Anthropological Archaeology Track

Doctoral Program in Anthropological Archaeology

The doctoral program in anthropological archaeology is highly selective, focusing on the archaeology of late pre-colonial and colonial societies with foci in culture contact and power, technology, social networks, migration, gender, identity, cultural heritage, and human ecology. Boasting regional specializations in Sub-Saharan Africa, the African Diaspora, Western North America (California, Pacific Northwest and Southwest), Mesoamerica and Andean South America, the program is distinctive for its emphasis on the combination of rigorous laboratory and field research methods.

Graduate students receive mentoring in various methodological concentrations including: ceramic materials analysis, GIS and spatial analysis, household and landscape archaeology, zooarchaeology, chemical and isotopic characterization studies. Newly established tracks in bioarchaeology, ancient DNA analysis, soil analysis, and cultural heritage stewardship enrich graduate training substantially. Students work closely with faculty within the department, as well as across campus, in state-of-the-art research laboratories to investigate important anthropological questions in an unparalleled natural setting.

The program also features a concentration on the archaeology of colonial encounter.  Rather than focusing solely on North America, where the majority of historical archaeology is conducted, we adopt an explicitly global perspective. We are expressly concerned with examining the complex nature of colonial power relations around the world, and how indigenous peoples, colonizers, and forced migrants were actively engaged in creating emergent spaces. Colonial encounters cannot be investigated archaeologically without a thorough knowledge of the longue durée of pre-colonial cultural history on all sides of the exchange. We therefore provide a solid foundation in the anthropology and archaeology of the pre-colonial period in both Africa and the Americas, and encourage our students to take courses in history that shed light on social dynamics in colonizing nations as well. 

We are particularly concerned with agent-centered archaeological approaches that explore emergent relationships, societies, and cultural forms during the period of European colonial expansion.  Because archaeology deals mainly with the evidence produced by everyday life, it is invaluable for exploring the complexities of lived personal histories of those involved in colonial encounters, providing an intimate and intrinsically local window into how people engaged with global economic forces. Archaeological approaches, in concert with the sophisticated use of textual sources and cultural theory, demonstrably produce a more textured understanding of the emergence of the modern world. Our focus on colonial encounters reflect the diverse and internally complex nature of such interactions in the early years of European expansion in Africa and the Americas. While this focus has become increasingly popular across academic departments, UCSC is distinctive in our insistence that theories of power, production and exchange, human ecology, gender, ethnicity, and technological practice be explored through rigorous laboratory and field research methods.

The archaeology of colonial encounters acts synergistically with the “Emerging Worlds” initiative in cultural anthropology, which takes an historical view of culture, looking both to the past and present to understand how “worlds” emerge in response to new circumstances.  Given the interdisciplinary nature of our research, doctoral students are encouraged to develop links not only with affiliated faculty in anthropology but those in other campus departments as well. The program's focus is augmented by interdisciplinary relationships with faculty in Earth Sciences, Economics, History, Latino and Latin American Studies, History of Art and Visual Culture, and Statistics and Applied Mathematics.

Laboratory Expertise

Doctoral students work closely with faculty as apprentices in state-of-the-art research laboratories learning and applying advanced materials and spatial analysis techniques to address significant social, historical and ecological problems:

  • Using GIS and foodways to explore identity at landscape and household levels in an ethnically diverse buffer community in colonial New Mexico. 

  • Applying technological analysis to California Mission ware pottery to chart the emergence of diverse communities of practice during a span of rapid cultural change.

  • Modeling aboriginal social boundaries and exchange in the late Holocene Monterey Bay region.

  • Reconstruction of historical ecology and human fisheries strategies over eight millennia in the Monterey Bay area.

  • Using stable isotopes to track seasonal mobility strategies and livestock management in early East African pastoralists.

  • Ethnoarchaeological research on women’s ceramic production in the Republic of Bénin to shed light on the social context of pottery manufacture in the historic Kingdom of Dahomey.

  • Using isotopic and technological analyses to understand social and economic relations between Paquimé and outlying villages in the greater Casas Grandes region of northern Mexico.


Santa Cruz Anthropology doctoral students consistently rank among the top departments on the campus for extramural support. Funding won by archaeology PhD. students alone over the last five years includes: 

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

  • National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant

  • Wenner-Gren Foundation Predoctoral Research Grant

  • Jacob Javits Graduate Fellowship

  • UC-MEXUS Research Grant

  • Joe Ben Wheat Research Fellowship

  • Clogg Fellow, University of Michigan Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research, Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research

  • Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences, UC Santa Barbara Scholarship

Archaeology graduate students have also successfully won numerous intramural fellowships and research funding.  Recent Ph.D graduates have been awarded prestigious postdoctoral fellowships and many of these same students are currently employed in tenure-track universities.


UC Santa Cruz is renowned for its undergraduate teaching, and supervised development of graduate student skills in teaching is an integral part of the program. The core faculty of the archaeology program are Diane Gifford-GonzalezJudith Habicht-MaucheJ. Cameron Monroe, Jon Daehnke, Tsim Schneider, and Lars Fehren-Schmitz. Two scientists specializing in isotopic characterization A. Russell FlegalPaul Koch are affiliated faculty, as are Egyptologist Elaine Sullivan and professor of visual culture Carolyn Dean

Program Structure

The normal course of progress in the doctoral program in anthropology involves up to three years of increasingly specialized study before the PhD Qualifying Examination, a field or lab based research project of variable length, and a year of dissertation writing. Students entering with Masters degrees may progress more swiftly, depending upon the fit of prior work with the requirements of the doctoral program. 

First-year students take a foundational course in the history of archaeological theory, another elective theory course, an independent study tutorial tailored to the student’s research interests, and pass a portfolio review of their year’s work. 

Within the first two years of study students will also take:

  • Two laboratory or field methods courses

  • Two geographic/temporal area courses from two different world regions

  • Two graduate seminars in anthropology or related area of study

  • One quantitative methods course

  • Two terms of laboratory apprenticeship under a faculty mentor

  • Two terms of supervised teaching experience

  • Third Year requirements:

  • Grant writing seminar

  • Tutorials to prepare three Field Statements and a Research Prospectus for the PhD. Qualifying Exams

  • Pass the PhD. Qualifying Exam by end of academic year.

After advancing to candidacy, Ph.D. students carry out a sustained laboratory or fieldwork project of variable length and are expected to complete their dissertations within a year of finishing this research.

For full details of degree requirements and other aspects of the anthropology graduate program, please see the Anthropology Graduate Handbook.