PhD Program Requirements

These are the degree requirements for students in the AAMW program.

The Proseminar in Archaeology

The AAMW Proseminar introduces students to the primary topics, techniques, and resources of Mediterranean Archaeology, and also provides an overview of the Mediterranean and Near Eastern collections in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The Proseminar is organized by the AAMW Chair each fall, and is team-taught by faculty from all of the departments participating in the Graduate Group. This is required of every incoming student, even those with a Master's degree from another institution.

Teaching Requirement

Teaching experience is an important part of graduate training, and the School of Arts and Sciences' five-year fellowship package therefore requires that the student spend four semesters in 'service', usually as teaching assistants during the second and third years. In some cases, a mentored research assistantship may be substituted for part of the teaching requirement for one semester. Students who are granted credit for courses taken prior to matriculation at the University of Pennsylvania, and who are therefore given advanced standing, may have part of the teaching requirement waived. AAMW students teach for a range of departments and groups (e.g., Classics, History of Art, Ancient History, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Anthropology). Penn also provides graduate students with the opportunity to teach their own courses in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS). Students may request to teach a standing course, or design a new one.


In the course of their careers, students in the program need to become familiar with the techniques used in archaeology, including chemical and physical analytical methods, computer science, GIS, environmental archaeology, material science, statistics, and surveying and technical drawing. Graduate students are therefore expected to devote the majority of their summers to fieldwork. One course in archaeological methods and/or theory is also required, although the AAMW Chair may decide to waive the requirement based on the student's fieldwork experience. Depending upon the student's academic program, the group may also encourage participation in summer seminars at learned societies or institutes, such as those at the American Numismatic Society, the American Academy in Rome, or American School in Athens.

Potential applicants should seek to aquire fieldwork experience as soon as possible in their undergraduate careers. The AIA Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin annually advertises excavations and projects that are open to volunteers and students.

Museum Internship

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology features a collection of Mediterranean/Near Eastern art and artifacts larger than any other university in North America. The collection is distinguished by the fact that all of the artifacts have been legally aquired. All AAMW students are strongly urged to spend at least one semester of their graduate career serving as an intern in the Mediterranean or Near Eastern Section of the University Museum. The internship typically takes place during the student's second semester at Penn, and entails at least four hours per week working with the Keeper of the Mediterranean or Near Eastern collections. It is timed to coincide with the AAMW Proseminar in Materials and Methods and forms a component of the Proseminar work.

Language Requirements

The AAMW program requires competence in two ancient languages relevant to the student's research concentration and in two modern languages (German, and either French or Italian). All language requirements, both ancient and modern, must be completed before the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam can be taken.

Modern Languages

Serious graduate study in art and archaeology assumes proficiency in reading the foreign languages most commonly used in research: German and either French or Italian. All candidates for the Ph.D. are expected to have passed an examination in one modern language by the end of the first year of graduate study, and to have passed both by the end of the second year. Each examination will involve the translation of set passages: one with a dictionary, the other without. The examinations will be given in Fall and Spring on a day set by the Graduate Chair, and students are urged to take them as early in their careers as possible. Each summer Penn offers special courses in German and French focused on academic reading, and the German/French requirements may be satisfied by a Pass in one of those courses. Normally, if a student has fulfilled a graduate-level language requirement at another institution, it is counted at Penn, although written proof of that certification must be sent to the Graduate Group Chair in order for the AAMW exams to be waived. Incoming graduate students who do not have the requisite language skills are strongly urged to enroll in formal, intensive language courses before undertaking graduate study.

Ancient Languages


If the ancient languages chosen by the student are Greek or Latin, the requirement can be fulfilled in one of several ways. For the Major Language, this means (a) passing an examination, (b) taking five semester-long courses in that language, or (c) taking at least two courses in that language at the 400 level or above. For the Minor Language, this means (a) passing an examination, (b) taking three semester-long courses in that language, or (c) taking at least one course in that language at the 400 level or above. Only final grades of "B" or better in these courses will satisfy the language requirement.

Other Ancient Languages

(Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Church Slavonic, Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew, Sumerian, Syriac, Ugaritic)

AAMW recognizes that these languages, in general, cannot be studied at most undergraduate institutions. If both ancient languages chosen by the student are from this group, then the language requirement can be fulfilled by (a) passing an examination in either language at any time, or (b) taking the requisite number of courses, not to exceed five semester-long courses for the Major Language, and three for the Minor Language. The requisite number will be determined by the student's advisor in conjunction with the AAMW Chair. If these languages are begun only upon the student's entry into the AAMW program, then introductory courses count as part of the requisite number of units. Only final grades of "B" or better in these courses will satisfy the language requirement.

