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e-Journal of Portuguese History

On-line version ISSN 1645-6432

e-JPH vol.17 no.2 Porto Dec. 2019 


Archaeology phds at portuguese universities: a brief overview of the last decade (2010-2018) [1]

Mariana Diniz2,3

2 Centre for Archaeology (UNIARQ). Director of the Archaeology PhD Course. School of Arts and HumanitiesUniversidade de Lisboa, Portugal. E-Mail:

3 This article is dedicated to all who are much more than just numbers in a table; to all those PhD holders who are real people with their own stories and trajectories. It is also dedicated to all who should be, but for various reasons are not, included among those numbers.



The aim of this paper is to analyze and discuss the PhDs degrees obtained in Archaeology at Portuguese universities between 2010 and 2018. The effects of the Bologna Process were felt during this period, as were those of the growing European investment in higher education, which led to a very significant growth in the number of PhDs in different fields of knowledge. The main questions examined here are the impact of these new European policies on the study of Archaeology, the profile of these PhD holders, and the characterization of the themes of their dissertations.

Keywords: PhDs; Archaeology; Portugal; European higher education polices; 2010-2018



Pretende-se, neste texto, analisar e discutir os doutoramentos obtidos em Arqueologia, em Universidades portuguesas, no período compreendido entre 2010 e 2018. Durante este período, fazem-se sentir os efeitos do Processo de Bolonha, ao mesmo tempo que o crescente investimento europeu na formação superior leva ao aumento muito expressivo do número de Doutores, nas diferentes áreas do Conhecimento. Analisar o impacto, em Arqueologia, destas novas políticas europeias, definir o perfil destes Doutores, caracterizar as temáticas escolhidas como tema de dissertação são algumas das questões centrais em análise.

Palavras-chave: Doutoramentos; Arqueologia; Portugal; Políticas europeias para o ensino superior; 2010-2018


Archaeology PhDs and European Higher Education Policies

Just as in other scientific areas, the PhDs completed in Archaeology in Portugal at the end of the twentieth century were almost exclusively obtained by academics as part of their cursus honorum at the university. Very few researchers linked to public institutions obtained this degree, and the number of PhDs in Archaeology was therefore extremely low.

During the last decade (2010-2018), the number of Archaeology PhD dissertations represented a share of roughly 11% in the overall scientific area of History, Archaeology, Heritage Studies, and Art History. The previous decade (before 2010) had seen a dramatic change in the European higher education system resulting from the introduction of the so-called Bologna Process. In Portugal, some of the investment in this new policy was made by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT), with the award of PhD research grants that encouraged the younger generation to continue their academic studies.

PhDs in Archaeology

As a result of the European and national investment in higher education, the number of Archaeology PhDs almost doubled in the last decade (Bugalhão 2016). Some features of those ninety-one new PhDs will now be presented and discussed.


In this universe of ninety-one 1 people, there were fifty women and forty-one men. These numbers reflect an overall trend in higher education where the majority of undergraduate and postgraduate students are female. According to PORDATA, women first began to outnumber men in higher education courses in 1986, and since then they have always been dominant in Portuguese Universities.

These numbers show a close correlation between the proportions of women and men in the overall population as the numbers of women and men with PhD degrees. According to 2011 data (INE, PORDATA), women in Portugal amount to roughly 52% of the population, and they represent 56% of PhD holders in Archaeology. However, the social significance of this coincidence needs to be stressed out. As a historical trend, these numbers reflect the profound changes that have taken place in Portuguese society in the last decades and must be understood as part of the long-term process of empowering women through education. In fact, this numbers reflects only the natural proportions of the population: there are more women than men attending university, which means that equal opportunities do indeed exist for both sexes in terms of access to PhD studies. (It was tempting to add: “in an area such as Archaeology, which was previously traditionally dominated by men,”, but this was not considered to be appropriate as all scientific areas were, in fact, male-dominated).

Nationality of PhD Degree Holders (Portuguese/Foreign)

The PhD degrees completed in Archaeology at Portuguese universities were mainly obtained by Portuguese students, who corresponded to roughly 71% of the population (seventy-one students in total). In the case of foreign students, Brazilians were, as expected, the only significant group, with roughly 17.5% of all PhDs (sixteen students). The presence of a very small Italian contingent and just one isolated student from Bangladesh does not provide enough data to make any conclusive comments, apart from noting the Brazilian share in completed PhDs.

