How to Become an Archaeologist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for archaeologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Social Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Archaeologist Do?

Archaeologists study the history of human cultures by examining artifacts and evidence from the past. Using the resulting information, they can create a picture of the social, political and economic facets of long-ago civilizations. They design research projects to test their hypotheses, and write reports of their findings. They often manage archeological sites, working in spaces like national parks and historical landmarks. They have the expertise to educate and advise others on the cultural impact of various policies and products. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Master's, Ph.D.
Education Field of Study Archeology
Training Required Field experience preferred
Key Skills Field work, artifact dating/analysis, scientific writing, curation of artifacts
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% (archaeologists and anthropologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $61,220 (archaeologists and anthropologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is an Archaeologist?

An archaeologist is a scientist who locates ancient human settlements, studies the artifacts left behind, and draws conclusions about the former inhabitants' daily lives, culture, economy, and social and political organization. Their work follows a sequence and starts with identifying potential new dig sites; organizing excavation work; recording facts about surface features, finding the exact location of unearthed artifacts; identifying and dating artifacts; comparing discoveries at a new site with those from existing sites; analyzing data to develop new hypotheses or contribute to existing theories; and writing papers documenting their research findings. Archaeologists may also assess and offer preservation advice at sites undergoing development or resource extraction.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree qualifies you for entry-level research assistant positions. Bachelor's degree programs provide an introduction to what is currently known about prehistoric human society around the world and teaches you field research methods. Course topics may examine hunter-gatherer societies, urbanism, and the emergence of civilization in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. Many programs aim for a multidisciplinary synthesis of anthropology, geography and history.

Step 2: Participate in an Internship

Through an internship, you can gain experience in the field and develop relationships that will help your career long term. Some bachelor's degree programs include an internship in their curriculum. You could also arrange to join whatever projects a local museum, historical society or your archaeology professors are planning or have underway.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

You will have access to better research or curatorial positions with a master's degree. Some programs are designed to prepare you for doctoral-level studies, while others help you pursue careers that don't require a PhD. Master's degree programs develop your technical skills in field research and deepen your theoretical knowledge in a specialized area of your choosing. Historical archaeology, osteology, Eastern studies, meso-American studies and geoarchaeology are possible specializations. Most programs require you to write a thesis on an original topic.

Step 4: Find a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), your prospective employers include scientific research firms, cultural resource management firms, museums and federal agencies (www.bls.gov). Anthropologists and archaeologists held approximately 7,700 jobs as of 2014, with employment projected to rise 4% from 2014-2024. This growth will be driven primarily by the need to assure that large infrastructure projects comply with federal regulations on the preservation of artifacts and sites that are considered historically significant. The BLS also reports that in May 2015, archaeologists and anthropologists made a median annual salary of $61,220.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Consider earning a doctorate. Holding a PhD in Archaeology qualifies you to lead the highest level of field research projects or become a professor at a college or university. Although PhD programs emphasize original research, the first two years are typically devoted to classroom study and the remaining three to researching, writing and defending a dissertation. Required courses might include statistics, quantitative analysis and anthropology.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar careers that also require a master's degree include historian and economist. Historians review sources and items from the past for the purposes of research. They also evaluate historical findings to ensure that they are legitimate. Economists gather and interpret data on goods and services to report on economic trends and issues. They also offer guidance to organizations and individuals when it comes to economics.

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