The study of archaeology provides students with a unique opportunity to analyze ancient cultures from an interdisciplinary perspective. The interpretation of archaeological data requires a solid understanding of the variety of methods used for the study of material culture as well as a familiarity with those disciplines essential for understanding the development of human culture. Thus, the archaeology program provides students with a broad overview of the current state of archaeological research around the world, while at the same time encouraging students to specialize in specific methodologies, geographical regions and/or periods (for example, Archaeology of the Americas or of the Eastern Mediterranean, or Environmental Archaeology). The program seeks to emphasize the practical and intellectual value of archaeology as a means for better understanding our ancient past, as well as shedding light on our present circumstances and our prospects for the future by tracing the development of human culture and the interactions between various civilizations and the natural environment. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, archaeology is a quintessential Liberal Arts major that requires students to integrate their understanding of the natural and social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.
The archaeology major is designed both to teach students standard excavation and recording techniques, and to encourage the study of anthropology, art history, classical studies, earth sciences, history, religious studies, statistics, and a variety of other related fields. Students are also strongly advised to study one or more ancient or modern languages related to their geographical area of interest. For example, students of Syro-Palestinean or classical archaeology are well advised to study Hebrew, Greek, and/or Latin, in addition to French and/or German, that is, the languages in which much of the essential secondary literature is written. Finally, Archaeology majors are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for travel and foreign study offered by Willamette programs around the world, but especially in places that offer coursework and/or fieldwork in local archaeology.
Willamette University's Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (CASA), established in 2007, provides archaeology students with significant resources including grants to fund field experiences or museum internships at Willamette’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art. In concert with CASA, the Salem Society of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), also located at Willamette University, offers a dynamic annual lecture series that enables students to interact with internationally renowned archaeologists on a formal and informal basis. The Willamette University Archaeology Field School at the Ness of Brodgar in the Orkney Islands of Scotland provides an amazing opportunity for intensive, on-site training in archaeological methods and techniques.