PhD in Archaeology

Archaeology is a global discipline in which a comparative perspective is brought to bear on all types of material culture in the pursuit of understanding people of the distant and recent past. To this end Boston University archaeologists provide education and training in the recovery, analysis, and interpretation of the material remains of the human past, including the application of scientific techniques, as well as the study of archaeological heritage.

This document explains departmental procedures and requirements for graduate students seeking the legacy PhD degree in Archaeology at Boston University. For the Graduate School’s requirements, students should consult the GRS Bulletin (

Please note that doctoral students seeking a PhD in Archaeology can no longer apply to this program – our PhD program is permanently closed to new admissions. A new track in Anthropological Archaeology within the existing Anthropology PhD program is now accepting applications for a PhD in Anthropology with a specialization in Anthropological Archaeology. More details on that program are available through the Department of Anthropology here. Questions concerning admission to that program can be directed to the Director of Graduate Studies of Anthropology.

Questions regarding the legacy Archaeology PhD academic program’s policies, regulations, financial aid, petitions, or grievances should be addressed to the Director of Graduate Studies, who represents the Graduate Studies Committee.


Please note that doctoral students seeking a PhD in Archaeology can no longer apply to this program – our PhD program is permanently closed to new admissions.

Applicants must have a BA, with sufficient course work in archaeology, anthropology, art history, classical studies and/or other related fields, and/or significant field, laboratory, or museum experience. Applicants intending to concentrate in Classical or Near Eastern Archaeology must have proficiency equivalent to at least four semesters of at least one ancient language at the time of application. Coursework taken in fulfillment of this requirement should be demonstrated at the time of application and is among those criteria reviewed when applications are evaluated.

Financial Aid

Boston University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences allows the department to offer five full years (12 months each) of financial support for students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. This support will be in the form of Teaching Fellowships, Research Assistantships, or Graduate Fellowships. Funding beyond five years may be provided (but is not guaranteed) to students who are working productively toward the PhD degree. Students may not work for pay at another job while receiving GRS funding. The department does not accept unfunded students.

Advisory Committee and Program of Study

By the end of the second semester, every student must submit to the Director of Graduate Studies the names of two members of the Department of Archaeology graduate faculty who have agreed to serve as that student’s advisory committee. One of these faculty members should be named as the student’s advisor of record. One or two committee members from within or outside of the university may be proposed in addition. The student is responsible for working with his or her advisory committee to craft a full program of study.

The program of study should propose how the student plans to complete all requirements, including a schedule of courses, plans for satisfying language requirements, and a schedule and preliminary plan for qualifying examinations. The student must submit the program of study to the Director of Graduate Studies by the eighth week of his or her second full semester. The program of study will then be reviewed by the Graduate Studies Committee for approval. Once approved, it will be entered in the student’s file.

This program may be changed subject to approval of the student’s advisory committee and the Director of Graduate Studies. All such modifications must be finalized in writing in order that no misunderstandings arise.

In planning their program of study, students and their advisors should be attentive to upcoming faculty leaves and to projected course-scheduling (e.g., noting that not all survey courses, in particular, are offered every year). Students are responsible for maintaining regular contact and communication with their advisors. Every spring the full faculty will meet to review and evaluate graduate student progress. A student’s continuation in the program is contingent upon satisfactory progress.

Program Requirements

GRS requirements stipulate that PhD students complete 64 credit hours of instruction. The Department of Archaeology requires that these hours include four specific courses: AR 891 (Contemporary Theory), AR 892 (Archaeological Ethics), AR 893 (World Archaeology), and AR 894 (Scientific Methods in Archaeology). Beyond these required courses, students must take one area course focused well outside of the primary area of study, complete a minimum of eight credit hours of directed archaeological field and/or laboratory research, and complete a minimum of six credit hours of professional development training and/or course work. The latter requirement may be met by courses in proposal writing and/or teacher training, as well as in workshops, colloquia, and other venues organized in and by the department. The student must specify the mode for meeting these requirements in his or her program of study.

Students already in possession of an MA degree in Archaeology or a closely related discipline may petition for transfer of up to 32 credit hours of prior graduate-level coursework towards the requirements for a PhD in Archaeology. The petition must be approved by the student’s Advisory Committee as well as by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Foreign Languages

Reading proficiency of two modern foreign languages or full fluency in one modern foreign language must be demonstrated by the end of the fourth semester. In the program of study, the specific language(s) and the mode for demonstrating proficiency must be detailed. Modern language courses may not be counted toward the fulfillment of the 64 required credit hours.