Digital Media Requirement

All AAMW students are required to take at least one course on digital approaches in archaeology, at any time in years 1–3 (i.e., during their regular course-taking years). This requirement will be fulfilled by taking one or more courses from a roster of courses approved by the AAMW faculty.  The course(s) a student uses to satisfy this requirement will be a matter of advising, and no specific course will be mandatory.

The Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM) in the Penn Museum offers a number of classes focusing on digital archaeology, which are offered on a regular rotation.  These classes include: Introduction to Digital Archaeology (AAMW 562), which introduces students to the latest toolkit of digital methods used in archaeological fieldwork and data analysis, as well as Spatial Analysis of the Past (AAMW 545), which covers analytical tools and methods for studying archaeological spaces at multiple scales, from excavation contexts and architecture to landscapes.  Topics reviewed in these classes include databases, 3d modeling, geographical information systems, data analysis, public outreach, digital tools for fieldwork, etc.

Some other courses that have fulfilled this requirement are HSPV 624 (Digital Media for Historic Preservation), HSPV 601 (Recording and Site Analysis), LARP 741 (Modeling Geographical Space), LARP 743 (Cartographic Modeling Seminar), and LARP 745 (Advanced GIS Applications). Digital media courses may also be designed and taught by AAMW faculty. To be approved, the course must provide intensive and practical experience in the use of digital approaches in archaeology. Specific courses proposed for approval shall be brought before the faculty for discussion and vote.

Requirements for the M.A. Degree

Although the AAMW program is designed primarily for students seeking a Ph.D. degree, an M.A. can be obtained in the course of the program, or as a terminal degree. The requirements are:

Eight course units
Successful passing of an exam in one modern language (or equivalent certification)
Exam in one ancient language, or the successful completion of three courses in that language
One summer of approved fieldwork

M.A. Qualifying Exam

M.A. Research Paper (see below) 

M.A. Qualifying Exam

Students become eligible to take the M.A. Qualifying Exam upon the completion of 8 course units, and must pass the exam before proceeding to the 13th course. Students who enter with an M.A. are encouraged to take their M.A. exam during their 2nd year of coursework.

The M.A. Qualifying Exam is designed to test of breadth of knowledge. The exam is set by the student’s committee and the AAMW chair. The exam consists of a major field, a minor field, and theory and methodology. Students should consult with their committee to define their fields and identify reading lists or other indications of breadth and content. Questions in each field typically begin with 6-10 image identifications (except theory and methodology), followed by essay questions. In both identifications and essays there is a choice of questions. The exam lasts 4 hours.

The M.A. Research Paper

This is not the formal M.A. Thesis required by some other Graduate Groups. It is, however, a substantial piece of original scholarship that often begins as a research problem for a 500, 600, or 700 level course and is continued as an Independent Study (999), based on the advice of the supervising instructor and with the approval of the Graduate Chair. Alternatively, the Research Paper can originate as an independent study project. In either case, the grade recorded in the Independent Study must be certified by the advisor and the AAMW Chair as fulfilling the M.A. research requirement of the Graduate Faculties, and a final version of the Research Paper must be deposited with the Graduate Group.

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

Admission to Ph.D. candidacy: Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is through formal approval of the faculty and is intended to assure that the student is able to pursue successfully the remaining requirements for the degree. While successful completion of course work forms part of the credentials for admission, it does not automatically assure such admission. Students become eligible for admission after the completion of 8 course units and must be admitted before proceeding to the 13th course. In order to be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, students must take and pass the M.A. Qualifying Exam (described above). For the Ph. D. degree, the requirements are:

  • 20 course units
  • Successful passing of two modern language examinations, German and French or Italian (or equivalent certification)
  • Certification of fluency in two ancient languages, one major and one minor
  • Ph.D. Candidacy Exam

Major and Minor Fields

The student must take at least five graduate courses in the Major Field, and at least three graduate courses in the Minor Field. The scope and structure of the Major and Minor Fields is designed by the student in conjunction with his/her advisor. The Major and Minor Fields should represent distinct cultures.

Ph.D. Candidacy Exam

Timing: The Ph.D. Candidacy Exam covers the Major and Minor Fields chosen by the student in consultation with the advisor and exam committee, and consists of written and oral components. Students become eligible to take the exam upon completion of 16 course units and must take it no later than in the semester following the completion of 20 course units.  Students should only plan to take their Ph.D. Candidacy Exam once they have completed their coursework (including incompletes), passed ancient and modern language exams, and identified a dissertation topic. In practice, the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam is normally taken at the end of the third year, except when (a) it is taken earlier in the case of students coming in with an M.A. or equivalent academic background; or (b) illness or some other extraordinary circumstance prevents the student from preparation; or (c) grave concerns exist that the student is not prepared intellectually for the exam, and some remedial plan with a specific timetable and set of requirements is in place.

