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 four-credit courses (four each term). Within this program of study, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
a) Anthropology 2250a and 2250b: Proseminar in Archaeology (2 four-credit courses)
b) Anthropology 2070: Archaeological Method and Theory  (four credit course                                                                                                                              c) Anthropology 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology (two credit course)

In addition, and as part of the 16 four-credit course requirement, the following seminar must be taken prior to the prospectus defense:
c) Anthropology 3070, Case Studies and Research Proposal Preparation
d) Twelve four-credit 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 their 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. 

  • First-time teaching fellows must participate in at least one Bok Center Teaching Conference.
  • Second-year Graduate students must enroll in Anthro 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology before teaching in the third year


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

A broad, comparative approach to graduate education is one of the most distinctive and valued attributes of the Archaeology Program of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology. To preserve this signature feature of the program while at the same time promoting publication of work early in a student’s graduate career, the Archaeology faculty has institute two changes that are focused on the General Examinations. These will a) retain, but revise, the format of the current in-house General Examination at the end of the third semester and b) replace the current take-home component of that examination with a Qualifying Paper written by each student to be submitted by the end of the fourth semester of classes (end of the second full academic year).

a. The General Examinations will be “closed book” as they have been in the past. But, in contrast to a fixed three-hour time limit, the exam will be conducted over an agreed-upon period of time during one working day, with that time being flexible depending on the particular circumstances of each student. In addition, there will be a one-hour oral examination for each student. These are ordinarily scheduled to take place one week after the written General Examination and are attended by all available archaeology faculty. Students are strongly encouraged to review the content of their written exam and to be prepared to answer questions related to that exam in addition to any other questions that the faculty may ask.

The “closed book” exam normally takes place in January just before the beginning of the spring semester. In preparation for the exam, students are very strongly encouraged to review the past 15 years of General Examinations given by the program. In addition, they will be provided with a comprehensive list of short terms for identification (I.D.s) three months prior to the date set for the general exam. A selection of these I.D.s will be included in the January exam. In addition, a list of “Key foundational readings” will be distributed early in November. These will be based on the suggestions of the entire archaeology faculty and will be curated to be available and adjustable year to year. This list of key texts will focus on breadth of general archaeological knowledge including that which may not have been taught in required courses or in other coursework that students may have taken in the first three semesters.

The primary focus of the General Examination essay questions will be of the broad comparative kinds that have been framed in past examinations. However, unlike in the past, the expectation is that the questions will draw heavily and explicitly on three of the four required courses that incoming students are required to take during their first three semesters of course work. These are: Anthropology 2070 : Archaeological Theory;  Anthropology 2250a : Small Scale Societies; and Anthropology 2250b : Large Scale Societies. Theory and epistemology will be topics for essays in the General Examination as will questions comparing specific aspects of small-scale and large-scale societies from different parts of the world. For the General Examination, a specific list of themes that is based on the topics covered in these three required courses will be generated by the faculty. Those themes ordinarily will be all or many of the weekly themes covered in those three courses. The expectation is that the exam questions will explicitly concern those themes discussed in the required courses. However,  these questions will require that students engage with those themes in a comparative manner,  drawing on details and information that extends beyond the content of the required courses as the exams have done in the past. Thus students will need to employ information gained in other courses taken during their first three semesters as well as the information provided in the provided list of key texts.

b. A Qualifying Paper is required to be submitted before the end of the fourth semester of classes. This paper is intended to evaluate student writing abilities prior to their focusing on dissertation research, with the goal of giving our students the opportunity to hone their writing skills to a professional level. The topic of the Qualifying Paper will be developed by the student in consultation with the student’s Pre-Prospectus Advisory Committee.  That committee will generally be composed of the three members of the faculty who were assigned to the student at the beginning of the first semester. 

Students may take a “Reading Course” in order to prepare the Qualifying Paper.

In those cases where a student has already completed a Master’s thesis or published a peer-reviewed paper in a journal, that student ordinarily will be allowed to submit that work in fulfillment of the Qualifying Paper requirement so long as the student is the sole author and submits all of the peer reviews along with the thesis/published paper. An exception may be made for cases in which a second or third author is listed on the paper as a courtesy.

The entire Archaeology faculty will review the Qualifying Paper, and there will be a defense/discussion of the work with the faculty late in the Spring semester. If changes are required after the defense, they are to be submitted before the summer’s end to the pre-Prospectus Advisory Committee. Ordinarily the “outside member” of that three-person committee will take charge of evaluating the consensus as to whether the work “passes” as a qualifying paper. If a resubmission is again required, this three-person committee will consider and evaluate the resubmission, as above.



Special Examination

After the General Examinations, and normally near the end of the sixth term, the student will take an oral examination relating to their dissertation prospectus. The student is required to have 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 dissertation preparation until this examination has been passed.

Dissertation Prospectus

A disertation topic is developed in consultations among the student, their principal advisor and other appropriate scholars. The dissertation 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 dissertation prospectus must be prepared if the examining committee deems the preliminary prospectus inadequate. The final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the prospectus committee at least two weeks before being placed on file with the Department's Graduate Program Administrator.

Approval of a dissertation 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.

Dissertation Committee and Defense

The dissertation 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 dissertation committee will be composed of the same individuals, although it may be appropriate that substitutions or additions be made.

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

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

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

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

The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, available from the Registrar’s Office.

A complete draft of the dissertation normally must be submitted within three years after passing the special examination, and the dissertation 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.