Archaeology Dissertation Topics

We have provided the selection of example archaeology dissertation topics below to help and inspire you.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 1:

An analysis of the view of Jacobs (1969, p. 16) that ‘the separation commonly made, dividing the city’s commerce and industry from rural agriculture, is artificial and imaginary’, with reference to Çatal Hüyük.

The site of Çatal Hüyük, a Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in Anatolia, was first excavated in 1958 by the late Sir James Mellaart, who also led subsequent excavations between 1961 and 1965. However, the site thereafter lay undisturbed for 30 years as a consequence of the Dorak affair, when he was accused of antiquities smuggling by the Turkish authorities. Nevertheless, during the period of his excavations, evidence had emerged that the area was at the centre of an advanced network of cultures and trade. Building upon such academic opinions and enthused by a personal interest in the area (as a consequence of repeated visits) this is a dissertation that combines practical archaeology with existing learned experience.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Balter, M. (2004). The goddess and the bull: Çatalhöyük: An archaeological journey to the dawn of civilization. New York: Free Press.
  • Hodder, I. (2003). ‘A new phase of excavation at Çatalhöyük’, Anatolian Archaeology, Vol. 9, pp. 9-11.
  • Jacobs, J. (1969). The economy of cities. New York: Random House.
  • Mellaart, J. (1963). ‘Excavations at Çatal Hüyük, second preliminary report: 1962’, Anatolian Studies, Vol. 13, pp. 43-103.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 2:

The African Burial Ground – an archaeological and cultural rejoinder

Located in Lower Manhattan, the aforementioned site has been found to contain the (intact) remains of 400 men as well as those of women and children. Despite initial beliefs that the site had also been home to mass burials, no such evidence was found. This dissertation assesses the impact of the opening of a visitor centre and the decreeing of the site as the 123rd National Monument. In so doing the role that archaeology has had are assessed, through the finding of the site, in reshaping previous preconceptions of black Afro-American history in the New York district as well as issues relating to ‘reclaiming our history’ within the Afro-American New York community.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Epperson, T.W. (1997). ‘The politics of “race” and cultural identity at the African Burial Ground excavations, New York City’, World Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 7, pp. 108-117.
  • Jamieson, R.W. (1995). ‘Material culture and social death: African-American burial practices’, Historical Archaeology, Vol. 29(4), pp. 39-58.
  • Lepore, J. (2005). New York burning: Liberty, slavery and conspiracy in eighteenth-century Manhattan. New York: Knopf.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 3:

Sutton Hoo revisited – a comparative study with Swedish burial grounds.

Discovered in 1939, the ship-burial and associated graves at Sutton Hoo unearthed the richest early medieval burial site in England. Its importance as an archaeological site is thus unquestioned for the understanding that it has given to the reign and times of Raedwald. This dissertation takes a more international view of the importance of Sutton Hoo and accordingly compares the finds at Sutton Hoo with those unearthed in Vendel and Vasgard, in Sweden. In so doing this dissertation is particularly interested in what the similarity of artefacts can tell both archaeologists and historians as to the nature of sea-trading patterns in the sixth and seventh centuries (as documented by Bede) as well as the importance, within Swedish noble culture of the time of sending children away from home to be raised and tutored by relatives abroad.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Arrhenius, B. (1983). ‘The chronology of the Vendel graves’. In, Lamm, J.P. and Nordström, H-A. (eds), Vendel period studies. Stockholm: Museum of National Antiquities, pp. 39-70.
  • Bede (c. 731, 1969). Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, ed. and tr. B. Colgrave and R.A.B. Mynors, Bede’s ecclesiastical history of the English people. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Evans, A.C. (2001). ‘Sutton Hoo and Snape, Vendel and Valsgarde’. In, Hulten, P. (ed.), The true story of the Vandals. Värnamo: Museum Vandalorum, pp. 48-63.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 4:

Archaeological digs at Norwich Cathedral 1987-88 and 2001-2007: A review.

Though the second city of England until c.1850, Norwich is now, in many ways, a forgotten backwater. Its cathedral, however, was at the height of the city’s power, surrounded by a mediaeval city that boasted a church for every week of the year. The moving of the Choir School, the rebuilding of the Refectory, and the construction of the Hostry on the site of the mediaeval hostry, over the years 2004-2007, resulted in the largest archaeological dig in and around Norwich Cathedral since the excavation of the north-side of the Cathedral in 1987 – 1988 and the building of the Allisonium. Reviewing the techniques and the discoveries found in both digs this dissertation not only comments on the primary findings but also interviews those who were involved in the digs at one of England’s greatest cathedrals. It also comments on what the results of both digs can tell contemporary archaeologists as to the attitudes and priorities of earlier archaeologists, given the repairs to these sections of the Cathedral that were previously carried out in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Bown, J. (1997). ‘Excavations on the north side of Norwich Cathedral, 1987-1988’, Norfolk Archaeology, Vol. 42(4), pp. 428-452.
  • Gilchrist, R. (1998). ‘Norwich Cathedral: A biography of the north transept’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. 151, pp. 107-130.
  • Wallis, H. (2006). ‘Excavations at the site of the Norwich School Refectory, 2001-2003’, East Anglian Archaeology, Vol. 16.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 5:

Canal archaeology: A modern day archaeological gem waiting to be discovered.

