30 Colleges Making Major Archaeological Discoveries

Colleges Making Major Archaeological Discoveries

Author: Maxim Sorokopud | Reading Level: Grade 9 | First covered: June 2023

By uncovering important historical sites and artifacts, the field of archaeology has a major impact on human understanding. Archaeology departments within colleges, therefore, have the opportunity to inform the way that the world perceives ancient cultures and societal development. Some American colleges have been responsible for major archaeological discoveries worldwide. This ranking is going to highlight 30 US colleges with impressive archaeological achievements.

As many factors contribute to the success of an archaeological project, such as connections with organizations worldwide, quality of facilities, and so on, this ranking has considered a broad range of factors when ranking a college. Therefore, the institutions proving that they have diverse archaeological resources and opportunities have gained the highest rankings in the following list.

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Another vital factor of this ranking is evidence that the college maintains its archaeological credentials. Therefore, in addition to existing archaeological discoveries, this ranking has also researched the efforts that each institution has undertaken in growing its archaeological prowess. The top colleges ahead can all demonstrate that they are proactively fostering archaeological activity.

Any one of the colleges in this ranking is a strong choice for a student who wants to attend a college that has impacted archaeology. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital tool in your college search. Each entry includes a summary of why the college is outstanding regarding archaeological discoveries and research. These have been included for you to compare and contrast the colleges with your own personal college options. If any college that you’re considering is undertaking archaeological activities like the following institutions, then that’s a strong sign it is worth attending.

Methodology

Initial research for this article involved identifying colleges from sources that highlighted higher education institutions that have made major impacts on archaeology. These sources are as follows:

After identifying a number of colleges from these sources, we then conducted further research into each potential institution. This final research forms the basis for inclusion in the ranking ahead.

The ranking criteria for the following colleges are as follows: Evidence of archaeological discoveries impacting human understanding, evidence of a wide range of archaeological discoveries, evidence of innovation in archaeological work, evidence of commitment to conducting future archaeological activity, and combined number of mentions on the methodology lists.

Our ranking, from 30 to one, is as follows:

30. University of Massachusetts, Boston

Boston, Massachusetts

Website

National Geographic notes that in 2016, the University of Massachusetts, Boston discovered a historical site that was part of the original Plymouth settlement. The college’s Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research, which integrates a range of analytical perspectives into interdisciplinary research, has also been an important part of the college since 1999. In 2023, this center completed a project that created digital records for over 75,000 archaeological objects held by the Plimoth Patuxet Museums. The college also maintains field schools in Massachusetts as well as in Belize, New York and Connecticut.

29. University of California, Davis

Davis, California

Websit

In 2020, the University of California, Davis Postdoctoral Researcher Tammy Buonasera and Adjunct Associate Professor Glendon Parker pioneered a new method of determining the biological sex of human remains by analyzing tooth enamel. And in 2019, Associate Professor of Archaeology Nicolas Zwyns was the lead author of a study that revealed that humans migrated to Mongolia 10,000 years earlier than previously believed. The college also runs:

Prepler considers the University of California, Davis, to be the 34th-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between the 201st to 240th best archaeology university in the world.

28. The George Washington University

Washington, DC

Website

George Washington University logo

Smithsonian Magazine named The George Washington University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Andrew Barr’s study into the importance of meat-eating in human evolution one of the most riveting evolutionary findings of 2022. In prior years, the college has made a number of other important discoveries, such as being responsible for recovering the first material from a slaving ship that sank with enslaved people on board. The college’s Capital Archaeological Institute also brings together archaeologists who conduct excavations in Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and the United States. Prepler considers George Washington University to be the 33rd-best college for archaeology in America. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between the 151st to 200th best archaeology college in the world.

27. University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

Website

University of Georgia logo

In 2022 the University of Georgia Assistant Professor Jordan Pickett published findings that revealed how environmental and climatic changes in the Eastern Mediterranean led to settlement abandonment and transformation in the Medieval period. The college’s Archaeology Lab also contains over 50 million artifacts and paper and digital archives. Prepler considers the University of Georgia to be the 28th-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between 151st to 200th on a global list of the best archaeology universities.

26. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

Website

Johns Hopkins University logo

In 2019, Johns Hopkins University announced that its Spatial Observation Lab for Archaeological Research had discovered an ancient town named Beta Samati in East Africa. The college also runs The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, which focuses on “interactive and interdisciplinary study, research, preservation, and interpretation of archaeological and historical objects.” Prepler considers Johns Hopkins University to be the 13th-best college for archaeology in America. QS Top Universities ranks it as the 151st to 200th best archaeology college in the world.

25. Rice University

Houston, Texas

Website

Rice University logo

In May 2023, Rice University succeeded in gaining funding for a three-year study into ancient livestock herding in Africa. And in recent years, the college has turned to innovative means to showcase its archaeological work, such as producing a video series that details some of the newly discovered artifacts of American slavery. The college also maintains an archaeological field school in Zambia that provides students with five weeks of practical work experience. Overall, the college has had a focus on archaeology since 1961. Prepler considers Rice University to be the fifth-best college in America for archaeology. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between the 201st to 240th best college in the world for archaeology.

24. The University of Akron

Akron, Ohio

Website

University of Akron logo

In 2012, an investigation led by The University of Akron professor Timothy Matney into an ancient Assyrian city identified a previously unknown ancient language. Closer to home, the college has maintained a working relationship with Summit Metro Parks since 2001, which has resulted in numerous community archaeology projects. For example, in 2018, one of these projects produced artifacts from an early example of an integrated neighborhood. College Cliffs considers The University of Akron’s archaeology programs to be some of the best in the US. Prepler names it the 77th-best archaeology college in America.

23. Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey

Website

Princeton University logo

In 2023, Princeton University launched the Princeton Ioannina-Thessaly On-Site Seminars (PITHOS) Initiative, which brings together scholars from both Princeton and Greece to advance archaeological understanding. In 2021, the college discovered the world’s oldest industrial-scale brewery in Egypt. In the 1930s, the college uncovered a wide range of significant artifacts during an excavation of Antioch in Turkey. College Cliffs considers Princeton University to be among the best colleges in America for history degrees. QS Top Universities names it as being between the 51st-100th best college in the world for archaeology.

22. Columbia University

New York City, New York

Website

Columbia University logo

In 2023, Columbia University archaeologist Lisa Trever discovered a mural of a two-faced man in Peru, which has redefined the understanding of the Moche civilization. The college also maintains The Columbia Center for Archaeology, which fosters “collaboration in teaching and research between the many archaeological researchers” across the college. College Cliffs considers Columbia University to have some of the best history and anthropology degrees in the US. QS Top Universities considers the college to be the 38th best for archaeology in the world.

21. Brigham Young University

Provo, Utah

Website

Brigham Young University logo

In 2023, Brigham Young University revealed that it had discovered a number of ancient artifacts in Northern Mexico. In 2019, the college also discovered one of the largest deposits of Nabataean pottery in Petra, Jordan. The college’s Museum of Peoples and Cultures runs the Office of Public Archaeology, which provides “high quality, professional archaeological consulting services to the public and private sectors while also giving practical field training to BYU students.” College Cliffs considers Brigham Young University to have some of the top archaeology programs in the USA. Prepler names the college the 29th best for archaeology in the USA.

20. The University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, Wisconsin

Website

University of Wisconsin, Madison logo

In 2018, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, Megan Bernards, discovered a bronze coin in Sicily that led to new conclusions regarding the dating of the ancient city of Agrigento. However, the college’s campus in Wisconsin is also the site of 49 known areas of archaeological significance. The college’s Shroeder Laboratory of Wisconsin Archaeology also conducts research projects regarding the history and heritage of Eastern North America. Prepler considers The University of Wisconsin-Madison to be the 27th-best college for archaeology in America. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between the 51st to 100th best for archaeology in the world.

