PhD Track in Archaeology

Franz Boas founded Columbia University's Department of Anthropology on the eve of the 20th century, making it the first Anthropology PhD program in the United States. Originally founded on the concept of the “four field approach” to the study of human culture and society, the department now focuses its graduate program on sociocultural anthropology and archaeological anthropology. The Department continues its historical emphasis on rigorous language training and analysis, extended ethnographic research, and cultivating a historically informed and evidence-based form of critical thought about the world.

Close dialogue between archaeological and sociocultural scholarship is a hallmark of the Columbia Department of Anthropology PhD program, with a track in archaeological anthropology complementing the sociocultural track in its emphasis on rigorous training in theory and methods. We understand archaeological anthropology as a broad and varied discipline that stretches from the study of the deep past to the material traces of the contemporary world. 

Our faculty members take diverse approaches to the archaeological past and present-day material culture, but find common ground in a critical orientation toward the relationship between human worlds and material things and places. Collectively our research ranges over questions of materiality, epistemology, semiotics, landscape, religion, empire, human-animal relations, and historical process. These topics are encompassed in our faculty’s archaeological research in many parts of the world, including Madagascar and the Indian Ocean (Crossland), the American Southwest (Fowles), New York City (Rothschild), Palestine (Boyd), and the Andes (D’Altroy).

Archaeology at Columbia also benefits from a robust commitment to interdisciplinarity. We encourage Anthropology students to benefit from the expertise of the many archaeology faculty in other departments at Columbia—for example, Art History, Classics, History, and East Asian Languages and Culture. Hosted by the Department of Anthropology, the Columbia Center for Archaeology was created as a space for conversations between the many archaeologists found across Columbia University, and across New York more widely. The Center sponsors student conferences, and it runs a regular seminar series, providing another forum for faculty and students to participate in the exchange of ideas and to discuss recent field research. 

Archaeologists in the Department are also involved with other centers and institutes at Columbia, namely the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality; the Center for Palestine Studies; the Center for Oral History; the Institute of African Studies; the Center for Ethnomusicology; and the Center for Science and Society. We also work with Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which offers a range of training opportunities for students in archaeology (e.g., soil morphology, dendrochronology, pollen analysis). 

Students often take courses with archaeologists at other New York institutions like New York University and the City University of New York, which are members of the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium (IUDC), which allows PhD students to take courses at other universities in the local New York area.  As part of this consortium, archaeology doctoral students have special permission to take courses outside Columbia from their first semester onwards, in consultation with their archaeology advisors. The archaeological anthropology faculty in the departments of anthropology at Columbia, NYU, and CUNY also coordinate the teaching of archaeology courses to allow students access to a wide range of different training and topics. Starting in Fall 2021, an introductory method and theory course for incoming doctoral students will be taught jointly among the three programs on a rotating basis. More information will be coming shortly.

The Department of Anthropology has formal ties to the American Museum of Natural History, which affords additional opportunities for training and consultation of comparative collections and archives. Finally, our doctoral students are also able to take advantage of the resources offered by the MA program in Museum Anthropology.