Each student should write to the Graduate Group Chair, requesting specific dates for both the written and oral components of the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam. AAMW faculty will try to accommodate all requests, but students should not propose dates during final exams/grading periods, nor on major public or religious holidays, nor during the summer. When writing to request dates, the student should also specify the Major and Minor Fields in which he/she wishes to be examined.

Scope: The Ph.D. Candidacy Exam differs from the M.A. Qualifying Exam in its more focused scope for both Minor and Major Fields; like those exams, however, the Minor Field must be on a different culture from that of the Major Field. The Ph.D. Candidacy Exam assesses the student’s competency in a specific sub-field of archaeology, and in another, unrelated area in which the student also envisions possibilities for further research. Subject and breadth of the third section, the Method/Theory portion of the exam, will be determined by the respective subjects of the Major/Minor Fields, but will be chosen to demonstrate the student’s competency in the theoretical basis and practical skills required to complete the dissertation. Students should consult with their committee to define their fields and identify reading lists or other indications of breadth and content.

Length: The written examination lasts seven hours, and will consist of three sections: Major Field, Minor Field, and Method/Theory, although the last usually has some relationship to the Major or Minor Field. The Oral Exam will follow the Written Exam as soon as possible, depending upon the student’s schedule, and will last approximately two hours. If the student fails either exam, he/she may re-take it within the next twelve months, but only once.

Committee: The Exam is overseen by the student’s advisor and Exam Committee, plus the Graduate Group Chair. The committee is approved by the advisor in consultation with the student and the Graduate Group Chair. The committee should normally consist, in addition to the primary advisor, of a minimum of two additional readers. At least two members of the committee should be members of the Graduate Group; the third may be invited from another Penn Graduate Group or institution.

Dissertation proposal

Students must present a written proposal of approximately 1000–1500 words in length for approval by the supervisor and the faculty. The proposal should include a summary of issues to be treated, the working hypotheses, the methodology to be employed, the location and accessibility of original objects or materials to be studied, the significance of the research, a brief bibliography, a plan of work, and a timetable for its completion. The deadline for the submission of the dissertation proposal, after the successful conclusion of the written and oral Ph.D. Candidacy Exam, shall be as follows. If the oral examination occurs in late April or early May, according to the usual schedule of Ph.D. examinations in the spring of the third year of graduate study, a finished proposal will be submitted by the first week of September in that same year. If these examinations occur at a different time in the academic year, the proposal will be due one month from the time of the oral examination. 

Once the proposal has been submitted and the Dissertation Committee has, through the normal iterative process with the student, given preliminary approval, it is to be circulated electronically to all AAMW faculty for a period of two weeks in PDF format. During that time, comments and suggestions are invited, also to be circulated electronically among AAMW faculty. Any faculty member may express objections and request that the proposal be brought before the next scheduled faculty meeting for discussion. The result of the discussion may be to require certain remedies, voted on by the faculty, including approval pending specified changes, or tabling for further discussion. If no request is made to bring the proposal to a faculty meeting, all comments are to be construed as suggestions and the proposal is considered to be approved by the full faculty. In cases where consensus cannot be reached the final decision rests with the Dissertation Committee. The final version, reflecting any changes resulting from this process, is to be circulated electronically and deposited with the AAMW chair.

Significant changes in the proposal that may become necessary in the course of research must also be approved by the faculty. Students are also required to present a lecture in the AAMW lunchtime lecture series during the course of their dissertation research and writing

Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee is approved by the advisor in consultation with the student and the Graduate Group Chair. Like the Ph.D. Exam Committee, the Dissertation Committee normally consists, in addition to the primary advisor, of a minimum of two additional readers. At least two members of the committee should be members of the Graduate Group; the third may be invited from another Penn Graduate Group or institution.

Dissertation defense

The Dissertation Defense is a public event at which the candidate summarizes his or her findings. It may be scheduled only after all requirements except the approval of the dissertation have been satisfied and after a complete draft of the dissertation has been submitted to the supervisor and reader(s). Both the Dissertation Supervisor and the AAMW Chair must agree that the dissertation is ready for the Defense, which should be scheduled during the regular academic year. The Defense is normally followed immediately by the Final Examination, conducted privately in a meeting of the candidate with the Dissertation Committee. The Final Examination is limited to the contents of the Dissertation. Passing the Examination signifies approval of the Dissertation, although the Committee may still request revisions that must be completed before the degree is awarded. The date of the Defense should be determined by the Dissertation Supervisor, the Graduate Group Chair, and the student.

