Archaeology is the study of past human cultures through the investigation of manmade artifacts. Studies in archaeology are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Continue reading to learn about what the academic programs cover and about the career opportunities you can pursue.
Is Archaeology for Me?
If you're fond of history, like to travel and are intrigued by other cultures, then you might want to consider becoming an archaeologist. Archaeology is a branch of anthropology that studies human history, focusing on past cultures and ways of life by examining manmade artifacts, such as tools, cave paintings, pottery and building ruins. Most archaeologists work in research, visit archaeological sites or examine artifacts. They combine these methods to piece together clues about bygone civilizations, sharing what they learn by writing reports and preserving the artifacts in museums or research facilities.
An undergraduate degree in archaeology may allow you to work in entry-level archaeology research positions, while a graduate degree in archaeology may qualify you to work at archaeological sites and in academic positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2012 and 2022, the demand for archaeologists and anthropologists will increase by 19%, and the demand for university professors will also increase by 19% (www.bls.gov). As of May 2013, the median annual salary for archaeologists was $58,360 and for postsecondary archeology teachers it was $75,930.
How Can I Work in Archaeology?
A bachelor's degree is the necessary first step for a career in archaeology. Bachelor's degree programs in archaeology are rare and a straight archaeology degree program may require that students complete a specialization, such as Mediterranean archaeology, complex societies, urbanism and New World archaeology. Other programs combine studies in fields that include geoarchaeology, anthropology, history, biology and cultural studies. Coursework covers the practical, theoretical and methodological aspects of archaeology. Topics may include studies in museum collections, the life of the archaeologist, politics, classical languages, biological anthropology, Chinese studies, Mayan civilizations, cultural heritage and ancient war.
Most schools require that you have an undergraduate degree in archaeology or the related field of anthropology for acceptance into a graduate level program. This demonstrates that you have a background in the field, including experience engaging in relevant fieldwork. According to the BLS, having only a bachelor's degree in archaeology leads to limited career opportunities, but graduates may teach history in elementary through secondary schools if they earn a teaching license. They can also work as research assistants or become writers.
At the master's degree level, you may select from degree programs in anthropology that have an archaeology track, historical archaeology or general archaeology, with opportunities for specialization in prehistoric archaeology and bioarchaeology. Similarly, for a doctorate in archaeology, you may select from concentrations that focus on a specific era and location of choice. Classes cover common archaeological theories, strategies for recovering artifacts and methods for analyzing artifacts. Additional requirements include research projects, such as a thesis at the master's degree level and a dissertation at the doctoral degree level.
If you have a master's degree or a doctorate, you can find opportunities as archaeologist, working at digs and excavation sites. You could work in museums, setting up displays that depict the life of early peoples, complete with their weaponry and utensils. You could also write reports about artifacts or work behind-the-scenes, writing grants to preserve important sites, according to the Archaeological Institute of America (www.archaeological.org).
Most positions require a graduate degree, according to the BLS. Internships and additional field experience can also lead to additional opportunities. Master's degree holders may be able to teach archaeology, history or anthropology courses at community colleges. However, a doctorate is required to teach at most 4-year colleges or universities. In addition to teaching, professors can conduct research, work at excavations during semester breaks or head field experiences for students.