The Archaeological Institute of America identifies the many branches of the fields as prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, industrial archaeology, classical archaeology and Egyptian archaeology, to name a few. When you're considering topics for a dissertation in archaeology, keep in mind that areas such as sociology, history, art and literature intersect with archaeological studies. If you have interests in those areas, you may be able to pursue them, providing you consult your dissertation adviser and committee for approval.

Local Topics

Archaeology dissertations don't always have to be about historical dig sites or important settlements. In some cases, you can look in your own back yard for you topic. For example, you could study agricultural evolution in a local environment, such as a river valley, swamp area or plain, depending upon the geographic and geological idiosyncracies of your locale. Your angle could be to examine how agricultural improvements shaped the landscape, or what effects it had on economics, especially those concerning urban vs. rural concerns. Other topics along these lines would be looking at war as an agent of cultural change along certain state borders or within certain geographic regions, the impact of Native American (or other indigenous groups) land use on forest structure, or ethnographic studies on specific local battles.

International Topics

If your interests venture into other cultures and parts of the world, you'll want to choose a topic that's more international in scope. In such a case, take a historically significant event, such as the slave trade, and isolate specific aspects that can be research-friendly, such as a specific time frame or geographic area. Such topics may involve methodlogy such as collecting archaeological evidence and examining firsthand written reports. Build your research on current scholarship. Other types of topics you could investigate for internationally focused research include the ecology, ethnography and archaeology of foraging in a specific African country, or examining the effects on landscape caused by expatriation in areas such as Rome or Paris. You can even further limit your scope by time periods.

Methodological Studies

Quite a few well-received dissertations in many fields, archaeology included, analyze methods of research to determine which should be considered best practices. For example, you could choose to investigate in your dissertation the effectiveness of a collaborative approach to research. This method relies on community engagement (interviewing, collecting archival documents, etc.), which can be time-consuming and potentially problematic, so it's controversial enough to deserve dissertation treatment. A related topic on methodology would be one on indigenous archaeology, a method that involves interviews with indigenous populations.


Digital media images may revolutionize archaeology dissertations.
Digital media images may revolutionize archaeology dissertations.

Given the current technological advances, many excellent methodological studies can be done on integrating digital media into archaeology. Such interdisciplinary research would consider the subtle implications of using this technology and would need to be conversant with scholarship not only in archaeology, but also in media and visual studies.


The Archaeological Institute of America states, "archaeologists do not dig randomly in search of artifacts." They must first have a good reason to suspect where a dig site should be. By the same token, before you consider your dissertation, do some preliminary research to ask and answer specific questions. This will allow you to make some educated guesses, or hypotheses, which will direct your research. The written record of this testing of your hypothesis will consitute the bulk of your dissertation.