Those with a passion for both history and human culture will find the study of archaeology fascinating, and many will be drawn to formally study the discipline at the university level to enter the field professionally and contribute to the understanding of the early days of human society and culture.
Ranging in focus from the earliest days of human development in Africa over 3 million years ago to the beginnings of recorded history, archaeological discoveries are responsible for most of what is known about humanity’s distant past.
Some will be inspired to study the field after watching fictional portrayals of archaeologists in films such as Indiana Jones, while others will be drawn to archaeology by ancient wonders such as the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.
Whatever the source of inspiration and attraction to the field, those who are interested in pursuing it as a career will need many years of specialized education and training before entering the field professionally.
In order to help aspiring archaeologists choose the best institution to attend as they begin their careers in the field, we have put together the following list of 10 of the best schools for archaeology in the United States. This list is comprised of schools ranked highly by U.S. News and World Report and topuniversities.com.
Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Ranked at number 5 in the world in the 2020 QS World University Rankings for archaeology, Harvard University offers excellent opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students interested in the field.
Undergraduate students interested in the field will study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and select archaeology as their concentration, and graduate students interested in the field can pursue a PhD in the field through the school’s Anthropology Department.
The Zooarchaeology Laboratory serves as both a research space for students and faculty to study animal remains from archaeological sites and as a learning area for students in the school’s osteoarchaeology course.
Harvard’s Maya Corpus has been one of the major efforts to record Mayan hieroglyphics since its inception in 1968, and the Peabody Museum continues research into Mayan history and culture with its work at Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico.
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
UC Berkeley offers undergraduate students the opportunity to begin studying archaeology through its anthropology program.
The program covers all areas of anthropology, including archaeology, and culminates in a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Graduate students at UC Berkeley who wish to begin or continue their studies in archaeology may apply to the school’s anthropology PhD program and concentrate in archaeology.
Graduate students with a special interest in ancient Greece or Rome may be interested in applying to the Department of Classics’ master’s or doctoral programs in Classical Archaeology.
The Archaeological Research Facility at UC Berkeley supports archaeological research by providing equipment, lab space, and training on said resources to researchers both within UC Berkeley and to outside researchers.
Along with directly supporting researchers, the ARF promotes archaeological understanding in the community, preserves archaeological research, and provides grants to researchers.
Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island)
Undergraduate students of archaeology can choose from three concentrations: Archaeology and the Ancient World, Classical Archaeology, and Egyptian and Near Eastern Archaeology.
The Joukowski Institute awards outstanding undergraduate archaeology students with academic prizes such as The Minnie Helen Hicks Prizes in Classical Appreciation, The James Aldrich Pirce Prize, and The Arnold Ayer Archaeological Fellowship.
Undergraduate and graduate students have multiple opportunities to conduct research in the field, independently or in conjunction with others.
Past undergraduates have performed work at Petra, Greece, and Montserrat with support from Brown’s Undergraduate Teaching and Research Assistantships Program, and other undergraduate students have designed and installed exhibits at Brown’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.
Stanford University (Stanford, California)
Stanford University offers undergraduate students a dedicated archaeology major that culminates in a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology degree upon completion of the course of study.
Along with regular coursework, the undergraduate archaeology program requires students to participate in fieldwork led by Stanford researchers and to demonstrate competence in a foreign language, preferably in a language related to the student’s area of interest.
Those who wish to study archaeology at the graduate level may pursue PhDs with a concentration in archaeology offered by the school’s Anthropology, Classics, and East Asian Languages and Cultures Departments.
Archaeological research at Stanford spans the globe and covers periods such as prehistory and classical archaeology and topics such as the development of societies and archaeological thought and practice.
The Arboretum Chinese Labor Quarters research project provides students and faculty a unique opportunity to perform fieldwork on campus while adding to the body of knowledge about the lives of Chinese Americans at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
The Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan offers undergraduate students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree by studying in its Anthropological Archaeology program.
Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the field, students at the University of Michigan can also pursue archaeological studies through various departments outside of anthropology, including history, art history, classical studies, Asian languages and studies, museum studies, etc.
The University of Michigan maintains a number of museums related to the study of early human societies. Among these museums are the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.
The Kelsey curates a collection of over 100,000 artifacts from Classical, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern archaeological studies, while the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology contains more than 3 million artifacts that shed light on the development of human society from its interactions with Neanderthals to the impact of Western Colonialism.
Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
The archaeology program at Yale University offers students the opportunity to study the field at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels.
Undergraduates can choose the school’s Archeological Studies major, while graduate students can enter the Master’s Program in Archaeological Studies or pursue a PhD through the Department of Anthropology.
Archaeological research at Yale is conducted at sites on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, and these research areas further education and discoveries about peoples such as the Maya, Ancient Egyptians, and early Chinese.
The Yale Initiative for the Study of Ancient Pyrotechnology conducts both lab and field-based research focused on examining the ways in which an increasing control of fire led to many early technological developments in human history.
Yale also operates seven laboratories that serve the dual purposes of supporting education and ongoing research and maintaining much of Yale’s archaeological collections.
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland)
Johns Hopkins University offers its undergraduate students the option to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology through its interdepartmental archaeology program, which incorporates classroom studies and significant fieldwork.
Graduate students may pursue PhDs with concentrations in archaeology through the school’s Near Eastern Archaeology/Near Eastern Art, Egyptology and Egyptian Art and Archaeology, and Classics programs.
The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum houses 12,000 artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, and the Americas and makes these available to students and researchers in order to further the educational mission of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Substantial portions of the museum’s collection include Roman coins, Latin funerary inscriptions, Egyptian antiquities, and prehistoric European and North American lithics.
Recent class projects at the museum have seen students recreate ancient Greek pottery, explore daily life in ancient Greece and Rome, and study ancient Roman houses, among other projects.
Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
The study of archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis is conducted through the school’s Department of Art History and Archaeology.
The department provides undergraduates the option to major in art history and archaeology and offers graduate students the opportunity to pursue master’s or doctoral level studies in the field.
The school’s undergraduate program in art history and archaeology provides students with multiple opportunities for experiential learning through internships at museums in St. Louis and elsewhere as well as through work performed at the school’s Kemper Art Museum.
Recently, students have interned at such notable institutions as the Smithsonian Archives and the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Students interested in working at the school’s Kemper Art Museum gain experience in museum operations by acting as student educators who design and conduct museum tours for the community.
Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
The Cornell Institute of Archaeology & Museum Studies provides undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students a wealth of opportunities and support through its coordination and partnerships with a multidisciplinary range of other departments at Cornell.
Particular areas of focus at CIAMS include the eastern Mediterranean area and the Americas, both before and after the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
Archaeological fieldwork conducted by Cornell University has taken place in a range of locations across the world, including Caesarea Maritima, Bresto, Sardis, and many other places.
The school’s Frontiers in Archaeological Sciences conference series is currently examining and rethinking the role of archaeology in society and the perspective and biases that are often present in the field.
The series seeks to create a more inclusive archaeological community and incorporate a diverse range of practitioners and perspectives.
Columbia University (New York City, New York)
Columbia University offers undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to study archaeology through a multidisciplinary approach to education in the field.
Undergraduate studies may be conducted through the Columbia Center for Archaeology, while graduate students in archaeology study the field through one of the many departments at the university that overlap the discipline.
Doctoral students at Columbia are able to take advantage of the university’s location by participating in the inter-university consortium and taking graduate classes at NYU, Rutgers, Stony Brook, and other participating schools.
Research projects at the Columbia Center for Archaeology have investigated the history and importance of rice in Madagascar, explored Hadrian’s Villa in Italy, and examined the significance of animals buried alongside humans in Bronze Age Armenia.
While contributing to the common understanding of many ancient societies, many of these efforts also serve as field schools and opportunities for experiential learning.