Archaeology Research Paper Format

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Pic: The first page behind my title page in my Masters thesis

Well, I did it.  I wrote my archaeology Masters thesis.  And then I won the battle against formatting images in Word to create a beautiful PDF document that I can be proud of.  It’s not perfect – it will never be perfect.  But that sure as heck won’t stop me from being proud of what I’ve accomplished!

I would be lying if I said I knew what I was doing when I started writing.  When I saw down and opened up a blank document in Word I realized I had absolutely no idea where to start.  It took me a good few days before I put any sort of substantial wording down on [digital] paper, and when I did it was just a title page.  That certainly got me thinking that I am not the only one who felt lost.  So I’ve decided to write down my process and what I figured out along the way in the hopes that it will give some reassurance to future students and help relieve at least a little bit of their anxiety.  I hope it helps!

Full Disclosure Notes:

In full disclosure, at UToronto you don’t write an archaeology Masters thesis.  You write a Masters Research Paper.  But that MRP can be whatever you make it into.  It can be a lit review, or it can have original research.  Most archaeology students, myself included, write about original research, which is why I keep calling it a thesis.  We don’t have to defend it, but it goes through two readers (one of which is your supervisor) who gives it the yay or nay.  So what I’m writing here is from my own experiences and will only cover the writing process (not the thesis defense process).

Step 1. Acknowledge your thesis is NOT going to be perfect

Nothing is ever completely perfect, theses included.  And it doesn’t have to be.  Sure, you need to be able to have a clear discussion with your points supported and illustrated.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be A+++.  The best thing you can do for yourself is to accept early on that your thesis is not going to be perfect and there will forever be room for improvement.  As my husband pointed out to me, you know you’ve done well when you can read your thesis later and see where you could have improved.  That’s how you know you have improved.  Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, imperfections and all.

Step 2. Make sure you have all your permissions in place

This is a big one for archaeology, especially in North America where many of us work with Indigenous descendant communities.  Make sure you know what you can/cannot include.  By this point in time you should already have permission for your research.  But you’ll want to be clear on things like photos.  Even though you have permission for research, that doesn’t mean photos of sensitive materials are allowed to be included in a document that will be freely available to others once it’s done (most universities will make PDFs of theses available).  My research was about very sensitive mortuary data, and I made sure I had clear permission on what I could and could not include in my thesis AND presentations, but I also made decisions on what within that scope I wanted to include.  I did have permission to include photos of the mandible that the beads were associated with, but I decided not to include those photos.  Instead I wrote out 5 pages of detailed description of the mandible.  If you’re using copyrighted photos from books, websites, or documents, make sure you properly reference them in your thesis.

Step 3. Find out what exactly is required

How long does the thesis need to be?  Are there specific formatting requirements? Where do you send it once it’s done?  Does the file need to be named in a specific way?  These are the base questions to be asking, because these will physically shape your thesis.  Some departments have this very conveniently located in their websites.  UToronto did not.  I had to go searching.  I ended up finding a convenient UToronto website with all the formatting info I needed.  Even though I was technically not writing a thesis, I still used the guide because it was super useful to keeping me organized and pointing me in the right direction.

Make sure you’re also asking your supervisor what’s required.  Page length is a big one.  We were told to aim for 40-50 pages (short, I know, because it was a MRP).  But that was not set in stone and every paper was going to be different.  I know people who finished at 30 pages and others who finished at 120 pages.  I finished at 83 (I completed my program in 1 year and I probably would have been closer to the 120 pages had I included a second field season).  Some supervisors are really strict with length requirements.  Others, like mine, don’t care about length as long as you’ve clearly made your argument and included enough information to support it.  Also find out about a timeline.  Does your supervisor want your drafts by a specific time for editing?  Do they want it in segments, or all at once?  Earlier is always better.  There WILL be edits (remember how I said nothing is perfect), so you want to make sure you’re going to have enough time to address them all.

Step 4. Know your writing style and what works best for you

Are you a fast writer?  Slow writer?  Do you need a specific space to write?  Music?  By this point in your academic endeavors you’ve written enough research papers that you should have a pretty decent idea about how you work.  I know I’m a fast writer, so I wasn’t too worried having a month-long field season right in the middle of my writing period.  And I wasn’t worried when I got almost NOTHING written during that field season.  In all honesty, it took me about 3 weeks of writing to get my thesis done.  And that includes some days where I managed to only get about an hour of writing in.  With planning a textbook on top of the last couple of weeks of writing (Intro to North American Archaeology open access textbook).  Some days I could get out only two pages, other days I got 10 pages down on paper.  I also like to have music playing, but it has to be a specific kind of music (aka no or minimal lyrics).  I love the Spotify focus playlists.  And I definitely can’t work around other people because I get way too distracted.  So I made sure I had a comfy space at home to write, where no one but my cats could distract me.

