Durham University

Degree level: Postgraduate

Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Diss) (Taught)

Course options

There are other course options available which may have a different vacancy status or entry requirements – view the full list of options

Make sure you check on the university, college or conservatoire website for any updates about course changes as a result of COVID-19.

Course summary

The MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Dissertation) combines theoretical knowledge with specialist practical skills. It equips you with the investigative skills to answer some of the complex conservation and archaeological questions posed by ancient and historic artefacts and explores ways to safeguard valuable objects for future generations to enjoy. This research-rich course is designed for those interested in a career in conservation research or preventive conservation. It will also suit those with conservation experience who are interested in exploring the field in greater depth. The Department of Archaeology is one of the largest in the world and is considered a leader in archaeological research in the UK. We have a global reputation for our academic standards and the quality of teaching. We offer state-of-the-art facilities including internationally renowned research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotope analysis, environmental archaeology, luminescence dating, paleopathology and bone chemistry as well as unique collections of artefacts. The Department also hosts Archaeological Services Durham University, a leading commercial archaeological fieldwork unit. This means we can provide expert training on the latest fieldwork practices from professional archaeologists. We are also highly fortunate to be based in the city of Durham which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and located near some of the country’s renowned archaeological sites, such as Hadrian’s Wall and the Saxon monastery at Jarrow. Course Structure Core modules: Conservation Theory and Method provides the knowledge to professionally plan the conservation of archaeological and museum objects. You will develop an understanding of the evolution of conservation, its organisation, present day aims and methods used. You will also consider how ethical factors influence the approach to work. Conservation Skills is a practical module that gives you the opportunity to work on archaeological objects and carry out a range of laboratory, fieldwork, documentation, cleaning, adhesion and replication activities. You will learn to examine and successfully treat archaeological objects and to document the impacts of their interventions in preparation for later practical coursework. Artefact Studies provides an understanding of the theory, practice and status of artefact studies, with a particular focus on museum collections and archives. You will learn about the physical properties and the traditional production and use of materials and products and also develop skills in handling, analysing, interpreting and recording objects by examining and comparing collections from different periods and cultures. Care of Collections (Conservation) introduces the concept of preventative conservation and the issues involved with caring for collections. It provides a detailed understanding of the environmental factors that cause deterioration and presents ways they can be monitored and tackled. Conservation Practice requires you to conserve three or more complex objects made of a range of materials. You will gain experience in making decisions about the conservation treatment of objects, undertaking research, 'hands on' cleaning, stabilisation and restoration work, and recording details of your work. You will also develop an understanding of prioritising and organising your work, securing materials, facilities and working with curators. The Dissertation sees you undertake a major piece of work in conservation or object analysis. You will engage in advanced level research; practising, developing and demonstrating your research skills in conservation or object analysis. The dissertation is an opportunity to explore published literature on a research topic, develop a research design, collect data or information, critically evaluate it and draw your own conclusions.

Assessment method

The first year of the course is delivered through a mixture of lectures, seminars, practical classes and site visits, with contact time during the first two terms typically comprising 4-5 hours a week of lectures, 6 hours of practical work including seminars, 3 hours of structured self-development learning and up to 9 hours of conservation skills working in the conservation laboratory. Lectures provide key information on a particular topic and identify areas for discussion and debate. Seminars and practical sessions then provide opportunities for you to further develop your knowledge and skills, based on the knowledge gained from lectures and your own independent study. The Department also hosts a programme of weekly research seminars linked to topics covered on the MA, which will give you further insight into the subject. You will have plenty of opportunities to spend time in the conservation laboratory, learning about methods of conservation, developing skills in handling and analysing artefacts and learning how to make decisions to help safeguard this material for the future as your ability to work independently grows. The dissertation is completed during the second year under the supervision of a dedicated subject specialist. It develops advanced research skills in an aspect of conservation or artefact studies, in which you are interested. Assessments are rigorous and continuous throughout the course. Assessment methods vary and are designed to demonstrate your skills and understanding of the coursework. They include essays, reports, exams and portfolio write ups based on your practical work. The degree culminates in writing a dissertation, which will be focused on artefact analysis, preventive conservation, or applications for real-world conservation problems. The balance of activities changes throughout the course, as you develop your knowledge, skills and ability as independent learners and practitioners. The course therefore prepares you for work or further study once you have graduated, with an emphasis on taking your learning from the classroom to real life situations in Museums and conservation laboratories. All teaching is delivered by qualified conservators. In the first two terms of the first year you will typically attend 4-5 hours a week of lectures, 6 hours of practical work including seminars, 3 hours of structured self-development learning and up to 9 hours of conservation skills working in the conservation laboratory. Outside timetabled contact hours, you are also expected to undertake independent study to prepare for your classes and broaden your subject knowledge. The department also has an exciting programme of weekly one-hour research seminars which you are strongly encouraged to attend. The balance shifts in the third term, as you develop your abilities as independent learners through supervised practical conservation work for 4 days a week over 10 weeks and create a portfolio of your work and reflections. The emphasis on using the independent study and research skills developed in the first year of the course is continued through the dissertation, which marks out the researcher route. Under the supervision of a member of academic staff with whom you will typically have ten one-to-one supervisory meetings, you will undertake a detailed study of a particular area resulting in a significant piece of independent research.

How to apply

International applicants

If you are an international student who does not meet the requirements for direct entry to this degree, you may be eligible to take a pre-Masters pathway programme at the Durham University International Study Centre.

Entry requirements

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent in any subject and a pass in mathematics at Grade 4 (or C) or above at GCSE level, or equivalent. Applicants without a degree will be required to demonstrate sufficient academic capability to satisfactorily complete this degree. Chemistry requirements: One of the following: An 'AS' level in Chemistry or its equivalent A degree which included a significant science component, e.g. Biology or Material Science, An A, B or C grade for Chemistry in a Scottish 'Higher' or similar high grade in the Irish 'Leaving Certificate' may also be acceptable, Completed university level course units in Inorganic and Organic chemistry - this is particularly appropriate for students from North America, Completion of the 'Chemistry for Conservators' course. This is a correspondence course, which lasts approximately 6 months. Details of the course are available here. You will need to be able to accurately distinguish between colours and safely handle objects, scalpels, and other conservation tools. You may be required to undertake tests to ascertain the levels of some of these skills if they are invited to visit. Evidence of engagement with and interest in archaeological and museum objects, while not formally required, is highly recommended. This may be in the form of employment, internship or volunteer work in a museum, historic house, or a collecting institute, such as an archaeological repository, or through participation in an archaeological excavation. We will only consider applications from those where English is not their first language if they have taken a relevant English Language test which meets the minimum requirements Reference requirements One satisfactory reference is required.

English language requirements

Durham University welcomes applications from all students irrespective of background. We encourage the recruitment of academically well-qualified and highly motivated students, who are non-native speakers of English, whose full potential can be realised with a limited amount of English Language training either prior to entry or through pre-sessional and/or in-sessional courses. It is the normal expectation that candidates for admission should be able to demonstrate satisfactory English proficiency before the start of a programme of study, whether via the submission of an appropriate English language qualification or by attendance on an appropriate pre-sessional course. Acceptable evidence and levels required can be viewed by following the link provided.

English language requirements


Fees and funding

Tuition fees

No fee information has been provided for this course

Additional fee information

No additional fees or cost information has been supplied for this course, please contact the provider directly.

Sponsorship information

For further information see the course listing.

Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Diss) at Durham University - UCAS