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 Chapter 3: Archaeology as Career or Avocation Minimize

A lasting interest in archaeology can be stimulated in many ways—by reading a book, by visiting a museum, or by seeing an ancient site. Any of these can arouse that strong curiosity that is so fundamental to the archaeologist's makeup—and to the human mind in general—that it is often taken for granted. It is this curiosity, continually reinforced by academic studies and later by one's own research, that molds and sustains the true archaeologist.

Some high schools have incorporated basic programs in anthropology into their curricula, and a growing number of middle and elementary school teachers are using archaeological information and teaching materials in science, history, geography, mathematics, and other related subjects. Educational programs incorporating archaeology into the standard school curricula now exist in Arizona, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah, and a number of other states. If a student develops more than a casual interest in the subject before going to college, there are ample opportunities for expanding that interest.

There is no substitute for continued reading about archaeology; most libraries have excellent and exciting books and magazines about the field. A scrap-book of newspaper and magazine clippings about new discoveries might be kept, for archaeologists' finds are constantly outracing the history books. More and more television programs on archaeological topics are appearing, and they appeal to viewers of all ages. Some of these, plus listings of selected books and magazines, appear at the end of this booklet.

In the United States, each state has at least one archaeological society. Though they vary in what they are able to offer their members, all afford chances to talk with others interested in the study of the past or to visit local archaeological sites. Often such societies and their branch chapters feature lectures by professional as well as avocational archaeologists or exhibits of archaeological materials related to the area. Also, a visit to a large university can be interesting. There one can see how archaeologists work in the laboratory, process and catalog artifacts, make site maps, and prepare reports on their excavations.

There are many chances to visit archaeological sites or excavations and even to participate in professionally supervised archaeological activities. About 400 archaeological sites or museums in the United States and Canada are listed in two excellent compendia: America's Ancient Treasures (fourth edition) by Franklin Folsom and Mary Eiting Folsom (University of New Mexico Press, 1993) and Exploring Ancient Native America: An Archaeological Guide by David Hurst Thomas (MacMillan, 1994). For those who would like to participate in properly supervised and organized archaeological studies, there are an increasing number of opportunities. Each year the magazine Archaeology publishes a guide to excavations in the Americas that can be visited or at which individuals can work. Recent guides list nearly 60 projects in over half the states with additional entries for Canada, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. A similar listing is published by the same magazine for excavations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific.

A number of educational and scientific organizations enable individuals to participate in archaeological investigations. Some, such as the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, or the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, Illinois, sponsor research projects themselves. Some federal and state agencies provide similar opportunities, such as the U.S. Forest Service's "Passport in Time" program. Other organizations—for example, the University Research Expeditions Program and the Foundation for Field Research in California, or Earthwatch in Massachusetts—place people in research projects organized by archaeologists who work for museums, universities, or public agencies. Most of these organizations charge for their services, and the archaeological programs require at least a one-week commitment. Most participants are volunteers and pay for their own travel, room, and board. The appendix in this publication provides additional information about some of these programs.

It sometimes is possible for individuals to participate in archaeology without leaving their community. More and more state, county, and local governments have archaeology programs that use substantial numbers of dedicated volunteers. In the Washington, D.C., area, for instance, more than a dozen such programs exist. The cities of Alexandria, Virginia, and Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland, have very active programs in volunteer archaeology, as do Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince Georges County, Maryland. Several other public and private organizations offer similar programs.

In some parts of the country, local units of federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service, offer chances to visit excavations or participate in investigations in some way. Some states also offer archaeological programs in museums, historic-preservation offices, historical societies, or state archaeologists' offices. In addition, universities and colleges are opening archaeological field schools to nonstudents in response to growing demands for continuing education programs.

Intensive academic training in archaeology begins in college. Anyone wishing to specialize in archaeology customarily earns an academic degree in anthropology. Most colleges have a separate department of anthropology, some a combined department—most often with sociology. Others have an office of social studies or social sciences. A few schools have a separate department of archaeology.

Archaeology also is used extensively to study ancient history, especially in places like Egypt, Greece, and Italy, so classics departments regularly include archaeological training among their offerings. More and more American studies programs also include historical archaeology in the curriculum.

Undergraduate catalogs available from each college or university give all the necessary requirements for the completion of a degree. Required courses often include introductory anthropology and broad general survey courses in physical anthropology and linguistics. Courses dealing with archaeology or cultural anthropology are usually oriented to specific areas of the world such as North America or Africa or to certain categories of human behavior such as social organization or religion. In addition, the study of closely related subjects such as history, geology, and statistics is essential to the program.

In the long run, a bachelor's degree alone is not enough for a career in archaeology. As is the case in most fields of science today, a complete program of graduate study is necessary if one is to enjoy all the benefits of archaeology as a lifelong venture. In the United States and Canada more than 500 colleges and universities offer a master's degree in anthropology; about 100 of these offer programs that lead to a doctor's degree.

