Archaeology Graduate Program Overview

The principal objectives of the graduate program in archaeology are to provide:
1. Informed, critical examinations of core issues in archaeology
2. Comprehensive training in principal methods and theories of anthropologically oriented archaeology
3. Direction and support for Ph.D. candidates preparing for research and teaching positions in a wide variety of domains of archaeological practice.

While students who wish to pursue Ph.D. training in any area of expertise are invited to apply to the program, there are several areas of particular strength in terms of faculty interests, departmental facilities, and institutional resources.

Principal strengths in archaeology at Harvard include:
a) Archaeology of complex societies
b) Archaeology of ethnicities and languages
c) Archaeology, art and religion
d) Archaeology of human evolution
e) Environmental archaeology/bioarchaeology

Students are strongly encouraged to select one of these areas of specialization in focusing their work, although the specific program of study pursued by each student will be developed in close consultation with his/her principal advisor and advisory committee.

In addition to a primary area of specialization, all students are expected to acquire a basic understanding of the archaeology of complex societies in both the Old and New Worlds as well as general knowledge of those aspects of ethnography, ethnology, and biological anthropology that have particular relevance to his/her area(s) of interest in archaeology.

In certain cases, joint programs of study in archaeology and either biological anthropology or social anthropology can be arranged. The expectation is that the student will be able to complete the program in no more than six years.

Each student will have a faculty advisor, whose research interests will be close to those of the student. For the first five semesters student’s progress will be overseen by an Advisory Committee, normally consisting of the advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and one other archaeology faculty member. After the fifth semester, examining and thesis committees will be chosen on the basis of the student's domain(s) of specialization.

The progress of each student will be assessed annually by the archaeology program faculty, and this appraisal will be communicated to the candidate. An overall B+ average is expected of the student. Ordinarily no student whose record contains an Incomplete grade will be allowed to register for the third term (semester) following receipt of the Incomplete.


During the first two years of graduate study, the student will normally enroll in 16 half-courses (four each term). Within this program of study, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
a) Anthropology 2250a and 2250b: Proseminar in Archaeology (2 half courses)
b) Anthropology 2070a, Archaeological Method and Theory

In addition, and as part of the 16 half-course requirement, the following seminar must be taken prior to the prospectus defense:
c) Anthropology 2070b, Case Studies and Research Proposal Preparation
d) Twelve half-courses in archaeology or other fields chosen in consultation with the advisor and advisory committee.

In the latter category, serious consideration should be given to taking courses outside the Department of Anthropology in fields related to the student’s domain(s) of interest (e.g., Earth and Planetary Sciences, Biology, Near Eastern Studies, Classical Archaeology, History, Chemistry, Modern or Ancient Languages, etc.). In addition, research time (Time R) can be utilized with advisor and advisory committee approval as part of the 16 half-course requirement.

Courses taken to fulfill requirements (a-d) must be passed with a grade of B- or better. In addition, students may continue to take formal classes into their third or fourth year should these be relevant to fulfilling requirements (e.g., languages, see below) or to their domain(s) of study. Students are expected to obtain competence in quantitative methods or computer applications (e.g., GIS) as they relate to the practice of archaeology.


Proficiency in one modern, scholarly language other than English is required. In addition, the candidate must attain proficiency in a second scholarly language or in a field language or in a laboratory skill. The election of one among these options shall be made following consultation by the student with his/her advisor. Proficiency in language(s) and/or laboratory skill must be demonstrated before the special examination is taken.


Although no specified period of fieldwork or field training is required, it is expected that each student's program of study will include adequate experience in field methods through the student's participation in archaeological field projects. This fieldwork is frequently related to the gathering of data for the dissertation.


Part of graduate training includes experience in teaching. Teaching fellowships are normally taken up after the fourth semester of study and form an important component of financial support during the fifth through eighth semesters.

Advisory Meetings

Each student shall be assigned an advisor or advisors and, for the first five semesters, an advisory committee. The student shall meet with the advisor(s) on a regular basis, minimally at the beginning of each term of residence before submission of the study card. The student shall also meet with the advisory committees at least once during each of the first two years of residence, generally before or during the first week of classes in the Fall term.

The purpose of these meetings is to review proposed plans of study, completion of the language and other requirements, and overall progress in the program. The advisory committee normally will comprise the student’s advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and one additional faculty member.

General Examination

Near the end of the third term of graduate study there will be General Examinations. These will comprise written and oral components pertaining to important issues in world archaeology including aspects of method and theory. The purpose of the General Examinations is to assess the progress of a student and determine his/her general knowledge of current archaeological issues. Students deemed weak in specific areas or topics will be required to retake the examination and/or to take designated courses.

Special Examination

After the General Examinations, and normally near the end of the sixth term, the student will take an oral examination relating to a thesis prospectus. The student is required to have developed and submitted the prospectus to each member of the examining committee at least two weeks before this examination. The examining committee shall consist of the student’s advisor(s) and at least two other faculty members, one of whom must be an archaeology program member, although any additional faculty who wishes may participate in the examination. Normally, no candidate may submit an application to a funding source outside of Harvard University for either field or other research for thesis preparation until this examination has been passed.

Thesis Prospectus

A thesis topic is developed in consultations among the student, the principal   and other appropriate scholars. The thesis prospectus comprises a proposal for carrying out the research on which the dissertation will be based. It should include a statement of the problem(s) and topic(s) to be addressed and detail how the student intends to address them.

It normally should be no longer than 20 double-spaced typewritten pages of text and include relevant visual and bibliographic materials as well as details on possible funding sources. With the approval of the student’s advisor, the prospectus may be in the form of a proposal to the National Science Foundation for a dissertation improvement grant.

Following the special examination, a final thesis prospectus must be prepared if the examining committee deems the preliminary thesis prospectus inadequate. The final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the special examination committee or to the thesis committee (see below) at least two weeks before being placed on file with the Department's Graduate Program Administrator.

Approval of a thesis prospectus, including any revisions, is expected by the beginning of the seventh term in residence. Failure to gain approval by the end of the seventh term may be grounds for dismissal from the program.

Thesis Committee and Thesis Defense

The thesis committee will be composed of at least three members, two of whom must be archaeology program faculty members.

Normally the special examination committee and the thesis committee will be composed of the same individuals, although it may be appropriate that substitutions or additions be made.

A complete draft of the thesis must be received by all members of the thesis committee at least two months before the approved thesis is due at the Registrar's Office.

The text of the thesis, exclusive of charts, figures, and appendices, ordinarily may not exceed 250 typewritten pages.

At least one month before the thesis is due at the Registrar's Office, the candidate must pass a thesis defense. Thesis committee members must receive copies of a completed thesis four weeks before the scheduled date of the thesis defense. The thesis defense consists of:
1. An oral presentation for a general audience
2. An examination of the candidate by the thesis committee and other faculty members

After successful completion of this examination and the incorporation of any revisions required by the thesis committee, signatures of the thesis committee members must be obtained on the thesis acceptance certificate, which is submitted with the bound thesis to the Registrar's Office.

The final manuscript of the thesis must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the Doctoral Thesis, available from the Registrar’s Office.

A complete draft of the thesis normally must be submitted within three years after passing the special examination, and the thesis normally must be approved within four years of passing that examination.

Failure to meet these deadlines can be grounds for removing the student from candidacy. After removal, a student may be reinstated by formal readmission to the Graduate School and to the department; the student may also be required to retake the special examination.