Why study archaeology?

Archaeology is one of the only disciplines that stretches across the arts and sciences; as such you’ll learn a great number of transferrable skills as part of an archaeology degree. These offer a great basis for a range of future careers, archaeological or otherwise.

As with a history degree you’ll learn about building an argument from historical evidence, understanding different kinds of archives and the various problems of historical method. But you’ll also learn about a range of scientific techniques from radiocarbon dating to stable isotope analysis and x-ray fluorescence. Archaeology uses a plethora of different methods, including text-based archival research, lab- based analyses using microscopy and other forms of imaging or technical analysis, and field methods for landscape interpretation, including pedestrian survey, mapping using GIS and remote sensing techniques. And of course we mustn’t forget excavation and the suite of methods associated with the recovery of  archaeological information from buried sediments.

Some archaeologists go into heritage management or museums. Others prefer field or lab work, or specialize in archaeological illustration, mapping or planning. Yet others undertake different kinds of statistical analysis, machine learning or modeling to better understand past social processes. Some become specialists in past botanical or faunal remains, or in different technical and radiometric specialisms. Some prefer to do a bit of everything!

Whether or not you decide a career in archaeology is for you, the field has something for everyone, and the degree at Columbia allows you to build your own program of study across the disciplines, drawing on the parts of the field that are of most interest to you. You’ll find that you learn many important skills as part of an archaeology degree that offer a solid foundation for any career.

Below we list FAQs for students considering an archaeology major or concentration/minor. Also check out the information on the Solecki Award and Departmental Honors in archaeology:

What classes do you recommend for someone interested in an Archaeology Major or Concentration?

We post a list of recommended classes for the major each semester. It can be found on the Center for Archaeology website under FAQ. The core required introductory classes, offered annually, are the following. They are a good place to start:

The rise of major civilization in prehistory and protohistory throughout the world, from the initial appearance of sedentism, agriculture, and social stratification through the emergence of the archaic empires.

An archaeological perspective on the evolution of human social life from the first bipedal step of our ape ancestors to the establishment of large sedentary villages.

ACLG V2028 Think Like an Archaeologist: Introduction to Method & Theory (Spring)
A comprehensive introduction to methods and theory in archaeology. What are archaeological sites and how do we ‘discover’ them? How do archaeologists ‘read’ or analyze sites and artifacts?

Which major or concentration should I sign up for?

The Center for Archaeology runs the Interdisciplinary Major & Concentration in Archaeology. This is a coordinated program that most often crosses over between Anthropology and Art History & Archaeology, but also draws students with an interest in classics, history and/or environmental and biological science. The core goal of this program is to provide students with the range of disciplinary approaches to the study of the human past through its material residues.

Our interdisciplinary program in Archaeology is a good fit for those who would like to explore the range of orientations and techniques that archaeology draws upon, whether you’re interested in archaeology’s intersections with earth sciences, art history, classics, history, anthropology, area studies, evolutionary biology, or all of the above. It is also great for students who would like to take classes that focus on different regions of the world.

Another option is to take the Archaeology track within the Anthropology Major (or Concentration).  A student in this program takes a core set of courses in archaeology, while maintaining an anthropological focus to your study. Your degree will be in Anthropology.

This major is good for students who are interested in one particular region of the world and want to learn more about it, also for those interested in anthropological theory particularly as it applies to archaeology, and for those who want to apply to an anthropology program in graduate school. You will able take more classes in socio-cultural anthropology as part of this major.

If you’re not sure which option is for you, please chat with our Administrative Coordinator, or make an appointment to talk with our Director of Undergraduate Studies.

What are the requirements for the senior thesis?

The senior thesis is optional for the Interdisciplinary Major in Archaeology. It should be original research, analysis, or commentary and will be read by a committee of two faculty members.

If you want to write a thesis you should find a faculty advisor to work with and sign up for senior thesis advising with him or her. You will be registering for ‘individual directed research’, for 3 credits per semester over two semesters (6 credits total). In Anthropology the course code is is 3997-3998, in Art History AHIS 3997-98. No thesis proposal is required

The thesis is normally around 50 pages in length and is due to be submitted by 25th March of your final year. A draft should be turned in at least one month before this date.