Step 5. Make sure you can read and understand your primary data

By this point in time, you should have all your primary data collected.  By primary data I’m referring to field notes/analyses/photographs about your specific topic.  I made sure I had all my field notes re-written in one spot.  I had all the measurements for my excavations written out, and all the details for the beads written out (i.e. colours, sizes).  I also made sure my photographs were tidy and labelled so that I knew what I was looking at, and which photographs could be used to support what points of writing.  Everyone will have a different organizational system, so make sure you know what works best for you.  But remember that your writing is describing what you already know to someone who doesn’t know it.  So make sure you include as many details as possible so that the readers can understand your primary data.

Step 6. Know that you’ll still be doing research as you’re writing

You’ve definitely got enough information to get started with writing.  You’ve got your articles and books and notes (if you’re like me and kept written notes in a notebook) organized and ready to go.  But I can guarantee that as you start writing you’ll suddenly realize you may need a little more info here or there to better support your points.  Or maybe you’ll realize that you didn’t take quite enough notes from that book you returned to the library.  There were definitely a few days I spent doing additional research instead of writing.  So be prepared for that.  Also, know that there is no minimum/maximum for the number of references to include.  Make sure you’re well researched.  I ended up with 6 pages of references for an 83-page paper (which is about 130-ish refs).  And that doesn’t include the additional 5 page appendix I included specifically for archaeological reports.

Step 7. Format your document

I found formatting my document before I even started writing was super helpful to

keeping it relatively organized.  It saved me a lot of fighting at the end.  I made sure to get the table of contents set up, page breaks in all the right spots, and the references section set up.  Word has a built in references manager for many, many different formats.  I used APA style and found Word was actually pretty good for it, but make sure you’re keeping an eye on your reference list in case you need to change anything.  In total honesty, I had NO IDEA how to do any of this formatting stuff before I started writing.  I spent some quality time with my good friends Google and Youtube learning about formatting Word documents.  Looking at old theses also helps give you an idea of what to expect.

Step 8. Write an outline

An outline is something my supervisor specifically asked for, and I’m glad he did.  I wrote out my planned chapters and a brief synopsis beneath each of what I was planning on including.  My supervisor gave me some feedback on it, including some reorganizing a bit of the info that would fit better into a different chapter.  Once the outline had been approved I could then use it to build my thesis around.  I formatted my chapter titles into my document as a starting point, and in italics below it I wrote out what I planned on including in each chapter, including how I would break it down into sub-chapters.  As I wrote and came to a break in the day, I would write my train of thought in bold italics so I knew where to pick up again.  It was an enormous help in keeping my mind focused.

Step 9. Start writing

All you have to do is get a few words down and the rest will start flowing.  Sometimes you’ll have good days, sometimes bad days.  I was definitely slow at the beginning as I was trying to find my way.  I would set little goals, like getting three pages written in one day.  More often than not I would end up writing far more than that.  I also did not write anything in order.  I think I started with chapter 2, finished chapter 3 first, bounced between chapter 2 and 4, and left chapter 1 for last.  I have no doubt had others read my unfinished drafts they would have found it chaotic.  But that’s what worked best for me and kept my writing going.  Starting to write is always the hardest.  From there you find ways to keep it going.

Another bit of writing advice I have is keep your references cited list up to date as you add references.  Every time I referenced someone in my writing I paused for a moment to add that to my references cited page.  It saves you a LOT of time from having to go back through everything later to include it.

Step 10. Take breaks

Sitting down and writing, writing, writing, is EXHAUSTING!  Mentally and physically.  Take as many breaks you need for however long you need.  Get up and stretch and move

around.  Have some food.  Play with your cats.  Do whatever you need to do to give your brain a break and keep you focused.  I found I usually took small breaks every half an hour-ish.  Sometimes my writing was flowing well and I didn’t take many breaks.  Other times I couldn’t stay focused and took more breaks.  Sometimes I sat down for a break and didn’t get back to writing until the next day.  I let my mind and body dictate how I was going to be working, and it really helped my stress levels stay down.

Step 11. Know that edits are NOT personal

There will be edits, and more likely than not there will be many.  Edits are never personal, no matter what’s written.  Edits are there because your supervisor wants you to be the best you can be.  Criticism is constructive, in your favour.  I know some supervisors can write really awful things, which I completely disagree with.  Know that it’s not an attack against you and your capabilities and knowledge.  That’s a failure on their part to communicate, it’s nothing to do with you.  Edits exist to help you make your points clear enough that others can understand them.  By this point in time you’re probably so exhausted from writing your thesis that you’re bound to be missing things that others can see and point out to you.  Other times you know your data so well that you’ve forgotten others don’t know it and not included enough detail.  Embrace edits and use them to make your writing that much stronger.