Reading proficiency can be met by successfully completing a graduate reading course offered through a department at Boston University or by a written translation examination prepared by faculty members. Departmental foreign language exams may also be arranged in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Qualifying Examinations

Students must complete PhD qualifying examinations by the end of their sixth semester. The qualifying exams will comprise three written components and may also include an oral examination. All components, including any oral examination, should be fulfilled within a single semester, and may be completed serially and at any time throughout that semester. The specifics of each component and the overall schedule will be decided in consultation with the student’s advisory committee. The student must submit a full proposal that details the subject, organization, length, due dates, and readers of each component to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval by the Graduate Studies Committee. There must be a minimum of two readers for each exam component. Qualifying exam proposals should be submitted by the seventh week of the semester preceding that in which the student plans to take exams; typically this will be in the student’s fourth semester in residence.

The three components should focus, respectively, on area specialization, methodology, and theoretical orientation. Individual exams may comprise any of the following modes, or another mode agreed upon by the student’s advisory committee and approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

  • the assignment of a topic on which the student will have one week to write a review article of c. 20 pp.;
  • a take-home exam for which the student will have 48 hours;
  • an annotated bibliography for a single topic, accompanied by a brief (c. 3-5 pp.) analytical synthesis. A typical reading list would be between 25-50 sources in length, with no more than 10 books or entire journal special issues, and with an emphasis on recent literature.
  • a completed article of c. 25 pp. that is ready for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.

The qualifying examinations comprise the means by which faculty assess students’ mastery of the intellectual breadth and depth of the discipline and of the contribution of the students’ own area(s) of inquiry to the larger field. For this reason, the qualifying examinations must be treated as individual efforts, designed to demonstrate each student’s specific work, ideas, and abilities. Under no circumstances shall a student actively seek advice or assistance from anybody other than the faculty member(s) who are overseeing a given examination. Failure to comply with this requirement may result in a failing grade and/or the need to retake the examination in question.

Upon successful completion of all exam components, a student will earn an MA degree. If the student’s performance is not deemed satisfactory, the examination committee members will recommend a course of action to the Graduate Studies Committee. This recommendation will include specific instructions for revision along with a schedule and final due date. If the student fails to complete the recommendations on schedule and to the satisfaction of the examination committee members, then that student will not be allowed to continue in the program. In such instances, the examination committee members will consult on whether, and how, the student may earn an MA degree, whether on the basis of work already completed or by completing an additional project.


The Dissertation must present and describe original research carried out by the student in a chosen field of archaeology. This research should make an important contribution to knowledge of that field. Some or all of the original components of the dissertation may have been published in advance of the defense of the full dissertation.

Dissertation Advisory Committee and Dissertation Prospectus

Students must present a full dissertation prospectus by the end of the first semester following successful completion of their qualifying exams, meaning no later than the end of the student’s seventh semester. The prospectus must include a description not to exceed 20 pages in length, double-spaced, including bibliography and a projected schedule. Illustrations should be included as appropriate; they are not included in the page count. The description should be written in such a way as to be suitable for use in applications for funds from granting agencies, and include the following:

(1) a succinct presentation of the the dissertation’s central research questions and the proposed methods for answering them;

(2) an overview of previous research on this topic and an assessment of current scholarly understanding;

(3) an outline of the available evidence and the methods proposed to examine it; and

(4) a schedule for carrying out the various aspects of the research and for writing, along with a proposed chapter outline.

Students must work with a minimum of two Readers to craft their prospectus. The Readers should include at least one member of the student’s advisory committee and at least one other department faculty member. An External Reader cannot be listed as the First Reader.

At least one week prior to the scheduled presentation, copies of the final prospectus will be circulated to all department faculty.

The student will make a formal, 20-minute presentation of the prospectus. All faculty members and graduate students are expected to attend. Immediately following the presentation there will be time devoted to questions and discussion. Following the question period, the faculty will convene in private to approve or reject the prospectus as presented. Faculty may agree that if the prospectus is rejected, a revised version need circulate only among selected faculty charged with ascertaining that the agreed-upon changes have been made. If a student, having had an earlier prospectus rejected or approved, decides on an entirely new one, that new prospectus is subject to all the above procedures.

The prospectus is subject to review by the Dean of the Graduate School and the Academic Standards Committee. The student is responsible for obtaining signatures and filing a completed and approved prospectus and signed Approval Page with the Graduate School. After the prospectus has been approved, the student will advance to candidacy.  For the Graduate School’s requirements, students should consult the GRS Bulletin (

The student’s Dissertation Advisory Committee will supervise the research and the writing of the dissertation.

Unless special circumstances intervene, students who do not successfully defend a dissertation prospectus within two semesters of passing their qualifying exams will not advance to candidacy in the department. In such situations, the student will earn an MA degree in place of continuing in the PhD program.

