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Career guide: Archaeologist

Wednesday, October 25, 2017
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Career guide: Archaeologist
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Far-off places, artifacts with fascinating stories and tangible connections to the past: Archaeology is an exciting career path that can be immensely fulfilling for individuals who are passionate about the field. 

Read on to learn more about becoming an archaeologist:

What do archaeologists do? 
The Society for American Archaeology defines archaeology as "The study of past human cultures through the analysis of the material evidence they left behind." For archaeologists, this means not only digging and excavating historic sites, but analyzing and processing artifacts, writing publications and reports, conducting research and managing collections of historically significant objects. 

history Archaeologists help us understand the societies that came before us.

Archaeologists can be employed by a wide variety of organizations. They may work for universities and colleges, museums, historical societies and sites, and government agencies, at both the federal and local level. In the field today, it is becoming increasingly popular for archaeologists to work for cultural resource management (CRM) companies. As the SAA explains, CRM firms coordinate with government offices, construction companies and other organizations to evaluate and minimize the potential impact of real estate development and related projects on historically significant sites. CRM companies hire archaeologists to survey these areas and protect their cultural integrity. 

While a popular idea exists that archaeologists spend the bulk of their time doing fieldwork, many working professionals stress that this is generally only a small part of an archaeologist's duties. After working on the excavation of a site, archaeologists spend a significant amount of time analyzing their findings, writing reports, applying for grants and performing related administrative tasks. Nonetheless, the diverse array of professional projects and tasks archaeologists undertake can create an immensely satisfying career for individuals with a passion for history. 

How do you become an archaeologist?
Working as an archaeologist requires a mix of academic study and in-the-field experience. Entry-level jobs in archaeology will typically be those with CRM firms or as general field employees, and for these types of positions a bachelor's degree in archaeology or a related field such as history or anthropology, is required at minimum. Professional archeologists also generally undertake a training program where they travel to a historic site and learn the technical skills required for digging, excavating and analyzing artifacts. There are many opportunities for interested individuals to gain on-the-job skills in archaeology, including internships with local historical societies and museums or volunteer program with national or regional archaeological organizations and associations. 

However, for managerial and leadership roles such as fieldwork supervisor or museum curator, a master's degree in archaeology or a closely related field is required. Archaeologists will also be expected to have demonstrated a specialty or the beginnings of a specialty in a certain area of the field or historical era. Archaeologists can work as consultants or in teaching positions. Competition for upper-level roles in archaeology is intense, and many individuals are urged to receive their Ph.D. for further qualification in the field. 

What skills are important for archaeologists to have?
Archaeologists should be critical thinkers who are able to examine both the small details of an artifact or site and its significance within a larger historical context. They should be highly effective communicators, both in interpersonal interactions and through the written word. 

They should also be dedicated to their discipline, and able to work through long, hard hours of fieldwork in trying conditions. 

As Joe Flatman, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, wrote in his popular book, "Becoming an Archaeologist: A Guide to Professional Pathways:

"Archaeologists must be agile, able to seize on opportunities to learn unique skills."

"Archaeologists who do well in their careers have multiple skills and fields of expertise. As Charles Darwin was alleged to have once stated: 'It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.'"

The archaeologists that can learn up-to-date technological skills, respond to needs in the industry and respond to contemporary attitudes about history in their work are the ones that will be the most primed for success. 

Career outlook for archaeologists
Archaeologists are expected to have a 3 percent growth in jobs between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The field has undergone exciting development in recent years, due to both advancing technology and a greater popular focus on the importance of environmental conservation and the protection of culturally significant sites. 

"Archaeology is what you make it, and the archaeology of the future will not be what my generation made it," wrote Brian Fagan, an Emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in an article for industry publication Archaeology. "Your archaeology will be different. I think it's going to be far more challenging (and interesting) than the more narrow archaeology of yesteryear." 

These changing perceptions represent many unique opportunities for archaeologists today and in the years to come. 

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