What makes the Cambridge course in Archaeology so special?

With the Division of Archaeology and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge is one of the largest centres of archaeological research in Britain, and we have recently been awarded top place in the Good University Guide for Archaeology in the UK. Archaeology students at Cambridge benefit from direct hands-on access to world-class collections in Cambridge’s many museums, libraries and research centres. From 2017 Cambridge has launched an exciting new undergraduate degree programme in single honours archaeology.  Students can follow several streams – Archaeology (covering all world cultures), Biological Anthropology, Egyptology or Assyriology.

Why choose Newnham for Archaeology?

Newnham has a strong tradition of supporting female archaeologists in Cambridge. Dorothy Garrod of Newnham was the first female professor of Archaeology in the UK (even before Cambridge awarded women degrees), and a series of high-profile archaeologists are current or former members of the college.

How many students take Archaeology at Newnham and what options do they choose?

We expect to admit four students per year to read this subject but there is no official limit.

Archaeology is the study of past human societies through their material remains and environment. Archaeology covers a huge range of topics, spanning the evolution of humans through the development of farming and ancient empires, as well as the role of material culture in human life and of heritage in modern societies. It aims to reconstruct the nature and development of particular societies and explain the variations that occur among past societies.

Assyriology is the study of the ancient languages (Akkadian and Sumerian), literature, history and archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia – a region roughly equivalent to the modern Middle East and the location of the world’s first urban and literate society and some of the earliest empires.

Biological Anthropology examines human diversity in terms of biological and evolutionary principles and methods. It explores the place of humans in nature, the pattern of our evolution, the genetics of humans and their significance, and how individuals and populations interact with their environment today. The subject incorporates behaviour, ecology, genetics and fossils to understand humanity.

Egyptology is the study of the ancient languages, literature, history, archaeology and religion of Pharaonic Egypt. The subject includes written sources, architecture, art and material culture.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

Teaching is provided through a combination of lectures, lab sessions, seminars, language classes and individual or small-group supervisions.

Can you tell me more about the Archaeology Fellows?

Archaeologists at Newnham include:

Dr Augusta McMahon, Director of Studies, Archaeology and Biological Anthropology (archaeology of Mesopotamia, early urbanism, sensory archaeology)

Dr Catherine Hills (Anglo-Saxon archaeology)

Dr Sam Lucy, Admissions Tutor (Later Roman and Anglo-Saxon archaeology, especially funerary archaeology)

Dr Ruth Charles (Palaeolithic archaeology)

Other fellows and senior members, including Professor Mary Beard, Dr Lucilla Burn and Dr Debby Banham, have strong archaeological interests.

Are there any A level subjects that are particularly useful?

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 and Chemistry. Applicants for Egyptology and Assyriology are strongly encouraged to study an ancient or modern language at A-level.

Can I take a gap year?

Of course. We neither encourage nor discourage students from doing this – everyone’s circumstances are different. If you are planning to take a gap year, please give some thought to how you will maintain your academic interests.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

If you apply to Newnham we will ask you to send us two pieces of written work, and you will have two interviews. You 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; however, you should be prepared to discuss your relevant interests and potential directions you may wish to follow. All applicants will take a written assessment in College, based on the reading of material that we will supply. This hour-long assessment is designed to assess the ability to interpret texts and/or images and to write. Again, no special preparation or prior knowledge is required.

Where can I find out more?

For more information on the course, see
For more information about Newnham, why not apply to come on one of our Open Days or a Subject Taster event?