Skip to main content

Master's studentship opportunity – University of Reading

Show access keys
  • Highways England Studentships in Archaeology

Master's studentship opportunity

MA ARCHAEOLOGY - University of Reading and MOLA Headland Infrastructure, funded by Highways England.

New light on old iron: long-term and landscape approaches to craft, architecture and economics using the structural ironwork found during excavations for the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme.

Full time: 15 months

Start date: July 2021

Highways England are funding a Masters Studentship in Archaeology, to be run by the University of Reading in conjunction with MOLA-Headland Infrastructure (MHI). This Studentship will use the material excavated during MHI's archaeological excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme. The results from the Master's dissertation will form part of the larger A14 analysis programme currently being undertaken.

This Masters Studentship will focus on a study of the structural ironwork from the A14 excavations. Structural ironwork is one of the most common classes of artefacts to be recovered during archaeological excavations but it remains under studied. Common iron objects such as locks, keys, hinges, nails, staples, mounts, and window grilles form an important proxy record for wooden buildings, structures and objects which do not normally survive in the archaeological record, and a key source of primary evidence for iron and wood working technology. They have much to tell us about ancient domestic life and craft traditions and, as they are often the most common class of metal artefact, they also inform us about the affordability/availability of iron through time.

The student will spend the first 12 weeks of their programme (July-September 2021) on a placement with MHI specialists based partly in Reading and partly at MOLA's London office (46 Eagle Wharf Road, Hoxton, London, N1 7ED), working principally with senior finds specialists, Dr Owen Humphreys and Dr Michael Marshall. The student will receive an introduction to iron artefacts and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and will undertake analysis of A14 material from a wide range of periods. There will also be opportunities to learn about other aspects of commercial archaeology in London and other MHI offices, including digital survey, graphics, finds and environmental processing, and communications and outreach.

The student will then join the University of Reading full-time MA Archaeology programme, starting 27th September 2021. Here, they will gain an effective grounding in archaeological practice and research, with the opportunity to study a suite of thematic and skills-based modules from prehistory to the medieval period (see Modules via the course link below).

The dissertation element of the master's programme will approach key interpretative and methodological issues, working with MHI artefact specialists to expand the scope of the A14 analysis and placing this new data in its wider context. This will involve:

  • Establishing chronological patterns in the typology and composition of structural ironwork assemblages
  • Exploring the cultural/economic significance of changes in the scale of iron consumption and in depositional behavior.
  • Determining whether wood working traditions associated with different sites and periods can be characterised through the associated iron fittings or their absence?
  • Establishing methodologies for analysing iron fittings alongside complementary datasets from site stratigraphy, ceramic building material, window glass, iron tools, worked wood etc.
  • Comparing the distribution of structural ironwork to identified structures and explore its potential to reveal more ephemeral structures (that do not result in cut features) and details of structural biographies/taphonomies (e.g. if building were dismantled or decayed in situ).
  • Considering what iron fittings can tell us about coffins and funerary structures/practices.
  • Helping establish best practice for recording, analysing and publishing structural ironwork. 
  • Assessing the long-term research potential of structural ironwork and contributing to discussions about retention and discard policies.

This dissertation will be jointly supervised by Dr Owen Humphreys and Dr Michael Marshall from MOLA and Professor Hella Eckardt from the University of Reading.

University of Reading - Department of Archaeology

The Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading has an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research and is ranked in the top ten UK universities for Archaeology (QS World University Rankings by Subject 2020). The department has access to advanced facilities including fully equipped and dedicated laboratories for human skeletal remains and animal bone analysis, stable isotope analysis, microscopic suite (CAF) and an MA study room. Our analytical suite is extensive, allowing students to access a range of techniques for their research projects.

Research in Archaeology is nurtured by dynamic research clusters. These clusters provide an interdisciplinary environment for advancing social and scientific approaches to past communities and environments as well as issues of fundamental significance, including environmental change, health, diet, social diversity and inclusivity, and cultural heritage. We benefit from excellent resources for both humanities-based and science-based archaeological research and have strong research links and collaborations with departments across the University and external institutions.

MOLA Headland Infrastructure and the A14

MOLA-Headland Infrastructure is a consortium of two of the largest and most successful archaeological companies in the UK - Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and Headland Archaeology (UK) Ltd. The consortium was specifically established to support large infrastructure projects, by bringing together experience and capacity.

The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme is one of the largest commercial archaeological excavations ever undertaken. Over 40 separate archaeological sites, covering c.250ha, were excavated over a period of two years. Archaeological remains from all periods were uncovered, including mammoths and woolly rhinos, Neolithic henges, Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age farmsteads, Roman settlements and pottery kilns, Saxon settlements, and a deserted medieval village. The main analysis phase started in March 2020 and will run until 2023.

You can read more about the improvement scheme here

Entry requirements

  • First class honours degree (or equivalent from a university outside the UK) in archaeology, ideally with a specialism in material culture.
  • Three months relevant practical experience, ideally fieldwork experience, work with GIS or hands-on work with artefacts, is highly desirable but not essential.
  • Experience of working with artefacts (in UG dissertation or during fieldwork)


Compulsory modules (80 credits)

  • Dissertation (which includes Statistical Analysis)
  • Theoretical Approaches in Archaeology
  • Preparing for Individual Research

Optional modules (100 credits)

  • Our Closest Cousins OR Edge of the Pleistocene World
  • Themes and Approaches in the Study of Mesopotamia
  • Village to Metropolis: understanding the urban phenomena of ancient Rome
  • Viking Interactions in the West OR Dark Age Societies AD 400-1000 
  • Heritage and Cultural Property
  • Applications of Micromorphological Analysis 
  • Analysis of Human Remains 
  • Science and the Dead
  • Archaeological Graphic

Find out more about the MA Archaeology modules

Please note that all modules are subject to change.


This Master's Studentship is being funded by Highways England.


  • Tuition fees for new UK/Republic of Ireland students (£7,735 per year).
  • £5,000 during 12-week placement.
  • £11,500 stipend over duration of master's programme (paid in three installments).

Not Covered:

  • Any additional expenses required (living expenses, travel expenses).

How to apply

To be considered for this Masters Studentship you first need to submit an application for the full-time MA Archaeology programme and receive an offer. You will then be eligible to apply for the Masters Studentship.


All eligible applications for the Masters Studentships received by 1 May 2021 will be considered.

If you have any questions about this master's programme, please contact Professor Mary Lewis via

See the full studentship terms and conditions

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.

Back to top