These figures do, in fact, reflect a very recent trend in the number of Brazilian students coming to Portugal, but this is no more than a long-term consequence of the historical relationship between Portugal and Brazil. The shared language means that Brazilian students can study abroad-in Europe-using their mother tongue, which is a factor of attractiveness that should be noted. At the same time, the importance of studying in the metropolis (mainly in Coimbra) continues to be a major feature of the Brazilian elite’s mindset (more data about Brazilian students in Portugal can be found in Chatti Ioro 2018).

Brazilian students are concentrated mainly at UTAD (seven out of sixteen), in Porto and in Coimbra (four PhDs each), with one at U. Algarve. No Brazilian PhD dissertations were recorded in Lisbon (neither at U. Lisboa nor at U.N. Lisboa), Évora, or Minho.

Considering that there are eight million students studying at Brazilian universities (data provided by the Brazilian Ministry of Education) the sixteen students who completed their PhDs in Archaeology in Portugal can hardly be described as a significant trend.

But, even if these numbers may be considered to be rather low, their importance lies in the fact that they can be perceived as a new market for the Portuguese higher education system. The potential growth in the number of Brazilian undergraduate and postgraduate students at Portuguese universities is almost endless and the Portuguese demographic winter could be offset by the influx of Brazilian students in the future.

However, the complex economic and political situation in Brazil makes this scenario highly uncertain, and the future of this emerging behavior is unclear for the moment.


Between 2010-2018, most PhD dissertations at Portuguese universities were written in Portuguese. Only one thesis was written in English and three in Italian. From these numbers, it is clear that Portuguese is (still) an academic language used by Portuguese and Brazilian researchers. Indeed, in Archaeology, there is a particular Portuguese archaeological vocabulary-unlike other scientific fields where researchers do not translate foreign words or concepts-and therefore a strong conceptualization of this area of knowledge in Portuguese.

However, in view of the present-day demands linked to globalization and internationalization, this scenario will undoubtedly change quite dramatically in the next few years and Portuguese language will begin to lose its importance in Science.

Given the global numbers-Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world, with an impressive total of 221 million speakers, or almost 3% of the world population-it is easy to recognize that Portuguese and Brazilian researchers share a very powerful common tool. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that these 221 million people are indeed speakers not readers, and the generalized poverty that affects an important mass of the Portuguese-speaking population means that only an insignificant part of them will obtain a higher education degree. So, despite the global numbers, a PhD dissertation written in Portuguese is not destined to a two hundred and twenty one million people market, but only to a very restricted group of scientists composed almost entirely of Portuguese and Brazilian researchers.

If written in Portuguese, Portuguese archaeological research will not be part of the global science that is currently endorsed by all academic communities.

Portuguese and many languages other than English undoubtedly find themselves in a crossroad between linguistic totalitarianism-now exercised by the English language in a role that has already been performed by Latin and French-and the right to their own linguistic identity, a (potentially dangerous) concept that emerges from a complex amalgam of nationalist and postmodern statements.

For a native speaker of a Romance language, writing in English is not simply a question of translating words, but instead of translating the conceptual process of thinking into a completely different mindset. “Sentence too long. Consider revising…” is much more than just the advice of the Word software program. As Google says, “So here's the rule: your sentences should usually be about from 20 to 30 words long. If your style is breezy, 15 words would be good. Sentences with 50 or more words should be avoided if possible…”

If the linguicide of Portuguese as an academic language is already in progress, and if a young generation of Portuguese researchers is now emerging only able to think and write in English, this could be the dark side of a more inclusive and globalized science. It is expected that the long-standing barriers surrounding Portuguese research written in Portuguese will vanish when a common language will be in use.

Ages and Grants

Two other variables were considered important concerning the latest generation of PhD theses: the age of the students when they defended their PhDs and the mechanism used for funding dissertations. Unfortunately, it was not possible to retrieve this information in any systematic way. Even so, a general picture emerged, using mostly qualitative data, an acceptable procedure within a small community like Archaeology, where direct acquaintance with the students is the norm.

During the period from 2010 to 2018, the PhDs completed in Archaeology were mainly produced by a generation of young researchers under 35 years of age. Most of the PhD dissertations were funded through PhD grants awarded by the FCT, but the exact numbers are not easy to find since many theses do not mentioned the grant support.

