There’s no doubt about it, archaeology is an exciting career possibility. You likely got your first glimpse of the profession in action movies, like the Indiana Jones series, where good detective skills and clever thinking show us that archaeologists can be heroes too. But Hollywood aside, what is archaeology really about, and is it the right career for you? Here we will discuss the skills, education, and training needed to become an archaeologist.
What Is Archaeology?
In its simplest sense, archaeology is the study of past human cultures. Since these civilizations are no longer around today, we have to examine clues to learn how they may have lived. Archaeologists study artifacts, items left behind, and they even excavate new sites to see what treasures are hiding under our feet. By studying material evidence – buildings, tools and even everyday objects – archaeologists can understand the behavior of past people and the culture of ancient civilizations. For that reason, you can also say that archaeology is a window into the past that gives us insight into our lives today.
Skills, Interests, and Aptitudes
In many ways, you won’t truly know if archaeology is right for you until you enroll in a college program and immerse yourself in classroom and field study. However, there are several clues that archaeology might be a good career choice.
Do you enjoy…
- Learning about the past?
- Exploring other cultures?
- Studying the world around you in a scientific way?
Would people say you are…
- Detail oriented?
Archaeology involves learning about the past (history) in a systematic, research-based way (science) so perhaps those are your favorite subjects. Archaeologists must also have good communication skills, both written and verbal.
One thing to mention, though: archaeology careers are not always high action and glamor, so if you are looking for constant adventure like the movies, you will likely be disappointed.
Archaeology as a College Major
When looking for colleges that offer archaeology programs, it’s important to know that archaeology is actually one of four branches of anthropology. As such, some colleges have a specific program where you will be awarded a BA or BSc in Archaeology upon completion. However, many other schools only offer a BA in Anthropology – during which you can choose to take archaeology classes or even claim a ‘concentration’ in archaeology.
There are pros and cons to each path:
- Colleges that offer a BA in archaeology can often provide a richer experience, with more course offerings, field experience, and resources. In addition, this degree may improve your career opportunities inside of archaeology.
- Colleges that offer a BA in anthropology can provide a broader understanding of the discipline instead of just focusing on archaeology. Since you like archaeology, you should make sure that the program offers enough courses and experiences to give you a solid foundation. However, along the way you could discover that another branch of anthropology interests you more and make a smooth transition without having to change majors.
Regardless of which school and major you choose, the coursework inside the classroom will likely involve several classic courses, the choice of more specified courses, and some coursework outside your department.
- Classic courses offered in most programs include Introduction to Archaeology, History and Theory of Archaeology, and Archaeology Methods.
- More specific archaeology course offerings will vary by school, and you can typically choose the ones that interest you most. This includes more advanced theory and methods courses, and classes that focus on specific ancient civilizations.
- You will also likely have to take courses outside the department, which may include things like history, English, foreign language, and statistics.
Perhaps the most exciting part of archaeology course work is getting hands-on training either out in the field or inside museums. For an archaeology degree or an anthropology degree with a concentration in archaeology, fieldwork is often required. Opportunities vary by school, so do your research before applying because this is what truly sets the great archaeology schools apart from the rest.
Schools that have dedicated archaeology programs are better positioned to provide the in-depth resources and hands-on experiences for their students. For example, Randolph-Macon College in Virginia provides its archaeology majors dig opportunities both locally (civil war fields) as well as abroad (Greece and Ethiopia). Combine that with the small class sizes and personal interactions with experienced archaeology professors and it is an outstanding educational opportunity.
How Much Education Do I Need?
The amount of education you need will depend on the type of archaeology career you are looking for. With your BA and adequate field experience, you can qualify for a position on a field crew, but for a more supervisory role or a teaching position, you will need a Masters or Doctorate degree. By exploring your career options (starting in your undergraduate education) you can pinpoint what careers are available and find out if you need additional training.
Would you like to learn more?
We invite you to visit www.StudyArchaeology.org to learn more.