In July 2021 the University Council ratified recommendations for the department, which was founded in 1976 and is in the world's top 50, to close with all undergraduate courses phased out due to a 'crisis' in student recruitment. The original plan was for a small number of staff to transfer to other departments and focus on specialist postgraduate programmes aimed at overseas applicants.
A rise in tuition fees, reduction in government subsidies for arts subjects and increased emphasis on graduate employability have all been cited as factors in the discipline's decline.Sheffield archaeologists have been involved in numerous excavations across Yorkshire, including the digs at the Sheffield Castle site in 2001 and 2017, and also run short courses for the general public. They work with organisations including the Peak District National Park and run community events.
However there has now been a climbdown by the university authorities since a petition to save the department attracted 48,000 signatures from the public.
Now, all 11 members of staff on permanent contracts will all be retained and there will be no redundancies.
The department will remain open for at least another two years and members are hoping to save it entirely.
Professor Umberto Albarella from the department said: "May 25 marks one year since the University of Sheffield Executive Board officially announced its intention to close the department of archaeology, to the disgust of local, national, and international communities. Following massive pressure from a vibrant campaign of protest, about 1,500 letters of complaint, and more than 48,000 signatures asking for a reversal of the decision, the university management has now somewhat downscaled its initial decision.
"The department will remain open for another two years and the academic staff on permanent contracts will be moved to other departments rather than made redundant. Although the intention to close is still in place, the university staff and student unions and the Save Sheffield Archaeology campaign are still fighting against the decision.
"If the department, one of the most renowned in the world, will close, the city of Sheffield and the overall region will be poorer for it, and local communities will have lost an important asset as well as a place of learning and development. The two Sheffield universities represent fundamental assets for the city and region and we cannot afford to see them depleted and diminished - we deserve better."
The University of Sheffield said: "The University of Sheffield tasked a group of staff to look at options around how teaching and research in archaeology will be delivered in future years.
"This group has now made its recommendations and it has been agreed that there will be no changes to the Department of Archaeology until September 2024.
"After that time, current academic staff will move either into the Department of History or the School of Biosciences.
"Archaeological research and postgraduate studies will continue, but we are not currently recruiting undergraduate students to study archaeology at Sheffield.
"The department’s collections of national and international importance will remain carefully looked after at the University of Sheffield and will be available for future archaeological studies.”