and fieldtrips and draw on digital learning technologies.  You will have access to designated laboratory/desk space for your archaeological science training and will be encouraged to practise new skills and develop your own dissertation research. Assessments strategies differ across modules but are tailored to provide students with a balanced workload throughout the term.

Year two

Year Two comprises Stage 1b where you will complete a further 60 credits of taught modules and Stage 2 where you begin your dissertation.  Stage 1b runs from Autumn to Spring and Stage 2 commences in the summer.  Stage 2 has a completion date of June (see Year Three).

Stage 1b

This part of the programme has a flexible structure. In Year Two you will take a 20 credit compulsory core study skills module provides essential training in Master’s level research, presentation and planning skills in the Autumn semester. During stage 1b you can take a further archaeological science modules to meet the required minimum of 40 science credits but if you have already met this requirement you can then chose an additional archaeological science module or select from the wide range of period, thematic, skills and heritage science optional modules. These optional modules can be selected in either semester and some run across both. Modules are delivered as for the previous year.

On successful completion of the taught stage of the programme (Stage 1a and 1b), you will progress to your dissertation (Stage 2).

Stage 2 focuses on the application of the knowledge of skills gained in Stage 1 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. From the outset, you will be embedded within our vibrant postgraduate community giving you the opportunity to take advantage of our many research groups, seminars, projects, professional, networking and social events to create the archaeological community of the future.

Year three

Year 3 comprises the completion of Stage 2 – the dissertation. The deadline is in June.

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 student 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 Students.

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 for 2024 entry

Due to the duration of this programme only Welsh and EU domiciled students who meet residency requirements (English domiciled students are excluded) are eligible for a postgraduate loan. See more information about eligibility for UK Government Postgraduate loans.

Your tuition fees and how you pay them will depend on your fee status. Your fee status could be home, island or overseas.

Learn how we decide your fee status

Fees for home status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £5,850 None
Year two £5,850 None

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss national, your tuition fees for 2024/25 be in line with the overseas fees for international students, unless you qualify for home fee status. UKCISA have provided information about Brexit and tuition fees.

Fees for island status

Learn more about the postgraduate fees for students from the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

Fees for overseas status

Year Tuition fee Deposit
Year one £12,725 £2,500
Year two £12,725 None

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

Financial support

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.

Additional costs

Will I need any specific equipment to study this course/programme?

What the student should provide:


What the University will provide:

Access to School resources and equipment.

Living costs

We’re based in one of the UK’s most affordable cities. Find out more about living costs in Cardiff.


Master's Scholarships

An award open to UK students intending to study one of our taught master’s degrees.

Postgraduate loans

If you are starting your master’s degree in September 2024 or later, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan to support your study at Cardiff University.

Alumni Discount

The alumni discount is available for Cardiff University graduates who are planning to start an eligible master's in 2024/25.

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. Organisations that staff currently work with include Cadw, Historic England, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, National Museum Wales, the British Museum, all of the Welsh archaeological trusts and a range of other archaeology units (e.g. Wessex Archaeology, Oxford Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeology Unit, Archaeology Wales, Brython Archaeology). In addition, staff work on many high profile archaeological sites globally. There may be opportunities for students to take part in these projects and to foster links and take placements with these organisations, thus maximising 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.

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HESA Data: Copyright Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2021. The Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived by third parties from its data. Data is from the latest Graduate Outcomes Survey 2019/20, published by HESA in June 2022.