Step 12. Add images last

Because adding images can alter your text formatting, and adding text can alter image formatting, I found it worked best to add images once all my writing was finished.  If I had a specific image in mind I would write it in place in bold text so I knew later what I wanted to add.

You’ll need to learn how to format your images, which was perhaps the most difficult part because Word really doesn’t care much about making image organization simple.  Some of my images I wanted to put on their own page with a landscape layout.  It was a HUGE pain in the butt trying to figure that one out.  I still don’t think I have it 100% figured out.  But I made it to the “good enough” level and I’m happy with that.  Building/inserting tables in Word is whole other struggle.  So get well acquainted with Google and Youtube for formatting help.

So there you have it, my very unsolicited guide for writing an archaeology thesis.  Remember, everyone writes differently so what worked best for me might not work best for you.  As always, if you have any questions or want more suggestions, feel free to send me a message!  Happy writing!


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Archaeology is a historical discipline that studies the past of humankind according to artifacts. When writing a good archaeology essay, one needs to know more about above-mentioned artifacts, which are instruments of production and, at the same time, material benefits produced by these instruments: buildings, weapons, decorations, dishes, pieces of art - anything and everything that is a result of human work activities. Unlike written sources, artifacts do not include direct facts regarding historical events, and historical conclusions come out of a scientific reconstruction. Considerable diversity of artifacts has caused a necessity of their examination by specialists-archaeologists who excavate archaeological monuments, explore and publish finds together with results of excavations, and reconstruct the past of humankind. Archaeology has special meaning for studying epochs, when there was no writing system at all, or for studying history of those nationalities, which did not possess written language in the late historical time.

Archaeological discipline vastly expanded space and time horizons of history. Very often, results of such expansion can be viewed in archaeology reports online. Written language exists around 5000 years, and the whole preceding period of humankind history became known only owing to the development of the discipline. Also, written sources such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Linear Greek writing, Babylonian Wedge-writing for the first 2000 years of their existence were discovered by archaeologists. Archaeology is important for epochs, which witnessed the existence of written language, for studying ancient and medieval history, as data, obtained from researches of artifacts, essentially complete those data of written sources.

Despite all above-mentioned information, articles on Archaeology surmise not only the knowledge of facts on the subject, but also acquirement of format and structure regarding your future paper. For example, the first and most important step should be connected with choosing an appropriate topic among a wide variety of topics relating to a sphere of your assignment. Taking it into account, remember that essay on Archaeology, as any other kind of papers, needs attention to details and concentration. At the same time, archaeology articles online may turn out to be helpful during the process of collecting information and various sources. If you need some help writing term paper, do not hesitate and contact

In contrast to written sources, artifacts are 'silent.' They do not contain references to historical events, and many of them were created long before the appearance of written language. The task of an archaeologist is to form a vision of the past according to existing finds and knowledge taking into consideration location of these finds. To become a good expert in the given field, one should, in addition to the principal activity, know how to compose an advantageous archaeology cover letter. A fragment of a jug or knife handle can suggest a little. These objects cannot be considered out of a context, that is in isolation from place, environment, depth of occurrence, etc. An archaeologist looks for proofs of the past, and then examines it in a lab, classifies, and restores it if needed.

When writing archaeology reports, it is worthy to know that the science uses methods of other disciplines as well: humanities (ethnography, anthropology, linguistics) and natural sciences (physics, chemistry, botany, geography, and pedology). For instance, to define the time of creation or usage of an object, they take account of soil (every level of soil refers to a particular time period) employing stratigraphical, comparative-typological, dendrochronological and other approaches.

An archaeologist does not have the right to dream. All his/her conclusions should be based on clear proofs and, perhaps, reflected in an archaeology article. Usually, archaeologists specialize in specific regions or historical periods. For example, a scientist may become an expert in the field of lithic age epoch in Central Asia if, from year to year, he/she studies stands of the Stone Age people situated there.

According to methods of search, archeology (A.) can be divided into:

  • field A., which means the search of artifacts with the help of excavations on land
  • maritime A., that is the underwater search
  • experimental A., which is engaged in reconditioning objects of the past (instruments of labor, weapons, etc.).

During field excavations, an archeologist exploits pick hammer and spade, magnifier and brush, knife and syringe; and, at the same time, he/she may use theodolite when planning excavations, camera to document finds, and other technical possibilities. To work underwater, it is important to be able to dive and use devices for underwater excavations.

Still, during his/her expedition, an archaeologist needs to describe every found object in details in the form of archaeology review - it is necessary for further analysis. Sometimes, scientists even conduct primary restoration of an artifact, because the sunshine and fresh air can destroy an ancient adornment.

