Archaeology is a branch of the Social Sciences that studies past human civilizations through the recovery of ancient artifacts, architecture, preserved biological data, and cultural landscapes. Some scholars consider Archaeology as one of the subcategories of Anthropology, whereas others consider it to be a discipline of its own. It also shares many characteristics with Paleontology; however, they differ from each other in that Archaeology focuses mostly on human societies and activities in the past, while the other studies fossilized minerals and other remains of animals and plants.
Many people imagine the work of Archaeologists similar to what they see in the movies; digging in ancient burial grounds and hidden temples, or running away from giant boulders. In reality, the work of Archaeologists includes studying ancient civilizations by means of surveying, excavation, sample collecting, and analysis of data, but the grand majority of their work is done indoors doing research, looking for historical data found in text books, and analyzing recovered artifacts in museums and laboratories.
The work of an Archaeologist requires extensive knowledge and research in other fields of study and disciplines, such as Human History, Art History, Ethnology, Geography, Geology, and Linguistics, just to name a few. Furthermore, like most academic disciplines, Archaeology has several ramifications, branches, and specialities that Archaeologists can take on. Some Archaeologists focus on the use of specific materials by ancient civilizations (e.g. lithic analyses, music, and archaeobotany), others focus on particular geographic locations or chronological periods (e.g. prehistoric archaeology, medieval archaeology, or middle-eastern archaeology), and the rest focus on specific civilizations (e.g. Egyptologists, Indologists, or Sinologists).
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Archaelogists are required to complete.
- Researching and surveying historical sites of ancient societies and cultures:
- Collecting historical artifacts following procedures and using special tools to handle and preserve them (e.g. plastic bags, brushes, and special containers);
- marking artifacts to identify the exact place where they were found;
- studying objects and structures found and recovered in excavation and surveying sites to identify, date, and authenticate them;
- describing artifacts’ physical characteristics, properties, and attributes (e.g. materials from which they’re made, size, shape, and possible function);
- recording the exact condition and location in which the artifacts were found in using drawings and photographs;
- comparing findings from one site with others in other to find possible connections, similarities, and differences;
- cleaning, restoring, and preserving artifacts; and
- creating maps and topographic recordings of sites and historical locations.
- Examining and analyzing recovered artifacts and data from surveys and excavations:
- Establishing theories concerning the origin and development of ancient cultures;
- creating artifact typologies and organizational systems to better study, analyze, and understand past cultures; and
- interpreting and documenting the lifestyles of ancient cultures, their activities, characteristics, and customs.
- Conducting historical and site research for possible future expeditions:
- Consulting site reports, existing artifacts, and topographic maps to identify and locate possible archaeological sites;
- collecting archived data from textbooks, ancient texts, and popular culture; and
- studying and analyzing recovered artifacts to look for clues on other possible archaeological sites.
- Liaising with colleagues and other researchers:
- Consulting with Historians, Geologists, Anthropologists, and Paleontologists to complement and contribute to historical and scientific research; and
- writing, documenting, and presenting data findings in the forms of published papers, conferences, and symposiums to archaeological peers, the scientific community, and the general public.
- Teaching Archaeology theories and practices to college and university students:
- Instructing students in Social Sciences and Human Studies;
- leading field training sites and excavations with students, staff, and volunteers;
- training team in excavation, sample collection, and preservation techniques; and
- directing actual excavations and other scientific activities with students.
- Assisting and counselling governments on conservation issues regarding archaeological sites by recommending methods of preservation, resource management, and environmental impact reduction:
- Inspecting conditions of archaeological sites; and
- advising the general public on site management and conservation.
- Conducting academic and data research.
- Studying maps and topographical charts to locate possible archaeological sites.
- Organizing and leading excavations.
- Collecting artifacts and data from archaeological sites.
- Labelling artifacts based on types, materials, and on the location where they were found.
- Sorting and storing artifacts for further studying.
- Analyzing and studying artifacts in laboratories.
- Developing theories and information on the lifestyles of ancient civilizations.
- Liaising with Historians, Geologists, and Paleontologists.
The average salary for Archaeologist related jobs is $48,022 per year or $25 per hour. This is around 1.5 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $34,000 while most experienced workers make up to $67,000. These results are based on 4 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Outstanding understanding of archaeological studies and methodologies:
- Being able to conduct research on sociological data;
- knowing how to collect and sort data and findings from surveys, questionnaires, and research; and
- analyzing and documenting data.
- Excellent research and project development skills:
- Designing excavation and surveying plans and schedules;
- using theoretical and academic knowledge during excavations; and
- documenting all activities and findings during the excavations.
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly, both verbally and in writing, in order to create a clear and communicative environment with coworkers in the laboratory and the field;
- being able to read and write technical reports and give presentations; and
- liaising with Historians, Anthropologists, Geologists, and Paleontologists to complement each other’s research.
- Strong computer and numerical skills:
- Handling specialized software to collect, sort, and analyze data and artifacts.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills:
- Identifying issues and resolving problems in a timely manner using critical thinking and good judgment;
- being precise and accurate in their analyses, since errors could invalidate their research; and
- determining if results and conclusions are based on sound evidence.
Archaeologists are mostly employed by museums, universities, and other academic institutions devoted to the study and understanding of human history and culture in ancient times. The field of Archaeology is mostly academic and involves a great amount of research and study. The educational requirements to work as an Archaeologist is having at least a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology. Experience can be obtained by contributing and participating in excavations and site surveying, or by presenting investigations and research results. Undergraduate students may participate in field activities and excavations as volunteers, which can usually serve as extra credit during their studies.
Archaeologists looking to lead and direct their own expedition teams need further accreditation which is usually obtained by undergoing postgraduate studies such as a master’s or a doctoral degree in the specific branch of Archaeology they desire.
Archeology is one of the lines of work where academic achievement and research can be equivalent to years of experience in the work field. The further the studies undertaken by an applicant, the more qualified and experienced they will be for the job. Practical experience can be obtained by volunteering to take part in expeditions lead by more experienced Archaeologists.