PhD Topics and Epistemological Guidelines

At Portuguese universities, PhD courses in Archaeology mainly consist of tutorials, given the restricted number of students who start the course each year. The PhD tutorial system relies on the development of a close academic relationship between the student and the supervisor, which will lead to the production of a dissertation. Archaeology at Portuguese universities is studied in an environment of scientific and academic freedom. The different schools and different supervisors tend to give privilege to certain research areas, but students-even when they belong to wider research groups-are free to choose the subject for their dissertation without any constraints and to present their research program to competitive calls opened in all scientific domains.

Under this traditional scheme, researchers first define their research subject and then search for funding. The primacy of the subject is established within the overall knowledge process, and this type of scientific freedom sometimes gives the impression that there are no agendas in Social and Human Sciences.

Recent European and Portuguese research projects have included the award of short-term PhD grants in their general budgets, so research positions will be open , and Archaeology will act as an experimental or laboratory science in which students are given specific subjects to analyze.

PhD Topics

In a recent debate, I had the opportunity to present what I considered to be the most significant theoretical and methodological categories into which the study of Archaeology in the twenty-first century can be classified. I considered four categories, with the first and the second being closely related, as are the third and fourth:

i) Artefacts, sites, and landscapes-this is the most traditional way of studying Archaeology in continental Europe. Geography and chronology are considered as crucial variables for understanding the past. Within a specific time-space framework, a class of artefacts, an archaeological site, and a landscape are monographically described and inserted into a historical process. Detailed descriptions are provided together with solid graphic documentation. This category is closely related to the next one.

ii) Laboratory Archaeology-this is closely linked to a transdisciplinary framework. In this category, the study of Archaeology depends on laboratory analysis and the development of rigorous methodologies drawn from different scientific fields. By using elements taken from Geology, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Biostatistics, and other disciplines, the laboratory archaeologist searches for the truth within the materiality of things.

iii) Semiotic Archaeology-this category applies to postmodern archaeologies, which have shifted their emphasis from truth to meaning. In the initial phase of its development, except at the Porto school, this way of studying Archaeology was viewed with great suspicion by Portuguese academics. There was too much structuralism, too much phenomenology, for a very conservative scientific community. This category is closely related to the next one.

iv) Engaged Archaeology-this category defends ideological and political action, by using knowledge from past societies to fight against, resist and transform the modern world. Gender Archaeology and the Archaeology of slavery, Conflict Archaeology are common topics in this area. It is not a branch commonly found in Portuguese universities.

If we divide the ninety-one PhD dissertations according to these categories, using the PhD titles or their keywords (Graph 1), the final picture is highly elucidatory about the type of science that was practiced by Archaeology at Portuguese universities during the 2010-2018 period.



The graph depicts a very conservative community in terms of the themes chosen for PhD theses and several reasons can explain why students do not seem prepared to disrupt a traditional scenario.. Preferences move to more solid and safer themes meaning that a PhD dissertation is not the right moment to change to a potentially disruptive theme and/or grant boards do not sympathize with unfamiliar themes.

No theses were written in the fields of gender archaeology, colonial/postcolonial archaeology, the archaeology of war, the archaeology of slavery or even public archaeology, except by two Brazilian students.

For whatever reasons, during the 2010-2018 period, Artefacts, Sites and Landscapes and Laboratory archaeology represented roughly 89% of the dissertations produced. The historical, positivist, and transdisciplinary tradition ruled the archaeological panorama. Portuguese archaeologists are generally very open to the use of new and cutting-edge methodologies and laboratory analysis (Carvalho and Diniz 2017), and was only financial constraints kept Portuguese researchers away from an High-Tech Archaeology.

Transdisciplinary analysis is almost mandatory, but transdisciplinary is understood as a relationship with the hard sciences. Other fields of knowledge that might also be considered to be vital for studying human societies, such as Philosophy and Sociology, etc. are not included in the references. The soft sciences are absent except for those that belong to the very small group of semiotic archaeology.

Within the most significant of the four categories-artefacts, sites and landscapes (representing sixty-eight out of ninety-one theses)-the main themes of Portuguese archaeology-the Roman period, Neolithic-Chalcolithic, Paleolithic-are well-documented. The most frequently chosen topic was rock art, which attracted several students, including those from Brazil. This was certainly a reflection of the Côa effect as the widespread attention that is now being paid to rock art sites in Portugal (Graph 2).



