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MA Program

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To apply for the MA in Archaeology, visit Cornell’s Graduate School Admissions

For a description of the field, see the Graduate School’s Archaeology Field Description. Questions about the MA program in Archaeology should be sent to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). 

Students considering applying to graduate school in archaeology are encouraged to read Professor Adam T. Smith’s informative blog post on the subject.

The MA Program in Archaeology at Cornell is designed to provide students with an intensive orientation to the field, appropriate to both students with BA degrees in the liberal arts who have considerable experience in archaeology and those seeking to build a solid foundation for future work or study.  The goal of the program is to offer students the intellectual resources and institutional support necessary to prepare them for successful admissions to top tier PhD programs and for careers in the heritage sector.

Cornell archaeology supports a diverse array of interests, ranging from material culture studies to public archaeology, historic preservation, and archaeological method and theory.  Archaeology at Cornell is deeply committed to multidisciplinary studies. Faculty in Archaeology belong to the fields of Anthropology, Classics, History of Art, Landscape Architecture, and Near Eastern Studies.

The ideal trajectory toward the MA should result in the completion of all requirements within 12-18 months, although extensions to 24 months are allowed when warranted by a student’s research program.

Overall Requirements

Conferral of the MA in Archaeology entails satisfactory completion of the following requirements:

  • 8 courses;
    • Students are strongly encouraged to take all courses at the 4000 level or higher (excepting language courses—see below).
    • In special circumstances, up to two non-language courses can be at the 2000 or 3000 level. This requires the approval of the student’s advisor and the Graduate Affairs Committee.
  • Arkeo 6100: The Craft of Archaeology;
  • A thesis;
  • Successful completion of the MA exam;
  • 2 semesters in residence (i.e., taking courses on the Ithaca campus)

Courses & Distribution

Within the total of 8 required courses, at least 4 must satisfy the following requirements:

  • 1 course at the 4000+ level devoted to Archaeological Theory;
  • 1 course at the 4000+ level devoted to Archaeological Method;
  • 2 courses devoted to the archaeology of a region.

During the fall semester, students are required to enroll in two courses. One is “The Craft of Archaeology”. This course, co-taught by the in-residence faculty, provides both an orientation to current faculty research and hands-on advice on professional skills, from constructing a CV, to applying to graduate programs, to conducting fieldwork.

The second required fall course is the designated CIAMS seminar. This course is intended for the entire entering cohort and is required in order to apply for research funding from CIAMS. The CIAMS seminar will typically satisfy either the course requirement in Archaeological Theory or Archaeological Method.

Only one course to be counted in the total of 8 required courses may be taken S/U. All the rest must be taken for a quality grade.

If a course is not available in a given area of interest, students may speak to relevant faculty to discuss the possibility of an independent study. Students are advised to take no more than one independent study, but exceptions can be made in consultation with the Graduate Affairs Committee or the Special Committee.

Click here for a list of all MA courses by distribution.

Model Course of Study

Each student’s course of study is guided initially by the Graduate Advisory Committee and then, by the end of the first semester, by the special committee. There is thus no single model for a program of study. One possible model for a 2-semester curriculum would be:

Semester 1

The Craft of Archaeology

Course in Archaeological Method or Theory

Course on the Archaeology of a Region #1

Other elective or language*

Other elective

Semester 2

Course in Archaeological Theory or Method

Course on the Archaeology of a Region #2

Other elective or language

Thesis writing (with committee chair)

End of Semester 1

Establish special committee

Graduation Semester

Submission of MA Thesis

MA exam

 Before Day 1 of Semester 2

Submit research proposal to committee


Each individual course of study will be unique, developed in consultation with the Special Committee. Students may also petition to have courses not on the posted lists count for credit or fulfill distribution requirements. Consult with the DGS on any such requests.* See section on language below


Each student’s tailored course of study is developed in close consultation with faculty advisors. Entering students receive guidance initially from the Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC). Composed of the DGS, CIAMS director, and one additional faculty member, the role of the GAC is to provide advice until such time as the Special Committee is constituted and to provide any assistance that might fall outside of the academic purview of the special committee (e.g., issues pertaining to the Graduate School, TAships, etc.).  

Please note that the Graduate School requires all students to have registered an adviser online via student center by the 3rd week of the fall semester. If you have not selected a Special Committee chair by this time, you should select the DGS or the adviser who was assigned to you in your letter of admissions. Once a Special Committee has been formed, you can remove the temporary member or alter his/her status as needed. 

You should establish a Special Committee, including Chair and Minor Member(s) by the end of Fall semester. The Special Committee is ultimately responsible for all decisions regarding a student’s academic trajectory. Each student should officially constitute a Special Committee no later than the end of the first semester in residence. The committee chair must be a member of the Field of Archaeology; the second member can be chosen from the Graduate Faculty at large. Students may change the composition of their committees at any time if needed.

MA Thesis

The final thesis for the MA in Archaeology should present a piece of original research on a topic of empirical, theoretical, or methodological importance. It must not exceed 30 pages including tables, figures, bibliography and notes (using standard formatting in accordance with graduate school requirements). It should aim to be similar in quality and scale to those published in professional archaeological journals.

No later than the first day of spring semester, students must submit to their Special Committee a short (maximum 4 pages) proposal detailing the focus of their thesis.

MA Exam

After submission of the MA research paper an oral examination is convened with the Special Committee and any other Archaeology Field members who choose to attend.  


There is no language requirement for the Archaeology MA. However, the Special Committee can advise language study as appropriate. In particular, for some MA research papers – where relevant primary sources or key scholarly literature are not available in English – it will be necessary for students to demonstrate suitable minimum language ability (as advised by the Special Committee) at least by the time of their MA defense.

Language courses, including introductory language courses, do count toward the 8 credit requirement and are thus an exception to the rule that the 8 courses required for the MA be at or above the 4000 level.


As you move toward completion of your MA thesis, it is important to be aware of Graduate School requirements which impact scheduling. The Graduate School stipulates a filing deadline for MA candidates who wish to graduate during a given semester. The final possible date for the MA exam is about 2 weeks before the filing deadline. The Graduate School’s A3 form scheduling the MA exam must be filed with the GFA for Archaeology (Laura Webster) at least one week prior to the exam. And the defense draft of the MA thesis must be circulated to your committee no later than 3 weeks prior to the exam. As you plan for the completion of your degree, please consult the Graduate School’s timeline: