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infosheet-archaeology-226pxBringing the past into the present

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Why study Archaeology?

Archaeology seeks to understand earlier human societies and cultures through the study of material evidence from the past. This evidence can include assemblages of portable artefacts such as stone tools, larger monumental structures like Mayan temples, and entire human-modified landscapes. Archaeologists generate data through fieldwork and excavation, and use both laboratory science and interpretive theory to study that data.

Archaeology is our primary source of knowledge about the deep history of humankind, and the gradual developments in culture and society that led to the present-day arrangement of human communities.

Archaeology at Otago

Archaeology at Otago is taught as part of the broader discipline of Anthropology; the comparative study of humanity and culture. Students who wish to specialise in Archaeology major in Anthropology. The major normally takes three years and requires a minimum of nine papers in the subject, out of a minimumof 20 papers for a degree. Anthropology majors graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or with a BA(Hons) (an extra year). There is also an Anthropology minor option requiring a minimum of five papers.

Don't forget that students can take Anthropology as one of the majors in a Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc).

Two first-year papers provide an introduction to Archaeology

ANTH 103 Introduction to Anthropology

ANTH 103 is taught in two blocks with lectures on Archaeology and Social Anthropology (the study of contemporary culture). In the Archaeology block, ANTH 103 considers the history, techniques and ideas of archaeology with special attention to problems that have challenged archaeologists.

ANTH 106 Human Origins and Civilizations

In ANTH 106 students are introduced to the archaeological evidence for the biological and socio-cultural origins and development of the human species. The course reviews the major changes in human society and culture from our earliest days up until the emergence of early civilisations around the world.

Upper level papers in Archaeology

In upper-level papers students can study the regional archaeologies of New Zealand, the Pacific islands and Asia, as well as the archaeology of recent colonial societies. Other courses train students in the methods and practice of archaeology and the study of animal remains and artefacts. Students who specialise in archaeology are encouraged to carry out field or laboratory research for postgraduate theses (MA and PhD).

Double major/degree options

It is possible to major in Anthropology with Archaeology papers only, although students wishing to specialise in Archaeology are encouraged to take one or more lower-level Social Anthropology papers too (including the joint ANTH 103 paper). Archaeology students may also wish to take Biological Anthropology courses concerned in part with the study of human biological remains from archaeological sites. These courses are offered through the Department of Anatomy. Students with strong interests in archaeological science and lab techniques may wish to credit other relevant science papers in their degree.

Anthropology could be one of the majors in a Bachelor of Arts and Science. If you were wanting to do a double major in a BA, some useful double major options include History, Classics, Geography, Politics, Māori Studies, and Languages. Students can also take archaeology papers in double degrees with Law, Science and Commerce.

See detailed information about Archaeology papers.


There are no formal secondary school prerequisites for enrolment in an Anthropology degree.

Careers in Archaeology

In most modern countries some and occasionally all archaeological sites are protected underlaw from modification. Government agencies responsible for archaeological site protection may employ archaeologists to help manage sites, or to respond to applications to modify sites for development or research purposes.

In New Zealand some archaeologists are employed by Heritage New Zealand, the national agency responsible for site protection. Such archaeologists may process applications to modify sites and otherwise work to promote the identification, understanding and protection of archaeological places and areas. The Department of Conservation also employs archaeologists.

Local authorities are increasingly assuming greater responsibilities for archaeological heritage in New Zealand and overseas, and may offer archaeological employment. Public museums may also employ archaeologists as curators, or for specific conservation purposes and research.

Many archaeologists work in a private consulting capacity, offering services and advice to local and national government and other public institutions. They may also be contracted to carry out investigations required during development work, or to advise on the management and care of particular sites and artefacts. Archaeological skills and knowledge contribute usefully to other professions such as planning, surveying, museum management, history and tourism.