Choice of the "right" school depends on many factors. Some are entirely personal; others are dictated by the special areas of interest of the prospective student or by matters of tuition cost and ease of admission. Some students may prefer the relatively relaxed informality of a small department, others the opportunities and demands of a large faculty and numerous graduate students. Each situation has special advantages and disadvantages. At any rate, you should choose a school that emphasizes those particular subjects or areas within archaeology that generally match your own interests. Although retirements and faculty replacements might change the emphasis of a particular department, such changes are most often gradual rather than sudden. Whatever you decide, it is helpful to remember that, in general, the school is not as important as the student. If you are interested and enthusiastic about your chosen career and possess a normal degree of intelligence and scientific bent, your chances of success are excellent in either a small or a large school.

For graduate studies it is not essential to have an undergraduate degree, or major, in anthropology. The student who does not have such a degree often must take extra courses to attain a general background knowledge of the subject, but because of the great scope of archaeology, a background in almost any discipline will turn out to be useful.

Requirements concerning courses and credits vary from school to school, and so does the nature of courses offered. In small departments it is often impossible to find a full range of courses that are offered to either graduates or undergraduates exclusively. In mixed classes, graduates are usually required to do some extra project—a term paper or oral presentation. Larger departments, naturally, have many advanced, specialized courses, such as Maya hieroglyphic writing, dating methods, or the entry of the first people into the Americas, for graduate students alone. These courses are usually organized as seminars in which a very limited number of students freely discuss the subject and exchange ideas on matters that arise during the professor's presentation.

Because of the complexity of the scientific study of ancient cultures, archaeologists will sooner or later find a need for many courses outside archaeology itself. These include geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, and statistics and may indeed range from sciences such as physics or chemistry to humanities such as general history or art history. Courses in basic writing, word processing, computer graphics, and desktop publishing also will help in producing research papers and field reports.

Most master's programs require at least a reading knowledge of one language other than the student's own. The choice of languages, like choice of curriculum, depends largely on one's future research plans. For those specializing in the archaeology of eastern Canada, for example, French would seem a logical choice since many primary sources relating to the history and culture of that area, as well as many archaeological reports, appear in that language. Someone planning future research in Guatemala or Peru would choose Spanish for corresponding reasons.

Whatever the choices to be made and followed through graduate school, the end comes, usually after an average of seven and a half years, in the form of examinations and a doctoral dissertation. Examinations, which may be oral or written, test the student's general knowledge of both anthropology and archaeology, and his or her areas of specialty in particular. The dissertation is normally a book-length document based on original research. It is designed to demonstrate the student's ability to pursue scientific inquiry by taking a certain problem, chosen by the student with help from faculty advisers, and solving it logically. In archaeology this often involves field research or analysis of archaeological materials.

Academic study is only part of the essential training of archaeologists. They also must study in the field. Because site conditions vary so greatly, students in the field confront an exciting and often unpredictable world of surprises. For this reason, fieldwork can be discussed only in the most general terms. Actual excavation during any one school session can never provide an accurate picture of what the scientific excavation of any other ancient site will be like. What should be learned are the general principles of field research—matters of sampling and recording and the practical aspects of the character and the direction of excavation.

Many large universities operate their own field projects at a single place where excavation is continued over many seasons—usually in summer in the United States and Canada, in the fall-winter dry season in Mexico and Central America, in the December-to-March summer south of the Equator. Projects of this kind are customarily open only to undergraduate and graduate students of the university involved. Many institutions, though, provide training for large numbers of graduates, undergraduates, and occasionally high school students, who are accepted from all over the United States. Such field schools usually provide academic credit. Other field schools are operated almost like business enterprises, where interested persons pay a fee in return for firsthand excavation experience. Still others—less field schools than actual research projects—may be run by a particular faculty member who hires and pays a select crew of student laborers or local people for the work.

The variety among field schools is enormous, as the numerous notices that appear each year on the bulletin boards of anthropology departments attest. Together they cover not only virtually every area of the Americas but often Europe and the Middle East as well. The Archaeological Institute of America in Boston, Massachusetts, annually publishes a listing of field schools and excavation programs that need volunteer help.

Many archaeological societies also conduct field sessions involving excavation, as well as workshops and other events on various aspects of archaeology. They are generally run by or involve professionals and trained avocational archaeologists and are open to society members or to the public.

There is no substitute for the supervised introduction to actual excavation that training at a field school, however large or small, provides. Here the participant learns not only how to record accurately all data uncovered in the process of digging but also things such as how to recognize subtle changes in soil cross sections and stains that may be important in the final interpretation of what happened at the site. Training may range from exhausting spells with pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow to delicate, methodical trowel work; and from chemical preservation of perishable artifacts of wood or cloth to the systematic cataloging of these objects—sometimes hundreds of thousands of them.