The canals and inland waterways of England and Wales are now busier than ever before, though the traffic now using them is primarily holiday-orientated, rather than freight. In looking at the opportunities that canals give to archaeologists interested in the modern industrial period, this dissertation gives especial focus to the programmes of restoration embarked by the Cotswold Canals Trust (the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal). This is a dissertation that benefits not only from a range of secondary sources upon the manner in which the canal fell into disrepair and eventual closure but also primary research from the perspectives of contemporary workers in the canal system, and their finds.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Ashmore, O. (1982). The industrial archaeology of North-West England. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.
  • Conway-Jones, H. (2007). ‘Stroudwater Canal features influenced by the Ship Canal to Gloucester’, Cotswold Canals Restoration, Vol. 1, pp. 1-9.
  • Nevell, M. (2003). ‘The archaeology of the canal warehouses of North-West England and the social archaeology of industrialisation’, Industrial Archaeology Review, Vol. 25(1), pp. 43-57.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 6:

The conservation of archaeologically recovered synthetic carpet.

The difficulties faced by archaeologists when conserving wet-site artefacts is well known; particularly with regard to wood and there is a wealth of literature on the use of colophony rosin, polyethylene glycol and acetone in such work. Recent research has also been undertaken on the best ways to preserve wet-site archaeologically recovered synthetic carpet. Using such studies as base points, this dissertation undertakes a number of laboratory based experiments that seek to provide a comparative answer as to the best way to preserve water-logged man-made synthetic carpet and in so doing records the success and failures of adopting techniques such as dehydration, and freeze drying.

Suggested initial topic reading:


  • Barker, B. and Lamb, L. (2009). ‘The archaeology of poverty and human dignity: Charity and the work ethic in a 1930s Depression Era itinerant’s camp on the Toowoomba Range Escarpment, Queensland’, Archaeologies, Vol. 5(2), pp. 263-279.
  • Harris, R. (2001). ‘What to do while you’re waiting to do archaeology? Processes of decay in the 21st century’, Australian Archaeology, Vol. 52, pp. 49-50.
  • Wild, J.P. (2003). Textiles in archaeology. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 7:

What now for a Leicester car park? An analysis of the potential site-legacies of the discovery of the body of Richard III.

The discovery of that which is believed to be the body of Richard III in a council car park in central Leicester is, this thesis contends, one of the most exciting and important archaeological finds within England in the past decade. Given that the modern day car park appears to be the final resting place of an anointed King this dissertation asks what should happen next to the site – once the archaeological dig is fully over. In so doing it evaluates whether the site should be refilled (as is now usually the case within inner-city sites once the dig is over) or preserved as not only a ‘window on the past’ but also as a location by which to highlight the role of 21st century archaeology.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Demas, M. (2004). ”Site unseen’: the case for reburial of archaeological sites’, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, Vol. 3/4, pp. 137-154.
  • Jones, S. (2009). ‘Experiencing authenticity at heritage sites: Some implications for heritage management and conservation’, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, Vol. 11(2), pp. 133-147.
  • Leicester City Council (2012). Work focuses on future of Richard III site. Leicester City Council Press Release, 29th September 2012.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 8:

Landscape archaeology: The legacy of W.G. Hoskins.

In 1955 Hoskins published his seminal work The Making of the English Landscape which recognised the importance of field archaeology to the production of landscape history. Hoskins would subsequently found the Leicester School. This dissertation surveys the career of Hoskins not as a local historian but as a pioneer of historic landscape archaeology and in so doing evaluates the extent to which the different thematic approaches adopted in landscape archaeology result in it being a distinct discipline in its own right.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Chapman, H. (2006). Landscape archaeology and GIS. Stroud: The History Press.
  • Hoskins, W.G. (1955). The making of the English landscape. Leicester: Leicester University Press.
  • Wagstaff, J.M. (ed.) (1987). Landscape and culture: Geographical and archaeological perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 9:

Community-based archaeological digs: Is archaeology the province of the wider community, or a peculiar specialism?

The October 2012 archaeological dig at Great Chilton, Durham has unearthed interesting finds including a quern and evidence of several roundhouses, suggesting that the site could date back to 500BC. It is an example of a community-dig in which archaeological experts and students have been joined by local community volunteers. Whilst noting that such community involvement may help to fund research and raise the profile of archaeology, this dissertation questions whether it is either appropriate or desirable (given the nature of potential artefacts) for non-professional archaeologists (or those from associated disciplines) to take part in the actually digging and recovery processes involved in archaeological digs and asks whether the trade-off between funding and widening-participation with potential site contamination is a price that the discipline should be expected to pay.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Atalay, S. (2010). ”We don’t talk about Çatalhöyük, we live it’: Sustainable archaeological practice through community-based participatory research’, World Archaeology, Vol. 42(3), pp. 418-429.
  • Priestley, C. (2012). ‘Dig in Chilton discovers Iron Age farmstead’, The Northern Echo, 20th October 2012.
  • Silliman, S.W. (ed.) (2008). Collaborating at the trowel’s edge: Teaching and learning in indigenous archaeology. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Example archaeology dissertation topic 10:

From Animal, Vegetable, Mineral to TimeTeam: The changing nature of archaeology on television.

Broadcast from 1952 to 1959, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral was an archaeology quiz show on British television in which a panel of experts was presented with artefacts that they needed to identify and comment upon. Thereafter, archaeological programmes such as Chronicle were broadcast until 1991. In 1994, TimeTeam burst onto the nation’s television screens. It has now been shown on Channel 4 for eighteen series and, with its combination of ‘geo-phys’, tractor-dug trenches and cheery lead presenter (Tony Robinson), it continues to popularise archaeology in a manner that combines education with entertainment. This paper explores the value of archaeological programmes on television and evaluates whether the profession is enhanced by such popular programming.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dyke, R.M.V. (2006). ‘Seeing the past: Visual media in archaeology’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 108(2), pp. 370-375.
  • Finn, C. (2001). ‘Mixed messages: Archaeology and the media’, Public Archaeology, Vol. 4, pp. 261-268.
  • Merriman, N. (ed.) (2004). Public archaeology. London: Routledge.

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