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Master's studentship opportunity – University of Reading

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  • Highways England Studentships in Archaeology

Master's studentship opportunity

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

Integrating scientific analysis into the study of Iron Age and Roman copper-alloy objects from large infrastructure projects

Full time: 15 months

Start date: July 2020

Highways England are funding a Masters Studentship in Archaeology, to be run by the University of Reading in conjunction with MOLA Headland. This Studentship will utilise the material excavated during MOLA Headland's archaeological excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Road 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 undertaking both qualitative (p-XRF) and quantitative (SEM-EDS, SEM-WDS, ICP-MS) analysis of Iron Age and Roman copper-alloy artefacts from the A14 excavations. The data will be integrated with typological and contextual data in order to characterise metal supply and metalworking technology at a variety of resolutions. It will look for evidence of the introduction of brass (copper-zinc alloys) and for the influence of Roman alloying traditions across different social contexts and object types and consider wider issues surrounding metal circulation and recycling. The project will also assess the potential of large-scale rapid qualitative surveys of artefact composition using non-destructive p-XRF within the context of large infrastructure projects, both as an interpretative tool in its own right and as a way of targeting other forms of more precise compositional analysis.

The student will spend the first 12 weeks of their programme (July-September 2020) on a placement with MOLA Headland specialists based at MOLA's London office (46 Eagle Wharf Road, Hoxton, London, N1 7ED), working principally with Michael Marshall (Senior Finds Specialist: Prehistoric and Roman). The student will receive an introduction to Iron Age and Roman copper-alloy artefacts and will undertake analysis of material from the A14 excavations and selected comparative assemblages using portable XRF. Training and support in the use of the p-XRF equipment will be provided by Dr Peter Bray (Senior Research Fellow, University of Reading). There will also be opportunities to learn about other aspects of commercial archaeology in London and other MOLA Headland 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 28th September 2020. 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.

The dissertation element of the master's programme will involve the scientific analysis of a targeted sample of copper-alloy objects from the A14 using SEM and ICP-MS to produce high-quality compositional data for both major and minor elements. The data from this case study will be considered alongside the larger portable XRF dataset gathered during the placement and integrated with the typological and contextual data. We will analyse the results from the A14 material within the broader legacy dataset for Roman metals from Britain and the wider Empire. Using a range of visualisation and data analysis techniques we will characterise trends and processes within the chemical datasets. This will provide information that can contribute to our understanding of ancient technologies, workshop organisation, and economies in Late Iron Age and Roman Britain. This dissertation will be jointly supervised by Dr Peter Bray and Michael Marshall.

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 2019). 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 Road 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 Post-Excavation Assessment and Updated Project Design has been submitted, and the main analysis phase has just started and will run until 2023.

Entry requirements

  • First class honours degree (or equivalent from a university outside the UK) in archaeology, ideally with a specialism in archaeological science or material culture
  • Three months relevant practical experience, ideally commercial fieldwork experience or hands-on work with artefacts, is highly desirable.
  • Experience of working with artefacts (in UG dissertation or during fieldwork)


Compulsory modules (80 credits)

  • Dissertation (which includes Statistical Analysis)
  • Theoretical Approaches in Archaeology

Optional modules (100 credits)

  • Our Closest Cousins? Archaeology of the Neanderthals
  • Interpreting Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain
  • Themes and Approaches in the Study of Mesopotamia
  • The City of Rome
  • Material Culture Studies and identities in the Roman Empire
  • Viking Interactions in the West
  • Colonisation and Cultural Transformation: the Archaeology of Crusading
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Coastal and Maritime Geoarchaeology
  • Applications of Micromorphological Analysis
  • Vegetation History and Archaeobotany
  • Dark Age Societies AD 400-1000
  • Edge of the Pleistocene World
  • Molluscan Biostratigraphy
  • Issues and Debates in Bioarchaeology
  • Analysis of Human Remains
  • Science and the Dead
  • Hidden Heritage: Investment and Interpretation of Historic Buildings and Landscapes

Please note that all modules are subject to change.


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


  • Tuition fees for new UK/EU 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.

Applications for the Highways England studentship 2020/21 have now closed.

If you have any questions about this master's programme, please contact

 See the studentship full terms and conditions.

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