Source: Data taken from RENATES - Registo Nacional de Teses e Dissertações ( )

It should be mentioned that, during this time period, not one single thesis was defended in Archaeology PhD courses on Megalithism, which was traditionally a core area in Portuguese Archaeology This absence is due to the fact that necropolis analysis are mostly being developed under the scope of Physical anthropological in Natural Sciences schools.

During this time period, there was a notable enlargement of the chronological scope of PhD themes, with dissertations ranging from the Paleolithic to contemporary archaeology. The development of new methodological tools was also a frequent PhD topic, combining archaeological data with approaches from the natural sciences. Other significant aspects, such as territorial policies, the history of archaeology, and the archaeology of social roles, were analyzed in single works.

As far as the themes of Archaeology PhDs are concerned, Brazilian students represent a specific case study. In Portugal, Brazilian students wrote their PhD theses on Brazilian issues. Only one exception is documented, with one PhD being written on Archaeology during the Salazar dictatorship. Brazilian rock art is a very important subject, as are both social and inclusive archaeology. Brazilian archaeology is deeply committed to the principles of public archaeology, so PhD students are more aware of such issues than their Portuguese colleagues (five Brazilian PhDs on that subject as opposed to two Portuguese theses). This engaged attitude towards science reflects the long-lasting and solid tradition among Latin American archaeologists of political activism underlying social archaeology and their commitment to a Marxist agenda and to local (non-white) communities (for a classic interpretation, see Lumbreras 1974; for a more recent overview, see Tantaléan and Aguilar (eds.) 2012).

In sum, a historical perspective lies behind the studies of past societies, and, according to processual archaeology, the traditional space-time dimension of cultural-historical archaeology was understood as a dynamic environment that drove the changes taking place in social systems.


The various schools provide different pictures for the PhDs completed in Archaeology between 2010 and 2018. These range from the eighteen PhD dissertations written under the scope of UTAD’s Quaternary, Materials and Cultures PhD program (which was discontinued after February 2016) to the single dissertations written at U. Autónoma and U. Portucalense.

The schools have their own research traditions and thematic preferences, which depend on the particular research areas of the resident professors and researchers. The chronologies, geographies, and topics chosen did indeed relate to each school, and there is a close relationship between the number and diversity of research areas developed in different Universities and the scope of the PhD dissertations defended.

It might be possible to suggest the existence of a certain specialization at the different schools, but rather than this being a conscious epistemological choice-even if this contradicts certain evidence (Cimini et al. 2014)-it seems to reflect a natural coincidence between the research themes of students and supervisors.

Some cases are elucidative: at U. Coimbra, which as an archaeology school is closely linked to the ruins at Conímbriga, no PhD was presented on prehistoric archaeology,[4] with classical archaeology being the main topic, just as Paleolithic archaeology was the main topic at the U. Algarve and medieval and modern archaeology were the main topics at U. Nova.

U. Porto and U. Lisboa presented a broader picture, with PhD dissertations ranging from Prehistory to the Bronze/Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods, due to the wider interests of the academic staff, which allowed for a broad spectrum of themes for the dissertations.

Until now, the PhD supervisors have mainly been university professors with an academic career. Nowadays, PhDs are the joint responsibility of university departments and university research centers, so that the involvement of researchers in PhD supervision will greatly increase in future years, thus widening the scope of research areas offered at each school.

Competitive funding obtained through the different centers will play a very significant role in future PhD programs. The grants that are made available through national or European projects financed by the budgets of university centers mean that the students are viewed as the raw material from which the PhDs are made.

But, in Archaeology, just as in all small academic communities, a personhood effect continues to exist as a real factor underlying PhD courses, grants, and dissertations. The close relationship sometimes established after graduation between students and supervisors, the prestige of particular professors and researchers, and the attractiveness of specific archaeological sites and geographical areas (even if this is hard to quantify) should not be overlooked when reflecting upon a theme such as the PhDs obtained in this subject area.