Dissertation Defense and Final Oral Examining Committee

In advance of the dissertation defense, the candidate must form an examining committee and complete a number of steps. For the Graduate School’s requirements, students should consult the GRS Bulletin ( and Guide for the Writers of Theses and Dissertations. For forms and due dates see

The Examining Committee comprises five individuals: The final oral examination committee must be composed of a total of four or more members, including at least a first and second reader and at least two additional committee members who serve as either designated readers or additional committee members. Each committee also must designate a chair who can serve either as one of the four committee members (although the first reader cannot serve in the role of the committee chair), as an additional committee member, or solely as the chair of the committee. The Chairperson and at least one of the readers must be faculty members of Archaeology. Committee members should be agreed upon by the candidate and the First Reader, subject to approval by the Director of Graduate Studies; members may be Junior or Senior faculty and a majority must be Boston University faculty members. A Special Service appointment is required for readers who are not members of the faculty; the student is responsible for filing the appropriate form with the Graduate School (

Application for diploma: early in the semester that the student plans to graduate, s/he is responsible for filing with the Graduate School the Intent to Graduate Form ( Due dates are November 1st for January graduation, February 1st for May graduation, and June 1 for September graduation.

Preliminary scheduling of dissertation defense: When the First and Second Readers have approved a final draft for defense, the student is responsible for setting a date and time by working with all committee members, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Chair.

Format Review: Three weeks prior to the scheduled defense, the student must submit a full and properly formatted draft as a pdf to the Graduate School Records Officer for format review (

Final Oral Examination Schedule and Abstract: Three weeks prior to the scheduled defense, the student must submit to the Graduate School the Final Oral Exam Schedule with Abstract Approval ( with one copy of the abstract (maximum of 350 words) to the GRS office. The proper heading of the dissertation abstract must be printed at the top of the abstract.

Submission of final copy: Two weeks prior to the scheduled defense: the student must provide a full, clean copy of the dissertation to each member of the Defense Committee. The electronic file must be submitted to the departmental staff for dissemination to the faculty and the Department.

Defense: The defense is public. During the defense, the Committee acts on behalf of the University faculty as a whole. The candidate should give a brief presentation (no more than 20 minutes) summarizing the research and conclusions. Following the presentation the Chairperson opens the floor for questions from committee members and then Graduate School Faculty. Other audience members may also be allowed to ask questions if the candidate and Chairperson have agreed in advance. When all questions have been asked and answered, the Chairperson will ask all faculty members in attendance to remain to make their determinations in private. The Chair then invites the candidate back into the room and apprises him/her of the results. If the dissertation has been found unacceptable, the committee will provide specific recommendations and a further course of action. If necessary, a second defense may be scheduled.

Three-Article Dissertations

The following represent the criteria for three-article dissertations preferred by the Department of Archaeology:
(1) Three (or more) article manuscripts;
(2) Student is expected to be first author on each and responsible for at least 60% of the research and writing on each;
(3) All manuscripts must be edited and formatted for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Ideally, all three will have been at least submitted to those journals;
(4) For the formatted version to be submitted to GRS, introduction and conclusion chapters and a combined bibliography should be assembled;
(5) The dissertation must be otherwise formatted according to GRS and BU Library requirements, including front matter as specified in the GRS guidelines.

Note: Any variance from the above preferred criteria must be approved by the department’s Graduate Studies Committee and Chair. Petitions should be sent to the Director of Graduate Studies and should include letters of support from the student’s primary advisor and from relevant co-authors on publications.

Final Submission: The student is responsible for submitting a full and final version of the dissertation, as well as for filing a request for a Certificate of Completion of Requirements, if necessary. Submit your final dissertation electronically through the Electronic Theses & Dissertation (ETD) website.

Satisfactory Academic Progress and Benchmarks

The time limit for completion of the PhD is seven years (exceptions require a petition to GRS). A leave of absence of up to two semesters is permitted for appropriate cause.

The granting of a PhD will indicate that the student has demonstrated the following:

  • mastery of the intellectual breadth and depth of the discipline and of the contribution of their own area of inquiry to the larger field;
  • the ability to deploy a range of the technical skills required to investigate, analyze, and interpret the material remains of the human past;
  • the ability to produce and defend an original and significant contribution to archaeological knowledge;
  • the ability to teach the discipline at an undergraduate level;
  • the ability to carry out these tasks in a manner consonant with the highest prevailing standards of ethical and professional conduct in research, fieldwork, and teaching.

The following achievements are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress:

End of First Year

Completed core courses AR 891, 892, 893, and 894, each with a grade of B or better.
Formed Advisory Committee and submitted a full program of study.
Passed reading proficiency test in one modern foreign language.

End of Second Year

Fulfilled required credits as outlined in program of study.
Passed reading proficiency test in a second modern foreign language.
Formed PhD qualifying exam committee.

End of Third Year

Fall semester: Submitted plan for PhD qualifying examinations to Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) by seventh week of the semester.
Spring semester: Completed PhD qualifying examinations.

End of Fourth Year

Formed Dissertation Advisory Committee.
Defended Dissertation Prospectus.