Universiteit Leiden

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Archaeological Science (MSc)

About the programme

Dive into the heart of archaeological science: explore the flora and fauna of bygone ages, study human bones and teeth, analyse the cultural biographies of material objects, or become an expert in the use of digital data in archaeological research.

Programme overview

Regardless of the Career Profile you choose, you will follow a general course in scientific methodology. Each Career Profile consists of two lecture series, supplemented with lectures by guest speakers, including international speakers, and laboratory work. You will also choose a Region Focus Area, either centered on a region or a period, supplementing your main Archaeological Science focus. Finally, there is room for fieldwork, and elective courses. 

A large part of the programme is intended for writing the thesis. In this thesis, the results of practical investigations are presented, combined with literature studies. 

Mike de Heij


Mike de Heij

'Finding the connection between archaeology and forensics opened up new doors for me, allowing me to bring the best of both worlds together for the benefit of society. I participated in voluntary work and followed classes on the subject. I also enjoyed a myriad of other classes, such as one in which we delved into the tales of Gilgamesh, or others where we learned how basic food processing tools and structures were created, which includes relevant knowledge still being employed today in other countries of the world. In the end I very much enjoyed our final lab internship where we had to estimate age, sex, length, and diseases of a population of a medieval Dutch town.'

Career Profiles

Archaeobotany and archaeozoology focuses on a variety of palaeo-zoological and palaeo-botanical topics (including aDNA and isotopes), ranging in age from the Palaeolithic to historical periods. The programme revolves around palaeo-environmental or palaeo-economical questions as well as evolutionary aspects of faunal or floral communities, and the evolution of species.

Topics discussed in this focus area include: stable isotope analysis, biomechanical analyses, paleodemography, metric and non-metric variation, estimation of sex and age, taphonomic changes, infectious disease, non-specific stress indicators, and the osteological paradox. Students are encouraged to formulate a research question that is novel, reproducible, and of interest to the wider osteoarchaeological community.

The Faculty of Archaeology houses several skeletal collections, which may be available for student research. In addition to a well-grounded education in archaeology, students that complete this track will have an advanced knowledge of the human body, experience conducting research, and honed scientific writing expertise. These skills will prepare students to continue their osteoarchaeological research efforts or pursue other career opportunities.

Please note: if you want to start in February, and you aim to graduate in a year, your thesis subject options are limited.

This focus area deals with current approaches in material culture theory, analytical methods and the techniques used to study artefacts and in experimental archaeology. Experiments are key to both our research and teaching. These are conducted in an experimental laboratory, as well as in an experimental outdoor location called Huize Horsterwold. The latter is a Stone Age hamlet we have constructed these past few years and which we use as an experimental station.

This focus area will replace Digital Archaeology and starts September 1, 2024.

In the focus area of Computational Archaeology, you will acquire in-depth knowledge about quantitative analysis and visualization of archaeological data using statistical and computational techniques. Learning the scripting language Python will provide you with versatile skills to develop, build and apply a broad range of customized workflows for data analysis in all fields of archaeology and beyond. The Computational Archaeology learning line is complemented by a course on AI applications in archaeology that combines practical applications with theoretical reflection. Thus, we offer high-level practical courses relevant to computer science. You will particularly benefit from our track if you already have a background in computational archaeology.

Your thesis will have a methodological focus, or at least a strong methodological component, in one of the sub-fields of Computational Archaeology (machine learning; remote sensing and image analysis; spatial analysis; modelling and simulation; data management; and also theoretical work related to computational archaeology). Commonly, your thesis topic will be embedded in a larger research context, such as a case study taken from your regional specialization or ongoing research projects at the faculty, using data collected e.g. in the field during survey and excavation, data available in collections and repositories, but also data generated in the lab, e.g. through modelling, simulation or virtual reality. Thesis topics include but are not limited to archaeological prospection, citizen science, landscape archaeology, and urbanism.   

Educational methods

Tests are taken in the form of written examinations, presentations, assignments or papers. For each subject you pass you will be awarded a number of credits. One credit (ec) stands for 28 hours of study. One year of fulltime study equals 60 credits.

Instruction consists of lectures, seminars and tutorials. In the lecture the lecturer talks about his or her field. You prepare by studying articles and books at home.

However, most of the teaching in the master programme consists of seminars and tutorials, where you examine the material in more depth and discuss it with your fellow students and the lecturer.

You also carry out assignments, give presentations and write papers. An active contribution to the meetings is highly appreciated.

You are required to spend about 40 hours per week on your studies. These study activities include: lectures/seminars, practical sessions, tutorials, fieldwork, excursions (e.g. to a museum or excavation), exams, literature study, preparing presentations, and writing papers and reports.

Programme structure

See for a detailed programme outline the programme structure webpage.

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