Archaeology is the study of the human past, in all its social and cultural diversity. At Cambridge it is an outstandingly broad and exciting subject, equally rewarding for those who feel at home in the sciences, the humanities, or both. It covers a huge range of topics, from the evolution of humans, through the development of agriculture, and on to the role of material culture in human life. Over the course of your studies, you might find yourself analysing deformations in mediaeval skulls; translating Egyptian hieroglyphs; reconstructing past landscapes; learning about radio-carbon dating; studying imagery in a Babylonian poem; or debating the politics of cultural heritage.
Cambridge is one of the largest centres of archaeological research in Britain. In 2022 Cambridge was once again ranked as the best place in the world to study archaeology. Archaeology students at Cambridge benefit from direct hands-on access to world-class collections in Cambridge’s many museums, libraries and research centres.
Teaching at Trinity College
Trinity has a distinguished history of the study of ancient societies and cultures. Trinity’s Director of Studies in Archaeology is Cameron Petrie, who investigates the archaeology of ancient South Asia (India and Pakistan) and Iran. He is particularly interested in the origins of early complex societies, the development of early states, the impact that the growth of states and empires has on subjugated regions, and the relationships between humans and the environment in each of these contexts. Nicholas Postgate, a world-renowned scholar of the social and economic history of Mesopotamia, is also a fellow of the college. Former students include Francis Pryor MBE, excavator of Flag Fen, and David Oates, who excavated Nimrud and Tell al-Rimah in Iraq, and Tell Brak in Syria.
Trinity seeks for foster students of archaeology who are able to combine critical thinking with practical and conceptual skills. We encourage this in various contexts, ranging from lectures and practicals, to hands-on fieldwork, analysis in the laboratory, and library based research.
Students can take up to four subjects in Archaeology in their first year from a range that includes courses on the Introduction to Archaeology, Archaeological in Action, the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (Egypt and Mesopotamia), ancient Egyptian languages and Assyriology. There are opportunities to gain experience of archaeological fieldwork from the first year onwards. Archaeology students can also choose to take first year courses in Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Sociology or Politics.
In the second year, students take core papers in archaeological theory and practice, and papers from a range of area specific, period specific or archaeological science options. They can also focus specifically on the archaeology of ancient Egypt and/or Mesopotamia. The third year allows greater specialisation in these areas, and students can opt to write an extended dissertation on a topic of their interest. Trinity’s third year archaeology students have been engaged in a wide-range of research, including the analysis of ancients texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia, plant and animal remains from archaeological sites in India, Egyptian material culture in ancient Rome, and the ways that heritage is used by contemporary artists. Trinity has a number of endowed funds and bursaries to which students can apply for support in archaeological fieldwork and research activities.
Archaeology spans a very broad subject area, and the course allows study of topics ranging across the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences. Students with almost any combination of subjects can apply; there are no specific required or recommended courses. We welcome applications from students studying humanistic fields such as History, English, Classics, and ancient languages, social sciences such as Geography, Sociology, Psychology, or Anthropology, and sciences such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. Applicants who seek to specialise in Egyptology and Assyriology are strongly encouraged to study an ancient or modern language.
The Application Process
Candidates should normally expect an interview. Applicants are not expected to have any standard background in archaeology, as the field is highly varied, there are many relevant backgrounds and the subject is often not taught in schools. They should, however, be prepared to discuss their relevant interests and potential directions they may wish to follow. Applicants should submit one example of recent work, which will be available to interviewers. All applicants will take a written assessment shortly before their interview. This hour-long assessment is designed to assess the ability to interpret texts and to write coherently about both. Again, no special preparation or prior knowledge is required.
Typical Conditional Offers
Our typical conditional offer for Archaeology is A*AA at A level. IB offers are usually for a total of 42 points, with 776 or 777 at Higher Level.
All applicants for Archaeology are required to take a written assessment at interview, if interviewed.
- Essay/text response element (60 minutes)
You do not need to register or be registered in advance for the assessment at interview – the College will provide details of arrangements in the emails inviting applicants to interview.
Further details about the format of the assessment and preparatory materials can be found on the written assessments page.
Please note that your performance in the assessment at interview will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.
- Dr Cameron Petrie