Experimental archaeology witnesses restoration of an object with the usage of materials and technologies typical for an epoch under consideration. In the course of experiment, scientists try to imitate the way of ancient people life. The former cope with trades and restore forgotten technologies. When restoring a forgotten technology, an archaeologist relies on data of excavations; he/she frames hypotheses and conducts experiments. The job of an archeologist is not only intensive intellectual labor; very often, it requires physical power and asceticism. Although, for a true archeologist, archeological findings are the source of very strong emotions.

To be an archaeologist, one should possess knowledge on History; it is especially important to possess knowledge on an epoch examined and information in neighboring fields: scientific restoration, paleopedology, paleogeography, etc. Often, archaeologists have to study disciplines that do not directly refer to archaeology: anthropology, ethnography, numismatics, textual criticism, heraldry, physics, chemistry, and statistics. Moreover, skills of a land-surveyor and topographer are also needed. When working in the mountains or underwater, an archaeologist should possess skills of a rock climber and a diver; these skills demand a special training.

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The following facts about 8 archaeological finds may turn out to be very helpful when writing your archaeology research paper.

  • Rosetta stone is a monument of epigraph culture (196 BC) that represents stone (granodiorite) with a royal decree of Egyptian king Ptolemy V, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Greek language. The stone was found near village Rashid (Rosetta in European languages) on July 15, 1799, by French field engineers during Egyptian expedition of Napoleon. Owing to Rosetta stone, it became possible to cope with deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs; French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion fulfilled this task in 1822. The stone is kept in the British Museum, London.
  • The Venus de Milo is a famous ancient Greek statue of the late Hellenism period (approximately 100 or 130 BC). The statue was found in 1820 by a Greek peasant on his field, Milos Island. Hands of the statue were not found. This outstanding masterpiece was bought by French ambassador and, in 1821, presented as a gift to the King Louis XVIII. The Venus de Milo statue became the most well-known and recognized symbol of beauty of antique art; nowadays, it is situated in the Louvre, Paris.
  • Angkor Wat is a grandiose memorial of Cambodia Buddhist art, part of the complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples of IX-XIII centuries known under the common title Angkor. It is located near Angkor Thom - an ancient capital of nationality Khmers on north of the country. French traveler Henri Mouhot discovered this memorial on January 2, 1861. Afterwards, the whole epoch in history of Cambodia was named after Angkor Wat. Towers of Angkor have turned into the symbol of Cambodia and now, they decorate a national flag.
  • Troy is an ancient town on the northwest of peninsula Asia Minor (Turkey) near the channel Dardanelles. Troy was famous according to poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" by Homer, and "Aeneid" by Virgil. The town was discovered in the 1870s by German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who had initiated excavations in the district of Hisarlik Hill. As a result of excavations, there had been discovered 46 cultural layers, which were divided into several periods - from Troy I to Troy IX. Troy I dates back to 3200 - 2600 BC; it is the most old time period of Troy. It is thought out to be that Homeric Troy is Troy VI (1900 - 1300 BC).
  • Mycenae is an age-old town in Argos (southern Greece), large center of Aegean culture. It was destroyed approximately in 1200 BC. During excavations, in 1874 - 1876, organized by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, pit tombs were found. These tombs contained treasures: gold, silver, and bronze items, goblets, swords, rings, various gold disks and plates with coinage. Outside the town, archaeologists found nine domical tombs and a great number of chamber tombs.
  • The Minoan civilization was a highly developed culture of the Bronze Age on the island Kriti (III - II millennium BC). This civilization was discovered by English archaeologist Arthur Evans and named after a legendary king Minos. In consequence of excavations, 1900 - the 1930s, there were discovered urban buildings, palatial constructions, and necropolises. Rooms of Knossos palace were decorated with rich murals. Also, Arthur Evans created periodization of the Minoan civilization having divided it into early, middle, and late periods.
  • Machu Picchu is a fortress of the Incas, town-sanctuary in Peru, prehistoric monument aslope the mountain in Urubamba. The fortress was founded in 1440 and existed until 1532. In 1911, the town was discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham from Yale University. Picturesque ruins of Machu Picchu are the best example of stone building of the late Incan period. The memorial includes 200 buildings and separate constructions, the complex of temples, private premises, and defensive walls from block stones. In 1983, Machu Picchu was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and in 2007, it was added to the list of New 7 Wonders of the World.
  • Tutankhamun's burial chamber was discovered on November 4, 1922, by British archaeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt. The mummy itself is buried in three sarcophagi placed inside each other, one of which is made of gold. Around the mummified body, there were 143 gold cultic objects. The most recognizable treasure from Tutankhamun's burial chamber is a burial mask of the king. The main part of treasures is exhibited in Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Every of these topics can be considered when working on archaeology thesis paper.

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