In a field school, students get some hint of the everyday demands of practical archaeology, learning that excavations in remote areas often demand unusual skills. Professional archaeologists may need the patience and psychological insight of a good submarine commander; they must at times perform as an imaginative innovator in auto mechanics, photography, art, surveying, engineering, and first aid. Archaeologists must also be well versed in public relations and the solving of personnel and personal problems.

With time and training there comes a sort of attitude or outlook that sets archaeologists apart. They are continuously aware of the importance of the structured interplay between observation and explanation—and of the fundamental aim of archaeology to interpret the relationship of material culture to human behavior. Because of this, archaeologists are able to profitably study subjects like art motifs on colonial New England gravestones or present-day trash heaps in a small Guatemalan town. At first glance these might appear far from the realm of "true" archaeology, but not so, since each in its way permitss cientists to probe more deeply the relations between material things and human ways of the past and to relate these meaningfully to the present.

Prior to the 1970s most of the available jobs in archaeology were in universities, some were in junior colleges, and a few were in museums and other research institutions. A 1994 survey of members of the Society for American Archaeology suggests a more diversely employed profession at the present time. Among the 1,673 members sampled, about 38 percent were employed in colleges and universities, about 10 percent in museums, 18 percent in government agencies, and another 24 percent in private firms.

Most archaeologists in academic jobs teach and usually also devote time to research, including fieldwork. The questions of advancement, fringe benefits, and salary are, of course, in the control of institutions, and these vary greatly. There are several status levels, each with a salary range tied to experience, productivity, and length of time in a position. Starting salaries currently range, for one just having completed the doctorate, upward from around $35,000 a year. Salary depends upon the individual's previous experience and the needs and ability of the hiring institution. Normally at a college or university one starts out as an assistant professor or, very rarely, as an associate professor. Advancement to full professor comes with time—paced by quality of work and frequency of publication.

Employment by a museum as a curator entails responsibility for maintaining, exhibiting, and doing research on the museum's archaeological collections. Frequently archaeologists become involved in other aspects of museum administration.

In addition, federal and state agencies increasingly employ archaeologists to assist them in managing the archaeological resources under their jurisdiction or affected by their programs. Indeed, this concept of the intelligent and effective management of archaeological resources, both before and after discovery and excavation, has become a concern of all archaeologists.

Archaeological investigations required for public projects or on public lands often are carried out by archaeologists employed in private sector consulting firms. These private sector archaeologists work closely with those employed by public agencies to insure that investigations are appropriate and that the care of records and archaeological collections is adequate.

Many prospective archaeologists worry about their potential contribution to the field of knowledge. They need not, for the options are many, and in the course of time most people tend to follow their own interests and inclinations wherever they lead. Some archaeologists are inclined toward the complex intellectual manipulation of theoretical approaches to problems that may include artifact typology, studies of symbolism, subsistence, economics, or population dynamics. Others find their preferences in comparatively new approaches such as computer analysis and the application of systems theory to archaeological problems. Many find their greatest satisfaction in fieldwork or in special studies that include everything from ceramic technology to ancient calendar systems. Most archaeologists end up specializing in a geographic area, such as Mesoamerica or Oceania; others may focus on a particular time period such as the era of the Paleo-indians and their ancestors.

Because all these interests are important, there are almost as many ways to be a productive archaeologist as there are individual archaeologists. Indeed, this is probably what gives the profession some of its great appeal, for archaeology remains above all a subject that allows anyone with the basic background and the scholarly discipline to make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of humanity.

To learn more about topics covered in Chapter 3, visit these National Park Service Features:

Federal Archeology Program: Based on a National Strategy for Federal Archeology, the program includes a wide range of efforts to interpret the past for the public, care for collections, conduct scientific investigations, and protect archeological sites. The Secretary of the Interior reports to Congress each year on these activities through this program.

Southeast Archeological Center: For over thirty years, the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) has carried out a tradition of archeological research, collections and information management, and technical support for national park units located in the southeastern U.S. and beyond.

National Park Service Archeology Career Guide: Interested in a career in archaeology? Here is some useful information to answer some questions you may have and guide you in the right direction.

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Elementary school student participating in an archaeological education program.

Public archaeology at Salishan Mesa, a Washington State Centennial Celebration sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation.

A typical archaeological site in the midst of an excavation.

Archaeologists excavating at the Samuel Lemon house.

An archaeologist uses a special camera for use underwater.

Students participating in James Madison University's Field School.

A student at the University of Maryland takes notes as she excavates.

As a unit is excavated a profile becomes visible.

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