Institute of Archaeology


Programme Structure for MA Artefact Studies

Degree Co-ordinator: Ulrike Sommer

This MA provides training in the documentation and interpretation of artefacts from archaeological sites and museum collections. Students benefit from a placement within a museum, an archaeological excavatin or an archaeological unit where experience will be gained in the practice of finds analysis.

Students are introduced to the skills of finds specialists. They develop the ability to identify, describe, document, catalogue and analyse artefacts and artefact assemblages. Subjects covered include the description of ceramic, lithic and metal objects. In practical sessions, we cover drawing, photography and work with databases. Many sessions make use of the institute's extensive collections. The programme will also raise awareness of different approaches to artefact analysis and introduce recent discussions on the subject.

Degree Handbook


The degree programme is available either full-time over one calendar year or part-time over two calendar years (commencing September). It comprises a core course, several option courses, an optional placement within a museum or archaeological unit (not assessed, see below) and a dissertation. Each of these is discussed more fully below:

Core Modules

All students must take the following:

Option Modules

Students choose to follow further option modules up to the value of 60 credits from an outstanding range of Masters course options available at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. Please note not all modules are available every year. For this degree, some of the most popular choices include:

Material based modules 

Periods and Areas


Public Archaeology, museums and outreach


Assessment for the course is by a standard essay, six pieces of short work involving the analysis of assemblages and finds distributions, and a portfolio. For the portfolio, students will receive 10 original finds from the IoA-collections which they will have to identify and document, producing a state of the art catalogue.


The core module will be taught over twenty weeks in term 1 and term 2. This adds up to a total of 40 contact hours full time. In addition to this you are expected to undertake around 200 hours of private reading in preparing for classes and approximately 100 hours to prepare your modulework. There are reading weeks in term 1 and 2; this time should be used to catch-up with any reading associated with lectures and to research and prepare assessed work. Term 3 is wholly given over to research on your dissertation.


(90 credits) - The dissertation is 15,000 words in length with accompanying illustrations, tables and bibliographies etc, resulting from individual research undertaken during the course. In most cases this will combine a professional standard finds report with a theoretically informed academic overview of the particular field, tailored to answer a specific research question. However, with the permission of the Programme Co-ordinator, the dissertation can be on any topic relevant to the degree.

Examples of past projects include:

  • an experimental study of pottery breakage
  • Chinese porcelain in the City of London
  • spatial analysis of artefacts in Bronze Age lynchets
  • small finds from the late Roman barracks at Caerleon
  • Irish traveler graves
  • Problems in long-term object storage in the East of England Museum Hub
  • the arrangement of grave gifts in early Anglo Saxon graves
  • Coptic footwear
  • Early Neolithic flint working at Hopton-on-Sea


Students have the option to do a 20-day voluntary placement at a relevant museum, excavation or archaeological unit. The placement itself is not formally assessed other than through its contribution to the student's dissertation work and by a short report. Some of the past placement locations and topics have included:

  • the Museum of London Archive (Pompeian red ware, Roman hair pins, Border ware, Tudor cutlery, Tudor glass, Roman 'lamp chimneys', Roman shoes, Egyptian blue, Glass medicine bottles, 18th century 'witch bottles', Chinese porcelain)
  • the Ure Museum, Reading University (Apulian funerary vase-painting)
  • Durham Oriental Museum (Bronze Age pottery from Yemen)
  • the Horniman Museum (A.C. Haddon's collections from New Guinnea and Torres Straits, Greek and Cypriot Bronze pottery, Egyptian Shabti figurines)
  • The Wallace collection (Late Medieval chain mail)
  • the British Museum (Elamite coins from Iran, British Palaeolithic flint)
  • the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Romano-British brooches, Dragonesque brooches, Button brooches, pierced Roman coins, Roman coins in Cornwall)
  • Petrie Museum (Roman tokens, New Kingdom faience, Byzantine jewellery, Egyptian tomb stones)
  • PreConstruct Archaeology (Medieval pottery, Neolithic flints)
  • The National Museum of Scotland (Pictish bone pins)
  • Oxford Archaeology (early Romano-British Pottery)
  • Archaeology South East (Romano-British Pottery)
  • English Heritage's Ancient Monuments Laboratory (British Prehistoric Iron work)
  • Southampton University (Experimental lithic technology)
  • The Soames Museum, London (“Miscellaneous” Artefacts)
  • Kew Gardens (Finds from Swiss Lake Villages)


Please note that Tier 4 students are permitted to undertake a work placement during their programme, however, they must not exceed 20 hours per week (unless the placement is an integral and assessed part of the programme). This applies whether that work placement takes place at UCL or at an external institution. If you choose to undertake a placement at an external institution, you will be required to report in to the department on a weekly basis so that you can continue to comply with your visa conditions.

Tier 4 students may also be permitted to study away from UCL on academic grounds which are not part of the standard delivery of a programme or module e.g. collecting data or conducting research. Such a period of study away from UCL must not be taken until it is authorised by the Departmental Tutor/Programme Leader. Students must inform their Departmental Tutor/Programme Leader before they intend to study away from UCL, and provide the location of study and the reason for doing so. The period of this form of study away from UCL must not exceed three months.