PhD in Anthropology: Archaeology

The University of Washington Graduate Program in Archaeology is designed to train students in archaeological method and theory, in critical thinking, and in the scientific analysis of the physical content of archaeological sites. The program is also designed to train professional archaeologists capable of working in a wide variety of contexts.

Each student is required to:

  1. Develop expertise in data collection at a professional level through course work and practical experience;
  2. Acquire thorough control of archaeological method and theory;
  3. Acquire substantial competence in at least one technical and one major geographic area;
  4. Demonstrate an ability to conceive, design, and execute significant research within archaeology; and
  5. Develop skill in classroom instruction to a level deemed adequate for university-level teaching.

Since there are considerable differences among individuals in learning styles, there is a great deal of flexibility in how these five goals may be achieved within the program. As a consequence, emphasis is placed upon both course work and upon independent demonstration that these goals have been mastered.

The first goal is normally realized by acquiring field experience in the context of ongoing professional archaeological research. Field experience is required of all students, although the dissertation need not be based on this work. The second goal, competence in archaeological method and theory, is met through required course work, including courses that focus upon these subjects (ARCHY 495, 497, 498/570, 480, 481, 482, 483, 484, etc.) and courses that cover areas and topical concerns in which this knowledge can be put to practical use. A major segment of the comprehensive examination is designed to test this competence. The area-competence goal is partially met by course work at the 400 and 500 levels but must include substantial independent reading by each student. This competence is also tested in the comprehensive examination. The fourth goal is largely met by the dissertation and the research that precedes it. Finally, although every effort is made to provide qualified students with teaching opportunities (e.g., Teaching Assistantships, Pre-doctoral Teaching Associates) in the department, evaluated teaching experience outside the university may also satisfy the teaching competency requirement.

The program can be divided into two parts. The first six quarters are spent in course work with the archaeology faculty. This part of the program ends with the comprehensive examination. The second part of each student's course of study is more closely supervised by the student's committee and is directed toward the dissertation project and the special skills and interests that the student wishes to develop beyond the general competence gained in the first six quarters.

During their graduate career, all students are expected to attend all archaeological guest lectures, seminars, and student colloquia. Lack of attendance at such affairs may be taken into account in assessing general performance in the program.

Program Years One and Two

Before arriving at the university, incoming graduate students are notified of their faculty-appointed advisors. The faculty-appointed advisor serves as the student's faculty advisor until the student selects a major advisor; the major advisor is to be selected no later than the end of the seventh quarter in residence. The major advisor also serves as chair of the student's PhD committee.

First-year and second-year course work will include the preceptoral reading courses in archaeology (ARCHY 501) and ARCHY 480-481-482-483-484, ARCHY 495, ARCHY 497, ARCHY 498/570, ARCHY 520, other appropriate courses at the ARCHY 500 level, and area and topical courses as available. Since none of these courses is offered more than once each year, and some only every two years, it is important that the student consult regularly with his or her faculty advisor.

In addition to the above, second-year course work may include advanced work in the area chosen by the student for concentration, and may include some course work outside the department in areas related to the student's research interest. It is also usual for students to enroll in QSCI 381, 482, and 483.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is a written examination evaluated by members of the archaeology faculty. The examination must be completed by the end of the seventh quarter of residence. Exceptions to the seven-quarter rule may be made in the case of students whose first language is not English. Upon the advice of the student's major advisor, a student may elect to take the examination before the seventh quarter, but only at the normally-scheduled time during autumn quarter.

Only one examination is given each year and all students taking the examination will have the same questions and will take it at the same time. A copy of the current document "The Comprehensive Examination in Archaeology" will be given to each student upon entry into the program. This document outlines the structure of the comprehensive examination. Refer to this document for all procedures relating to the comprehensive examination.

The evaluation of the written examinations by the archaeology faculty will have one of three outcomes:

  1. Pass with recommendation to proceed in the PhD program if the exam score is 3.0 or above. Individuals who perform at this level receive the MA degree by virtue of this performance;

  2. Pass without recommendation to proceed in the PhD program but with the award of an MA after completion of other MA requirements (see below) if the exam score is less than 3.0 but greater than or equal to 2.7. After completing the MA, individuals who fall within this category may retake the Comprehensive Examination once; the exam must be retaken during Autumn Quarter at the normally scheduled time; 

  3. Failure if the exam score is less than 2.7.


The Graduate School requires a minimum of 36 credits (30 at the University ofWashington ) and a minimum GPA of 3.0 for a Masters Degree. A minimum of 18 of these credits must be in 500 or higher level courses.

In addition, the MA degree is awarded to those Archaeology graduate students who complete the general first- and second-year requirements and pass the Comprehensive Examination with a grade of at least 3.0 by the end of the seventh quarter in residence.

For those who complete the general first- and second-year requirements, the Graduate Schools credit and GPA requirements, and pass the Comprehensive Examination with a grade of less than 3.0 but more than 2.69, an MA degree is awarded upon completion of a research paper involving at least nine hours of ARCHY 600 from one faculty member.

PhD Supervisory Committee

The student must constitute his or her PhD supervisory committee by the end of the seventh quarter of residence and no later than 4 months before submitting the request to schedule the general examination. A member of the Archaeology faculty must chair the committee. It must also include at least one other member of the Anthropology faculty, and a graduate school representative (GSR) selected by the student from among the University of Washington’s eligible graduate faculty members. The supervisory committee must contain a total of at least three voting members plus the GSR. It is strongly recommended that the committee contain one or more members from outside the department. The doctoral reading committee is composed of a minimum of three voting members from the supervisory committee. The reading committee must be designated prior to the scheduling of the dissertation defense

The major advisor will assist the student in forming the committee, but it is the student's responsibility to contact potential committee members and submit appropriate paperwork to the graduate program advisor.

Subsequent Studies

After successfully completing the comprehensive exam, the student's course of study is specifically tailored to meet his or her own research interest and requires close consultation with the chair of the supervisory committee and its other members. Course work is normally limited to those graduate courses that may have been missed due to alternate year offerings, courses outside the department essential to pursuing the student's research goals, and ARCHY 600 (independent study).

As soon as practical after the comprehensive examination, the student should begin to plan the dissertation research. Once the student has formed a clear idea of the dissertation research, outlined in the dissertation research proposal, and upon the advice of the chair of the PhD Supervisory Committee, the student will take the general examination. Within the quarter following the completion of the general examination, the student must present the colloquium.

Dissertation Research Proposal

The Dissertation Research Proposal is a plan (maximum ten single-spaced pages) for the dissertation research. It must lay out the problem that is to be addressed by the research and establish the archaeological significance of that problem.  It must also present the overall research design, briefly describe the data requirements and how those requirements will be met, and provide a discussion of the analytic methods to be used. In no case will a purely descriptive dissertation be accepted. Close cooperation between the student and PhD Supervisory Committee is required, and the entire PhD Supervisory Committee must approve the proposal prior to scheduling the General Exam.

General Examination

The general examination is administered by the PhD supervisory committee on behalf of the dean of the Graduate School. The examination is a two-hour oral examination administered by the student's committee including the graduate school representative, and may be attended by any member of the graduate faculty.

The examination will normally cover the area within archaeology that the student is pursuing in detail as well as any other material considered relevant by the committee. Upon completion, the committee may recommend admission to candidacy to the PhD (PhC), re-examination in selected areas, or failure. While timing of the general examination varies with the individual student, it will normally take place in the fourth year. In order to schedule the general examination, the dissertation research proposal must be formally approved by the student’s committee. In rare cases, a student may petition the supervisory committee to allow the generals to precede approval of the final draft of the dissertation research proposal.


By the end of the quarter following the completion of the General Examination, the student must give an oral presentation that sets forth the problem being addressed by the dissertation, the area and data to be investigated, the significance of the problem for the discipline, the analytical methods to be used, and the questions or hypotheses being addressed. The formal presentation that forms the heart of the colloquium is to last for no more than 40 minutes. The colloquium is open to Anthropology faculty and graduate students as well as to other interested individuals, and is meant to give such individuals an opportunity to comment on the proposed research. The colloquium is normally presented in the fourth year.

Language Examination

Language skills facilitate access to international scholarship and opportunities for international partnership and fieldwork. Whether or not a student’s dissertation research requires the use of a foreign language, students are all required to demonstrate competence in a major scientific or field language (other than English) in order to complete the PhD. Ideally, the language selected will be one of direct relevance to the dissertation work or related scholarship. Competence will be assessed through an examination to be administered by the Archaeology Faculty. The examination will require the translation into English of approximately 1,000 words of text in the language in question and in an area relevant to the student’s area of interest and expertise. The student will be given two hours to complete the translation and will be allowed to bring paper dictionaries, but no electronic devices, to the examination room. The Examination will be arranged and administered on the UW Seattle campus by the student’s advisor, and will be graded under the supervision of the Archaeology Faculty. Students whose first language is not English may petition their Supervisory Committee to waive the language requirement. Students must complete the language requirement prior to the scheduling of the Dissertation Defense, and are encouraged to complete it as early as possible in their student careers.


The dissertation must represent the product of original research on a significant topic in archaeology. Normally it is based upon fieldwork conducted by the student, but this is not required. Close cooperation between the PhD supervisory committee chair and the student is absolutely essential. The student is responsible for keeping his or her committee fully informed of the dissertation progress. Before the dissertation is completed, a dissertation reading committee, drawn from the PhD supervisory committee, is appointed. The reading committee is responsible for approving or rejecting the dissertation; only upon its recommendation is the final step in the program, the final examination, initiated. Unless otherwise agreed upon by the committee, the dissertation draft must be presented to the committee within the first two weeks of the quarter in which the student expects to receive the PhD.

Final Examination

The final examination is scheduled by the Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the dissertation reading committee. This examination is administered by the PhD supervisory committee, including the GSR, and is limited to the student's dissertation; any member of the graduate faculty may attend. The warrant for the PhD is signed at the conclusion of the examination. After the completion of the final examination, and submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School, the PhD is awarded.

This is a brief outline of the process; information on specific procedures can be obtained from the Graduate Program Advisor or from your advisor.