19. The University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas

Website

University of Texas at Austin logo

In 2022, David Stuart, an art history professor at The University of Texas at Austin, was a key team member among a group of archaeologists responsible for identifying the earliest known record of the Mayan calendar system. Also, in 2022, the college’s researchers identified a parrot bone that indicates that parrots may once have been local to what is now the United States. Since 1963, the college has also been the home of the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory, which is the largest archaeological repository in Texas. And in 1978, the college also created the Institute of Classical Archaeology, which preserves endangered monuments and assists the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonese in adopting new forms of research and conservation. Prepler considers The University of Texas at Austin to be the 21st-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities ranks it as being between the 51st to 100th best archaeology college in the world.

18. Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

Website

Cornell University logo

In 2022, Cornell University researcher Thomas Urban identified a human footprint in the Utah desert dating to the Ice Age. The college is also successful in bringing renowned archaeologists to its campus to discuss their careers with students, such as Mordechai Aviam. In 2012, the college launched the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, which promotes archaeological activity through a range of programming, such as conferences and podcasts. Prepler considers Cornell University to be the ninth-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities ranks it as being between the 51st to 100th best archaeology college in the world.

17. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

Website

University of Southern California logo

In recent years, the University of Southern California has been responsible for identifying the first Roman military amphitheater in Judea and uncovering a well-preserved skeleton in Pompeii. The college’s faculty is also currently conducting research in Los Angeles, Mexico, Colombia, and other parts of the world. Additionally, the college runs the Archaeology Research Center, which both houses a collection of artifacts and supports student involvement in archaeological research. College Cliffs considers the University of Southern California to have some of the US’s best archaeology and geography programs. Prepler names the college the eighth best in America for archaeology.

16. Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri

Website

Washington University in St. Louis

In 2020, Archaeology Magazine named the work of Washington University in St. Louis archaeology lecturer Jacob Holland-Lulewicz one of the top 10 discoveries that year. His work highlighted how the indigenous people of the present-day state of Georgia resisted European influence for over 150 years. In 2022, another archaeological professor of the college, Michael Frachetti, identified previously unknown trade routes between Central Asia and Europe. College Cliffs considers Washington University in St. Louis to be one of America’s top colleges for anthropology degrees. Prepler considers the college to be the sixth-best college in America for archaeology. QS Top Universities ranks the college as being between the 51st to 100th best college for archaeology in the world.

15. The Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio

Website

Ohio State University logo

The Ohio State University is home to “the oldest and largest state archaeological society in the United States,” which has been running since 1941. The college currently runs an archaeology field school in Giecz, Poland, giving students the opportunity to gain unique experiences. Stacker names the discovery of a medieval scribe in Germany in 2019, which The Ohio State University participated in, as one of the 50 most important archaeological discoveries of all time. College Cliffs considers the college to have some of the best paleontology degrees. QS Top Universities considers the college to be between the 151st to 200th top archaeology college in the world.

14. Boston University

Boston, Massachusetts

Website

Boston University logo

In 2012, Boston University archaeologists Francesco Berna and Paul Goldberg were responsible for discovering evidence of the oldest known man-made fire, significantly altering evolutionary understanding. More recently, in 2021, one of the college’s archaeologists, John M. Marston, discovered the first physical evidence of indoor Mayan latrines. The college also has seven distinct laboratories focused on different aspects of archaeology. College Cliffs considers Boston University’s archaeology programs to be some of the best in the US. Prepler names it the 26th-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities ranks the college between 101st and 150th in the world for archaeology.

13. Pennsylvania State University

University Park, Pennsylvania

Website

Penn State logo

In 2023, Associate Professor of Anthropology Jose Capriles collaborated with freelance writer and illustrator John G. Swogger to publish a graphic novel that portrays his findings. Specifically, the graphic novel explores life in a Bolivian Middle Settlement between the years 1,000 to 500 BCE. Also, in 2023, other archaeologists at the college have been successful in gaining National Science Foundation grants to survey national heritage sites that have suffered hurricane damage. The college has also been home to the Matson Museum of Anthropology for many decades. College Cliffs considers Pennsylvania State University to have some of the best paleontology degrees in America. Prepler names it the 31st best archaeology college in the USA. QS Top Universities ranks it as the 26th best archaeology college in the world.

