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Career Advice

How to become an archaeologist

Not to be confused with a paleontologist, who excavates and studies dinosaurs (career guide to follow) an archaeologist is an anthropologist concerned with the study of prehistoric people and their cultures… well thats the bare bones of it at least.  In truth its a very varied and complex role which encompasses a wide range of area s- luckily we have done some of the digging to help get you underway.

Some of the areas that you could be working within as an archaeologist include;  

  • Research-  Particularly before a site survey begins.  This is designed to build a comprehensive understanding of theHow to become an archeologist site’s history including; possible structures which existed, what its purpose was and who inhabited it

  • Survey-  This is, in a sense, a continuation of the research aspects of the role in which artefacts will be collected from the surface/subsurface of the site in order to ascertain whether or not further, deeper excavation is worthwhile

  • Excavation-  This consists of a complete excavation of areas which have been selected for study.  Archaeologists will use a range of tools to carefully remove soil from around cultural artifacts which are then taken for further study and analysis

  • Processing of artifacts-  Those items of anthropological interest which have been found are removed to a laboratory where they are cleaned, catalogued and studied

  • Analysis-The archaeologist will examine the artefacts which have been uncovered in order to gauge their historical significance.

  • Preservation- The preservation of artefacts through storage within protected environments e.g. museums

Job Activities

Job activities within each of these areas are also very varied and can incorporate many different technologies, equipment and archaeological techniques.  Here’s an idea of the kinds of things that you could be expected to carry out;

  • Locating sites for study using techniques such as aerial photography, field-walking and surveying

  • Using drawings, photography and note taking to document and record your findings at sites under study

  • Working in a laboratory to clean and preserve artefacts which have been found in an attempt to better understand its place within the archaeological study.

  • Using a number of computer softwares in order to create images to represent what a site originally looked like

  • Carrying out laboratory analysis of finds using a number of scientific techniques.  For example an archaeologist will use carbon dating in order to establish the age of an item.

  • Fulfilling a consultative role in urban and rural planning applications to assess the impact which development may have upon surviving sites of anthropological interest.

Skills and Attributes

Given the large range of duties which are carried out by archaeologists it will come as no surprise that the skills and skillattributes required are equally wide ranging and varied.  It also goes without saying that archaeology is a highly specialised field and requires the outstanding  levels of skill and dedication.   This is by no means a definitive list of things to consider, but its certainly a good place to start!

  • A genuine and demonstrable interest in and curiosity about the past, particularly human history.

  • The ability to be inquisitive about the subject under investigation and the capacity to piece together facts based upon incomplete evidence

  • Patience- Archaeological studies often move forward at little more than a glacial pace so being patient is of the utmost importance to ensure that you enjoy the role

  • A methodical and logical approach which allows you to mentally piece together an overall picture based on fragments of evidence.

  • Outstanding abilities of organisation and planning to ensure that all projects run as smoothly as possible

  • The ability to work swiftly and accurately in conditions which may be rather inhospitable, For example if you are working as an archaeologist in the UK you had better be prepared for working outdoors on dank and drizzly days.

  • Good skills of research, evaluation and analysis

  • Good IT literacy and the ability to continually adapt to new softwares when required

  • Teamwork and leadership- This is one of the most important skills which an archaeologist can have as the vast majority of the work which you will be carrying out will be completed as part of a team.  There will also be times during your career when you may be required to undertake a management/leadership role to oversee and deliver projects.


As has been the case with many of the roles we have covered in our career directory, there is no official minimum level of education which is required to identify yourself as an archaeologist (in theory you go out to the garden with a shovel and call yourself an archaeologist right now ) however the vast majority of archaeologists today hold a number of specialised academic qualifications.  For most an archaeological degree (or a degree in a related field) is an excellent place to start due to the abundance of courses which are available across the UK.

Bachelors degrees in archaeology are available from a huge range of UK universities so there are plenty of options for you to choose from.  The level of subjects and grades which universities require will vary greatly so you should check with individual institutions to confirm.  You may however wish to study a more specialised area of archaeology and in this case there are several other degree specialisations which would also help you to get your career as an archaeologist underway.  These subjects include;  environmental archaeology, conservation,  human evolution, archaeological science and forensic investigation.

Archaeology is such a highly competitive field that many people will pursue further qualifications such as masters degrees and PHDs in order to give themselves a competitive edge- however these are normally only undertaken once significant professional experience has been gained.

For those who do not have the necessary qualifications to gain immediate entry onto a university course, be aware that there are also HND foundation degrees in archaeology and some other related subjects.  You should check with your local college to find out how to access these courses

For loads of details and advice on archaeological education and traininng why not visit Britsh Archaeological Jobs and Resources (http://www.bajr.org/)

Job Progression and Salary

The trajectory in which your career will travel will be highly dependent on the type of employer which you decide to work for.  Archaeologists carry out work for a number of institutions including museums, universities, local authorities and private firms.  The salary which you receive is also dependent upon the level at which you are working and the business where you are employed.  A rough guide to the type of salary you can expect as an archaeologist would be935588_paper_money_people

  • Basic starting salary- Around £15,000 – £18,000

  • Experienced archaeologist- £25,000 – £30,000

  • Senior level archaeologist- £35,000 +

If you still reckon a career as an archaeologist is the one for you then best of luck! However,  if you are still trying decide what path to check then why not have a look at some of the other great guides in our career directory.


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