Is there any funding available for fieldwork/thesis research?

  • General Studies offers $250 for GS seniors working on a senior thesis or honors project.
  • Columbia College also offer funding towards senior thesis research
  • The Anthropology Department awards money from the Stigler fund towards fieldwork. These funds are awarded competitively. Applications can be downloaded from the Center for Archaeology website. If you receive Stigler funds for fieldwork, the money cannot usually be used for tuition or fieldschool expenses.
  • The Archaeological Institute of America also offers a range of scholarships towards fieldwork experience. Details can be found on their website.
  • Other funding opportunities are listed under resources on this website


How do I find a field project for the summer?

Notices about fieldschools are often circulated throughout the year, so keep an eye on your email and the noticeboards. Check the Center for Archaeology website under fieldwork for a list of projects that are affiliated with Columbia.

You can also look at the listings on the Archaeological Institute of America website and other links listed under fieldwork. Once you have found a project that you like the look of you should contact them to see if they have space, and to find out the requirements and the costs involved. Then make an appointment to speak with the Director of Undergraduate Studies about your proposed program to ensure that you can receive credit for it.

Some grants and scholarships are available to help with the cost of fieldwork projects. See our list under funding opportunities


How do get credit for a field school that is not affiliated or recognized by Columbia?

  • Students need pre-approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies
  • Although up to 8 points are allowed towards the degree, the DUS will approve for up to 6 credits For more than 6 credits students will need permission from the dean
  • Students need to provide syllabi for approval before the course
  • They need to submit their transcript after the course
  • The DUS will retain a record of what the college will accept transfer credit for

Can my fieldwork count towards the lab requirement?

We will allow fieldwork to fulfil the lab requirement if students can show that this was a component of their fieldwork. In this case you will need to discuss with and get approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Can I complete my fieldwork requirement by attending this dig/project?

Some students want to carry out fieldwork on research projects rather than on field schools. In this case they should talk to the DUS about taking an independent study with a faculty member when they return in order to get course credit. Written work is required as a consequence of the field participation, usually a journal kept while on the fieldwork project, along with a paper that critically assesses your experiences of fieldwork and/or the material that you excavated.

Does this particular class count toward the interdisciplinary major?

It can count directly towards the major if it has some archaeological component – this includes the following:

  • Any class that deals with material culture with an orientation towards the past. This could be architecture, monuments, landscape as well as material that has been excavated or collected during survey. It can also include the recent past, as long as the orientation is material in outlook.
  • Any class that reads archaeological theory
  • Classes on the history of human evolution or on human skeletal biology

I have a museum internship. Can I get course credit for it?

If you have a museum internship you can be awarded 3 credits for 120 hours over the semester. You will be expected to keep a journal and will need to sign up with a faculty advisor for a program of independent study. This will include writing a short paper, and carrying out relevant reading.

What counts as a ‘related class’?

A class can count as related if the student can make a case that it is relevant to his or her course of study. Classes that count as related rather than as part of the major include examples such as the following:

  • Classics or history classes that deal only with textual analysis and do not incorporate any study of material objects.
  • Geology classes that have no connection with the human past
  • Palaeontology
  • Classes on primates, ecology etc
  • Language classes




The Ralph and Rose Solecki Award is given in honor of the eminent Columbia archaeologists, shown here in a 1957 photograph. The Award is given to a student, chosen by the faculty, who has made a significant contribution to the life of the archaeological community at Columbia and/or Barnard in the preceding year. The Solecki award is usually made to a graduating student, but it is open to all students in archaeology regardless of their status. The award comes with a small sum of money intended for books.

Photo: © John Taggart for the Wall Street Journal

College guidelines for Departmental Honors include the following three criteria:
1. Departmental Honors are awarded to no more than 10 percent, or, in small departments, one member of the graduating majors (including all October, February, and May degrees);
2. A grade point average of at least 3.6 in major courses is expected for a student to be considered for Departmental Honors;
3. An honors thesis or equivalent project of high quality should be required by each department or academic program in order to receive Departmental Honors.

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