12. University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Website

University of Michigan logo

In 2021, the University of Michigan archaeologists discovered a 13,000-year-old campsite, which redefined the understanding of the earliest people to live in the Michigan region. The college’s campus is also home to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, which opened in 2009 and houses over 100,000 artifacts. College Cliffs considers the University of Michigan to have some of the best history, anthropology, and paleontology degrees of any American college. Prepler considers it to be the 10th-best college in America for archaeology. QS Top Universities names it the 24th-best college in the world for archaeology.

11. The University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Website

University of Chicago logo

In the 1940s, The University of Chicago invented the Carbon 14 technique of dating archaeological artifacts, which would win the Nobel Prize. In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the Insitute for the Study of Ancient Cultures discovered a wide range of artifacts, which are now on display within this institute’s museum. In the present day, the institute still conducts a wide range of research and fieldwork across the world. Stacker considers The University of Chicago’s discovery in Turkey of one of the oldest megaliths in the world, in partnership with Istanbul University, to be one of the 50 greatest archaeological discoveries. College Cliffs considers the college to have some of the best history, geography, anthropology, and paleontology degrees in the US. QS Top Universities names it the 18th best college in the world for archaeology.

10. University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Website

UCLA logo

In the 1990s, University of California Los Angeles archaeologists discovered Urkesh, “one of the largest archaeological sites from the third millennium B.C.” The college continued to excavate this site until 2011 when the Syrian Civil War made work too dangerous. In 2023, the college’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the college is celebrating its 50th anniversary. This institute is dedicated to disseminating and conserving archaeological knowledge and heritage. College Cliffs considers the University of California, Los Angeles, to have some of America’s best history, geography, and anthropology degrees. Prepler names it the 14th-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities considers it to be the ninth-best archaeology college in the world.

9. Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Website

Harvard University logo

In 2022, Harvard University successfully reconstructed the genetic material of ancient microorganisms for the first time. This achievement is likely to both aid in exploring Earth’s biochemical past and leads to the discovery of new therapeutic molecules. The college also runs the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, which has been on the campus since 1877 and is credited with professionalizing the field of anthropology in its early years. In the present day, the museum acts as a resource for exhibitions, programs, and research into ethical anthropology. College Cliffs considers Harvard University to have some of the best history, anthropology, and paleontology degrees in the US. Prepler considers the college to be the third-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities names it the fourth-best archaeology college in the world.

8. Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

Website

Yale University logo

Current research sites that Yale University faculty and students are involved with are located in:

  • North America
  • Mesoamerica
  • Africa
  • The Mediterranean
  • The Andes
  • Asia
  • The Middle East

The college also currently runs an initiative for studying ancient pyro technology. To aid in its archaeological endeavors, the college uses state-of-the-art XRF instruments to detect archaeological locations. Stacker considers the discovery of Machu Picchu by college academic Hiram Bingham to be one of the 50 most important archaeological discoveries. College Cliffs considers Yale to have some of the best paleontology, history, and anthropology degrees in America. Prepler considers Yale University to be the second-best college for archaeology in the USA.

7. Stanford University

Stanford, California

Website

Stanford University

In 2022, Stanford University archaeologists participated in an excavation in Peru that discovered a network of passageways underneath a 3,000-year-old temple. In 2016, the college discovered an 8,000-year-old statuette of a Neolithic goddess in central Turkey. The college has also maintained the Stanford Archaeology Center since 2001, which facilitates collaboration among its archaeologists. Prepler considers Stanford University to be the best archaeology college in the USA. College Cliffs considers it to have some of the best history degrees in the US. QS Top Universities considers the college to be the joint sixth best in the world for archaeology.