Career Opportunities for PhD Holders

In an almost complete reversal of the traditional employment scenario, PhD students in Archaeology do not automatically become part of the university staff. In fact, the integration of PhD holders into the labor market has proved to be much more difficult than expected. Employers-both public and private-apparently do not offer jobs to such high-profile and qualified people. Indeed, the social crisis in terms of PhD unemployment has spread to the heirs of a European higher education policy, with governments seeking for global solutions. In Portugal, the 57th article, as it was known, or the Norma transitória (transitional provision), was introduced as an attempt to solve the situation of some of these PhD holders through the offer of a provisory academic employment.

Although there is no official data available in regard to this matter, almost all PhD in Archaeology are either employed or in receipt of post-doctoral research fellowships in the heritage departments of central or local government, working in private companies or heritage associations, and, more recently, as contracted researchers working for research centers. Portuguese PhD holders in Archaeology appear to have jobs, even if most of these are precarious. Brazilian students apparently tend to return to Brazil.

PhD dissertations have continued to preserve, or even increase, their importance as a rite of passage. The autonomy that has been granted for the presentation of research projects to Portuguese or European funding bodies requires that applicants must have a PhD, so only after obtaining this degree researchers gain their scientific autonomy.

In Portugal, PhD dissertations are not considered to be the (right) moment for introducing or discussing controversial or disruptive research themes. On the contrary, in PhD dissertations, students prefer to demonstrate their solid competence to become part of the scientific community, working as peers with their colleagues.

In short, during the 2010-2018 period, the Archaeology PhDs completed in Portugal tended to reveal a historical-and somewhat conservative-perspective in relation to the study of the human past, reflecting a highly transdisciplinary way of practicing science on the part of a mostly young and gender-balanced community. The potential for increasing the numbers of PhD students may depend on the discipline’s capacity to attract more foreign students-mainly Brazilian ones-and its effective internationalization will require the use of English as the language for the dissertation. As Europe predicted long ago, PhD studies depend on the award of grants and fellowships, with students being sponsored by either European or national institutions, which means that the offer of a few public jobs is hardly enough to satisfy this extremely well-prepared generation.

However, the future of Europe itself and the solution to the dramatic social and environmental problems that we are facing require the development of a truly knowledge-based society, so this generation of PhD holders, with their unprecedented tools and resources for problem-solving, must be made an important part of this solution and about that there can be no doubt.



Bugalhão, Jacinta (2016). Arqueologia, Universidades e Ensino em números e em gráficos. Dossier presented under the scope of the session “Arqueologia - Universidades e Ensino, em números e em gráficos” (Ciclo de Encontros “Discutir Arqueologia”), organized by the Secção de Pré-História da Associação dos Arqueólogos Portugueses, on April 9, 2016, in Lisbon.         [ Links ]

Carvalho, Daniel; Diniz, Mariana (2017). “A emergência da arqueologia processual em Portugal: a Teoria e o Método (1968-2000). Uma introdução.” In J. M. Arnaud and A. Martins (eds.), Arqueologia em Portugal / 2017 - Estado da Questão, pp. 51-62.        [ Links ]

Chatti Iorio, Juliana (2018). Trajetórias de Mobilidade Estudantil Internacional: estudantes brasileiros no ensino superior em Portugal (PhD thesis) IGOT-UL         [ Links ]

Cimini, Guili; Gabrielli, Andrea, and Francesco Sylos Labini (2014), The Scientific Competitiveness of Nations. PLoS ONE 9 (12): e113470.         [ Links ]

Lumbreras, Luis (1974). Arqueologia como Ciencia Social. Lima: Ed. Histar         [ Links ]

Tantaléan, Henry and Miguel Aguilar (eds.) (2012). Arqueología Social Latinoamericana. De la teoría a la praxis. Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes.         [ Links ]


Received for publication: 8 October 2019. Recebido para publicação: 08 de Outubro de 2019

Accepted in revised form: 20 October 2019. Aceite após revisão: 20 de Outubro de 2019



[1] With an accompanying annex on pages 97-155 prepared by the editors of e-JPH with the assistance of Elsa Lorga Vila (Graduate of University of Evora; Master’s Degree in History-Nova University of Lisbon).

[4] As previously noted, during this period, a PhD dissertation on prehistoric funerary contexts was defended at U. Coimbra, but not as part of the PhD course in Archaeology.



Ancient History

PhD Theses in Portuguese Universities (2010-2018)

Prepared by the editors of e-JPH with the assistance of Elsa Lorga Vila (Graduate of University of Evora; Master’s Degree in History-Nova University of Lisbon)

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