Taught course

Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (PP)

Durham University · Department of Archaeology

Entry requirements

A good second class honours degree (typically 2:1 Honours) or international equivalent in any subject and a pass in Mathematics 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 that 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, Completion of 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.

All students need to be able to accurately distinguish between colours and safely handle objects, scalpels, and other conservation tools. Students 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 archaeological site work.

Please note there are a maximum of ten places available on the course each year, due to the size of the teaching laboratory.

Months of entry


Course content

The MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (Professional Practice) combines specialist conservation skills with theoretical knowledge and a year-long placement. You will develop the skills to research, analyse, preserve and care for historic and archaeological objects, and safeguard them for future generations.

This practical course, which is studied over two years full time or three years part time, is designed for those interested in a career as a conservator of historical objects, or in the fields of artefact research or collections care. While we draw students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, they share a number of essential traits, those of manual dexterity, a knowledge of chemistry and the desire and commitment to work with museum objects.

Taught by qualified conservators, you will learn about conservation skills, artefact studies, methods of conservation, and how to care for collections. One day you might be looking into the ethics of conservation, the next you could be learning about chemical compositions used in the preservation of different materials.

You will spend the final year on placement. The placement year is normally spent developing your skills in a conservation laboratory at a major museum. Previous industrial partners have included the Museum of London, the National Museum of Wales and the York Archaeological Trust.

As a conservation student you will have access to many of the Department’s state-of-the-art facilities, these include a photographic studio, internationally renowned research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotope analysis, and environmental archaeology, luminescence dating as well as unique collections of artefacts.

We are also home to 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.

The Department of Archaeology at Durham 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 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

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 10-month Professional Practice Placement is a valuable opportunity to develop your skills in a professional conservation environment and to experience firsthand the responsibilities and day-to-day pressures of a working environment. Alongside your conservation skills you will begin to develop the organisation, judgement and management skills required for a career in the sector.

Information for international students

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.

Fees and funding

UK students
International students

For further information see the course listing.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • MA
    part time
    36 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    full time
    24 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

Recruitment and Admissions