6. University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

Website

University of Cincinnati logo

University of Cincinnati’s archaeological activities began in the 1920s when it undertook a number of excavations in Greece. In the 1930s, the college’s archaeological work expanded to Turkey. In later decades, the college also led archaeological digs in Cyprus. Today, students can participate in archaeological research in the Ohio River Valley, Mesoamerica, and Europe. This research has led to significant discoveries. For instance, in the summer of 2022, students of the college undertook archaeological work on the Italian island of Sardinia, which resulted in the discovery of items like ancient coins. National Geographic notes that in the 1990s, University of Cincinnati archaeologist Brian Rose was a key figure in discovering secrets of the ancient city of Troy. College Cliffs considers the college to have one of the best paleontology degrees in the USA. Prepler considers the college to be the 41st best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities considers the college to be between the 151st to 200th best archaeology college in the world.

5. New York University

New York City, New York

Website

New York University logo

In 2006, New York University founded the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World to cultivate and compare investigations of the ancient world between the Mediterranean and East Asia. In 2023, this institute revealed that it had collaborated with Sorbonne University researchers to identify previously lost ancient Greek scientific texts. The Institute of Fine Arts within the college also conducts a range of archaeological work. In 2022, the institute’s conservation center gained $1 million in funding to boost media art conservation education and training. Stacker considers the discovery of the hidden palace of Pharaoh Ramesses II in Egypt, which New York University led, to be one of the 50 most important archaeological discoveries. College Cliffs states that the college has some of the best archaeology programs in the USA. Prepler names the college the 22nd-best archaeology college in America. QS Top Universities considers New York University to be between the 51st to 100th best college for archaeology in the world.

4. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Website

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill logo

Since 1939, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been the home of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology, which features “one of the nation’s finest collections of archaeological materials from the South.” In total, it contains over 7 million artifacts. Artnews notes that, in 2022, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered the earliest known depictions of two biblical heroines. College Cliffs considers the college to have some of the best geography degrees. Prepler considers the college to be the 20th best for archaeology in America. QS Top Universities names it as being between the 51st to 100th best college for archaeology in the world.

3. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Website

University of Pennsylvania logo

In recent years, the University of Pennsylvania has led archaeological digs in Smith Creek, Mississippi; Azerbaijan; and Mexico. In 2023, the college announced that it had discovered a 5,000-year-old tavern in Southwest Asia. However, the college’s archaeological expertise is nothing new. In fact, it has run the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology since 1899. ARTnews states that the 2022 University of Pennsylvania-led discovery of a palace door in the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud is significant. Stacker considers the identification of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal by the college in 1956 to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. College Cliffs considers the college to have some of the best history degrees in the USA. QS Top Universities names the college the 21st best in the world for archaeology.

2. Brown University

Providence, Rhode Island

Website

Brown University logo

Since 2004, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology has boosted Brown University’s archaeological credentials. This center maintains close ties with archaeologists and other experts across the globe. It currently sponsors excavations in Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Sardinia, Sudan, Turkey, the West Indies, and Rhode Island. It also conducts a range of events that support the college’s archaeological digs, such as conferences. In early 2023, the college announced that one of its Ph.D. students had uncovered evidence of early brain surgery. National Geographic notes that Brown University was responsible for the 2011 discovery of the remains of a Mayan king in Guatemala. College Cliffs considers the college to have one of the best anthropology degrees in the USA. Prepler considers the college to be the fourth-best college for archaeology. QS Top Universities names the college the joint 39th best in the world for archaeology.

1. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Website

UC Berkeley logo

The home of archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, is the Archaeological Research Facility, which encourages, facilitates, and expedites archaeological activity in both a laboratory setting and in the field. In 2022, this facility launched a new field school to increase representation among diverse groups in archaeological professions, which has since won the Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award. Stacker considers the University of California, Berkeley’s discovery of a millennium-old bundle of leather containing ayahuasca to be one of the 50 most important archaeological discoveries. College Cliffs considers the college to have some of the best history, geography, anthropology, and paleontology degrees of any US college. Prepler names it the seventh-best college for archaeology in the US. QS Top Universities considers it to be the fifth-best college for archaeology in the world.

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