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How to Become an Archeologist

Archeology is a fascinating field and those who go into it find it very rewarding. For those who are interested in going into this field, here is the information about becoming an archeologist.

What kind of education is required to become an archeologist?

Training requirements and education are different when it comes to different types of archeology.  The United States anthropology departments include it as one of the four subdisciplines. Throughout the late 19 and early 20 centuries, the programs for anthropology in the United States had been established for studying societies, ruins, and languages of American Indians.  Because of this, there aren’t a lot of separate departments for archeology.  That’s why it’s combined with other common study fields.  Those who want to study classical or ancient civilizations (such as Near East, Mediterranean early civilizations, classical Rome and Greece, and southeast Asia, India, and China early civilizations) are a lot more likely to pursue studies that include architecture, theology, classics, modern and ancient languages, as well as theology. Those who want to study historical periods (like from Rome’s fall to now) combine that history with the courses in vernacular and historical architecture, folklore and material culture, and archeology.

For the level of undergraduate, there’s not a lot of specialisation.  Majoring in anthropology will require taking courses in all of its subdisciplines. For the students who are interested in classical and ancient civilizations, their undergraduate major isn’t important. However, it’s advantageous to start learning a few ancient as well as modern languages, such as Latin, German, French, and Greek. 

Those who want to be a historical archeologist will often major in history or anthropology.  A BA. or BSc. is only required for working in the field as an archeologist in the United States and to do some basic lab studies.   Prior experience through archeological field volunteering or schooling is often required. There are summer field schools in archeology and they provide some of the best ways to learn the proper techniques for excavating and recording the sites and determining if it’s something the person wants to pursue.  There aren’t a lot of job opportunities outside of the United States, but there are always opportunities for volunteers who have field experience.

There are two graduate training levels for archeology. The first level is MSc. or MA., and this takes approximately 1-2 years after earning the B. or BSc.  This also requires the student to write a thesis about their research. Some of the programs offer an MA degree that doesn’t require a thesis.  Unless the person intends to work on their PhD immediately, preparing a thesis is very important. Having an MSc or MA is going to be enough to allow the person to direct the field crews and it’s also enough for a lot of positions in the government in archeology. It’s also sufficient for teaching in community colleges, working in the private sector, and working for some of the museums. Most of the foreign governments will only permit archeologists who have PhDs to conduct excavations.  This means that the only people who can direct the field projects out of the United States are those who have doctoral degrees.

The next graduate degree for archeology is a PhD., and this is required for teaching in a university or college or to be a curator.  This requires an additional 2-3 years after getting an MA and successfully preparing and orally defending a dissertation which contains original research for the person’s chosen specialisation in archeology. Some of the graduate programs provide streamlined tracks for their students who have a BA so they’re able to work towards their PhD directly, while some others require students to get their MA first.

Where does an archeologist work?

There are a lot of different settings in which archeologists work.  Archeologists become employed by state and federal government agencies, historic sites and museums, universities and colleges, and any engineering firms that have divisions of cultural resource management. Some of the archeologists also work in consulting or create their own personal companies.

Most archeologists these days are employed in CRM, known as cultural resource management. These companies are the ones responsible for the archeology that’s done to comply with the laws governing federal historic preservation which protect the archeological sites.  Those archeologists that are employed by CRM firms might be hired as laboratory or temporary field assistants. They may also be hired as administrators or project managers.  Archeologists that are hired by CRMs direct lab work and field work, manage the staff, and are the people responsible for creating reports and other kinds of publications in order to share the results of excavations and surveys they have done. They often do outreach efforts and public education so that they are able to share their work with others through sites, brochures, exhibits, and tours.

What’s the job of archeologists?

Archeologists do a lot more than just digging. Archeologists that are in state, tribal, and federal government agencies manage, protect, and interpret the sites on the public land. When they work in archeological parks, historic sites, or museums, they often manage artifact collections, work in public programming or education, or are hired as administrators that manage the programs that relate to research, education, exhibitions, and collections.  

Archeologists can also be employed by universities and colleges to teach undergraduate as well as graduate students. Along with teaching, the academic archeologists perform active research in the field. They apply to grants so they can raise money for funding their fieldwork. Along with directing excavations, they will oversee the interpretation and analysis of their products and then publish the results in books, academic journals, and other popular publications so that their research is available to everyone.


There are a lot of factors when it comes to how much an archeologist makes.  Some of these factors include

  • Education level
  • Experience level
  • Employment location

Here are some possible salaries:

  • Field assistant with anthropology BA, employed as temporary employee in the field earns $10 - $12 per hour.
  • Museum curator or professor at a sizable research institution with PhD can earn $80K - $100K each year.
  • Median salary for archeologists with advanced degrees and a few years’ experience managing staff and projects earns about $45K a year.

The best way to find out what a job will pay is to look at real advertisements for archeologists. But the examples above will give you an idea.

Are there a lot of archeology jobs?

The jobs for archeologists in universities and colleges are few and far between. When a position becomes available, there is a lot of competition. Positions in museums are also rare and hard to get. Most of the archeology jobs available are for managing cultural resources.

How many hours per day or week does an archeologist work?

The hours that an archeologist is required to work will vary. For archeologists who work in public museums or the federal or state government offices, generally work 40 hours per week. But many archeologists work overtime. The university and college professors need to publish books and articles about the work they’ve done and a lot of the associated work often has to be done off the clock. So they are working a lot more than what’s done as a professor or administrator.

When there’s an archeologist out in the field, the schedule greatly varies. Generally the field projects start out early in the day.  In the hotter climates, they often start working when the sun comes up and finish at lunch so that they avoid working during the extreme heat. Sometimes field crews work a longer schedule. They may work 10 days in a row and then they have four days off. When working in the field camp, some of the people (who are supervisors) often will have to review the field notes and plan the activities for the next day even after their day ends.

In addition, field crew members often do lab work during the evening hours so that they keep up with processing and entering of the artifacts.  The number of hours an archeologist will work depends on their job and their responsibility level.

Does an archaeologist do a lot of traveling?

This depends. Archeologists who do research in far places may do a lot of traveling, if they have funds, to do excavations and surveys.  A lot of archeologists don’t require a lot of travel. This is the case for archeologists who work in the government agencies, historic sites, museums, and parks. These are jobs that manage public education, programs, or collections. 

Often archeologists will travel to certain areas. There may be an archeologist who is managing the projects for a big engineering firm who is traveling within a radius of a few hundred miles as is needed by his company.  This is based on the active projects at the time. This same archeologist may also spend a lot of their time in the office and lab, writing reports and doing analysis. All of the professional archeologists spend a lot more time involved in these kinds of tasks as compared to their field work.

It’s easy to see that there is a lot involved with becoming an archeologist. But this is a job that one must really love doing and be able to sacrifice a big part of his personal life.

Image Source: Geograph


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