PhD in Archaeology

Note: The program described below was unanimously approved by department faculty vote in December 2012. The specific requirements of the program are currently under university review.


The purpose of this handbook is to explain departmental procedures and requirements to graduate students seeking the PhD degree in archaeology at Boston University.

The Department requires regular communication between graduate students and their advisers, especially with respect to individual programs of study. Questions concerning academic policies, regulations, admissions, financial aid, petitions, or grievances can be addressed to the Director of Graduate Studies, who represents the Graduate Studies Committee. Information on use of Department equipment or facilities, faculty office hours, and the like can be obtained from the main office.

Intent of the Program

The intent of the Program is to provide appropriate education and training in the recovery, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological materials and contexts while simultaneously assuring that sufficient background is obtained in one or more traditional cognate fields such as classics, art history, anthropology, and history. In recognition of the importance of scientific techniques in the analysis, dating, and interpretation of archaeological finds, the program is also designed to include classroom and practical training in the biological and physical sciences and in quantitative methods, either within the framework of the archaeological curriculum itself or within that of other departments or programs [such as the Center for Remote Sensing].

PhD Degree Requirements in Archaeology

Satisfactory Academic Progress

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GRS) and the Archaeology Department guarantee 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. 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, but the leave period counts towards the seven-year time limit.

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.

Post-MA students may petition for transfer of credits for up to eight courses, or one full year of study. The petition must be approved by the student’s advisory committee as well as by the Graduate Studies Committee.

The following achievements are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress:

End of First Year

  • Completed core courses AR 705, 706, 707, 780, and 890, each with a grade of B or better.
  • Formed Advisory Committee and submitted a full program of study.
  • Passed reading proficiency test in two modern foreign languages.

No Later than End of Second Year

  • Completed one season of at least ten weeks of archaeological field or laboratory work by the end of the Fall semester.
  • Completed coursework as outlined in program of study.
  • Formed PhD qualifying exam committee.

No Later than End of Third Year

  • Completed a second season of at least ten weeks of archaeological field or laboratory work by the end of the Fall semester.
  • Submitted plan for PhD qualifying examinations to Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) by the end of the Fall semester.
  • Passed PhD qualifying examinations by the end of the Spring semester.

No Later than End of Fourth Year

  • Formed Dissertation Advisory Committee.
  • Defended Dissertation Prospectus.

Schedule Guidelines for Completion of PhD

  • Form Dissertation Defense Committee.
  • Diploma application. Year-specific deadlines are available from GRS.
  • Dissertation abstract, approved by the DGS and Department Chair and submitted to GRS three weeks prior to Final Oral Exam.
  • Properly formatted draft of dissertation submitted to readers and GRS three weeks prior to Final Oral Exam.
  • Oral Examination form and eight copies of approved abstract, submitted to GRS two weeks prior to Final Oral Exam.
  • Final Oral Exam. Year-specific deadlines are available from GRS.
  • Final submission of dissertation. Year-specific deadlines are available from GRS.

Course Requirements

Credit for sixteen four-credit courses are required for the post-baccalaureate PhD, including the following: AR 705, AR 706, AR 707, AR 780, and AR 890. Beyond these specific required courses, students must take one comparative topical course within the Department of Archaeology, one area course outside the major field of study, and one technical course that provides training in a specific skill. This last requirement may be waived if the student can effectively document or demonstrate sufficient proficiency in a technical skill. Proficiency may be demonstrated by the successful presentation of a project or by the completion, with a grade of B or higher, in a course taken previously.

Post-MA students may petition for transfer of credits for up to eight courses, or one full year of study. 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 must be demonstrated by the end of the second semester. In the program of study, the specific languages and the mode for demonstrating proficiency must be detailed. Modern language courses may not be counted toward the fulfillment of the 16 required degree courses.

Each language requirement can be fulfilled 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 will be offered once each semester during the tenth week of the semester.

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.

Qualifying Examinations

Students are expected to take their qualifying examinations within their fifth or at the latest their sixth semester. The qualifying exams will comprise three components and, generally, an oral examination. All exam components, including any oral examination, are normally expected to 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, and due dates of each component to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval by the Graduate Studies Committee. Qualifying exam proposals must 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 will typically focus, respectively, on area specialization, methodology, and theoretical orientation. Modes of assessment may comprise any of the following, 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 examining 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 examining committee members, then that student will not be allowed to continue in the program. In such instances, the student may be offered the opportunity to complete a project and earn an MA degree.

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, a full bibliography and, when appropriate, illustrations. 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 writing it up.

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. The final prospectus must include a Dissertation Prospectus Approval Page ( signed by the Readers. 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 in a department meeting that all faculty members and graduate students are encouraged 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.

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

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: a Chairperson and four readers. The Chairperson, who is not a Reader, is responsible for presiding at the defense. The Chairperson and at least one of the readers must be from the Department. 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 Application for the Degree ( Due dates are November 1st for January graduation, February 1st for May graduation, and July 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 Department Chair.

Abstract: Four weeks prior to the scheduled defense, the student must submit to the Graduate School an abstract no longer than 350 words in length, accompanied by a Doctoral Dissertation Defense Abstract Form signed by the Advisor of Record, Director of Graduate Studies, and Department Chair (

Format Review: Three weeks prior to the scheduled defense, the student must submit a full and properly formatted draft to the Graduate School Records Officer for format review (617-353-2694;

Final Oral Examination Schedule: Two weeks prior to the scheduled defense: the student must submit to the Graduate School a final defense schedule ( along with eight copies of the approved abstract, printed single-sided and stapled, and the approved abstract approval form.

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. Two additional copies should be made available, one for the Department office and one for the Lounge.

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.

Final Submission: The student is responsible for submitting a full and final version of the dissertation to the Graduate School and to the Stone Science Library, as well as for filing a request for a Certificate of Completion of Requirements ( Note that as of May 2013, all doctoral dissertations are to be submitted electronically.