Time Limit for Completion of Coursework and Preliminary Examination

To be considered a student in good standing, students are expected to have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. with the exception of the dissertation by the end of the third year.

Time Limit for Completion of the Dissertation

The School of Arts and Sciences limits the graduate career to ten academic years (twenty semesters) from matriculation. Students who have not completed all requirements for the Ph.D., including the deposit of the dissertation, within those ten years, face the ever increasing risk that their dissertation research and knowledge of the broader field are no longer at the frontier of current research in their field.

A student who has been dropped after reaching the maximum time limit may petition the graduate group to return as a student for a maximum of one further year in order to achieve recertification and complete and defend the dissertation. Faculty members have no obligation to continue working with a student who has been dropped, nor is there any presumption that a graduate group will respond favorably to a petition for re-admission. If a graduate group wishes to recommend re-admission, it must present to the graduate dean a list of faculty members willing to serve as a dissertation committee and a detailed, realistic plan of how the student will, within one year of reenrollment, achieve recertification, pass the dissertation examination, and submit the final copy of the dissertation. If re-admission is approved by the graduate dean, the student must pay Reduced Tuition for two semesters, unless all requirements are completed within one semester. A student may petition for readmission at the time s/he is dropped from the program, or at a later date. The student should be fully ready and committed to completing within a one-year timeframe; enrollment will not be extended beyond that final year, and no further petition for readmission will be considered by the University.


If the graduate group and graduate dean approve the petition for readmission, the student must immediately be recertified. In order to ensure that a student’s dissertation research remains at the frontier of current research in the field, the student must retake and pass the Candidacy Examination, or satisfy alternative recertification criteria designed by the graduate group. The new deadline for completion of all requirements for the Ph.D., including recertification, shall be within one year.

Grades and Satisfactory Progress

For those enrolled in courses, the minimum standard for satisfactory work is a B average in each academic year, as required by the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. Those who do not maintain the necessary average may be required to withdraw.

Those who have completed course requirements and are preparing for the Ph.D. Dissertation must demonstrate steady and substantial progress toward the completion of the degree, following the schedule established by the student's Dissertation Committee. Those who fail to demonstrate progress in their research as required by their committee may be required to withdraw.

By the rules of the School of Arts and Sciences, an incomplete in a course must be replaced by a grade not later than two semesters after the end of that course. This means that incompletes need to be cleared up by August 1 for courses from the preceding fall, and December 1 for courses from the preceding spring. At the end of that period, an incomplete will block the student from registration, thereby severing the student's financial aid. Any incompletes will also block the student from taking the M.A. Qualifying Exam and the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam, or receiving AAMW summer travel funding.

Academic Review

The Graduate Group reviews the academic records of all students once every semester during their first year, and annually thereafter. The annual review takes place near the end of spring term and is intended to provide an assessment of students' general progress, on the basis of which recommendations will be offered concerning the course of study. The review notes strengths, weaknesses, and achievements since the previous year's review, and lays out the expectations for the student's progress during the following academic year.

Transfer of Credit

At least eight course units of the total program required for the M.A. and at least twelve course units of the total program required for the Ph.D. must be completed at the University of Pennsylvania; the balance may be transferred from other institutions, if the transfer is approved by the Graduate Group Chair and the Dean. Such requests for transfer of credit may be made to the Graduate Group Chair after the student has been enrolled for an academic year. No work done as an undergraduate, whether at this institution or elsewhere, will be counted, except as part of an approved sub-matriculation program. Credits toward satisfaction of the course requirements can be given for a maximum of four course units of work completed while registered in the College of Liberal and Professionall Studies.

Leave of Absence/Dissertation Research Abroad

A student who wishes to take a leave of absence must submit a written request to the Graduate Chair for initial approval. Final approval rests with the Dean of the Graduate Division. A student who has reached general dissertation tuition status will not be granted a leave except for military service, pregnancy, or medical reasons. The granting of a leave, except for military service, does not automatically extend the time limits for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, which are discussed above. Language Examinations, the M.A. Qualifying Examination, and the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam may not be taken while a student is on leave, nor may degrees be awarded. A student who receives outside funding for dissertation research to be conducted elsewhere may apply to the Graduate Chair and the Dean of the Graduate Division for Dissertation Research Abroad Status. This special status allows the student to remain registered without incurring tuition charges.