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 FAQs for Students Minimize

The Society for American Archaeology receives many inquiries from students about careers and other aspects of archaeology. This page answers some of the most frequently asked questions about archaeology. There are also links to other web sites that can help answer your questions.

Preparing To Be An Archaeologist

Archaeology As A Job

Preparing To Be An Archaeologist

Preparing To Be An Archaeologist

What kind of education do I need to become an archaeologist?
The minimum amount of education needed to work in the field of archaeology is a 4-year college degree (BA or BS) with a major in anthropology or archaeology, including training in archaeological field and laboratory techniques. Positions available with this level of education and training are primarily restricted to field or laboratory assistants.
To qualify as a professional archaeologist as defined by the Register of Professional Archaeologists requires post-graduate study (an MA or MS) in anthropology, as well as work experience supervising archaeology field and lab projects.

What classes should I take in high school if I want to be an archaeologist?
In high school it is important to develop your basic skills like math, science, English, and history. Archaeologists need excellent research and writing skills—they write more than they dig! They also apply mathematical and statistical concepts in the field and in data analysis. Studying foreign languages is also helpful, as is gaining proficiency in basic computer skills including keyboarding, word processing and presentation software. Archaeologists also need to be good at communicating with the general public so classes that include public speaking would be helpful.

What college should I attend if I want to major in archaeology?
In North America students interested in archaeology usually major in anthropology, which has four subfields—cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. Students majoring in anthropology must take courses in all four subfields. There are many Academic Programs featuring Archaeology. When researching colleges and universities, look for a school that has a department of anthropology with at least one archaeologist on the faculty. Also look at what opportunities for field work and lab work may be available. Some schools have an archaeology lab or a museum that may offer training, volunteer, or paid work opportunities to students. Read this letter from college student Katie Schurr who writes about her experiences studying archaeology at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

What universities offer the best graduate programs in archaeology?
There are a number of ways to research graduate programs in archaeology to find the one that is right for you. Check out the schools listed in an online directory of archaeology grad programs, such as archaeology.about.com/library/univ/blualpha.htm. The AAA Guide is another good resource. It lists over 400 academic programs and contains detailed information about the faculty, and special programs offered by each department. The Guide can be ordered from the American Anthropological Association. You can read the results of the Society for American Archaeology’s survey to determine the most important characteristics of an outstanding graduate program in Archaeology. You can also read the descriptions of a number of Public Archaeology College and University Courses.

What do archaeologists DO?
Archaeologists do much more than “dig!” Archaeologists in federal, tribal and state government agencies are responsible for managing, protecting and interpreting archaeological sites on public land. Working in museums, archaeological parks, or historic sites, archaeologists may manage collections of artifacts, work in education or public programming, or become administrators that manage programs relating to research, collections, education, and exhibitions. Colleges and universities employ archaeologists as faculty members that teach undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to teaching, academic archaeologists are active researchers in their field. They write grants to raise money to fund their fieldwork, In addition to directing excavations; they oversee the analysis and interpretation of the projects and publish the results of their work in books, and scholarly journals, as well as in popular publications that help make their research available to the public.

Where do archaeologists work?
Professional archaeologists work in a wide variety of settings. Archaeologists are employed by federal and state government agencies, museums and historic sites, colleges and universities, and engineering firms with cultural resource management divisions. Some archaeologists work as consultants or form their own companies.

The majority of archaeologists today are employed in cultural resource management, or CRM. CRM companies are responsible for archaeology that is done to comply with federal historic preservation laws that protect archaeological sites. Archaeologists employed in CRM firms may be hired as temporary field or laboratory assistants, or may be project managers or administrators .CRM archaeologists direct field and lab work, manage staff, and are responsible for writing reports and other publications to share the results of their surveys and excavations. CRM archaeologists may also be engaged in public education and outreach efforts to share the results of their work with the public through site, tours, brochures, and exhibits.

Are there many jobs in archaeology?
There are not a lot of jobs available for archaeologists in colleges and universities. The ones that are available are highly competitive and there are generally more qualified applicants than there are available jobs. Museums positions are also rare and often difficult to obtain. The majority of jobs in archaeology today are in cultural resource management. Recent job announcements are posted at the Society for American Archaeology web page.

How many hours a week/day do archaeologists work?
The hours worked by archaeologists vary greatly. There are archaeologists who work in state or federal government offices, or public museums, who are required to work 8 hour days/40 hr. work weeks—a pretty typical "9 to 5" job. Like most professionals, however, it is not uncommon for archaeologists to work many more hours than is required. College and university professors are obligated to publish articles and/or books about their work and much of this work may need to be done on their own time, in addition to their teaching and administrative duties. When archaeologists are working in the field, their schedules vary greatly. Generally field projects will begin early in the morning. In hot climates, they may begin work at dawn and finish by lunch time to avid working in extreme heat. In some cases a field crew may work for more than the usual 5 days in a row—for example, work 10 days straight and then have 4 days off. While in a field camp, some people (those in supervisory positions) will have to review field notes and plan for the next day’s activities after their field day ends, just as a teacher has many duties after the school day ends. It is also not uncommon to for field crew to do lab work in the evenings to keep up on the processing and data entry of artifacts. The number of hours worked will really depend upon the job and level of responsibility you hold.

How much money do archaeologists make?
The salary an archaeologist earns depends upon many factors including their level of education, years of experience, and where they are employed. A field assistant just starting out, with a BA in anthropology, working as a temporary field employee on a project, will typically earn $10 to $12 dollars an hour. A professor or a museum curator at a large research institution who has a PhD, many years of experience, and has produced many publications, may earn $80,000 to $100,000 a year. An average salary for an archaeologist with an advanced degree and several years of experience managing projects and staff is approximately $45,000. The best way to get an idea of what different jobs is the field pay is to look at real jobs ads. The SAA web site posts job ads as do many other archaeology web sites such as www.shovelbums.org. You can also read the results of a recent Salary Survey conducted by the Society for American Archaeology and the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Do archaeologists travel a lot?
It depends. Archaeologists whose research areas are not near where they live may travel regularly, as funding permits, to conduct surveys or excavations. Many archaeologists, however, are in jobs that do not require much travel. This is true for some jobs in federal and state government, museums, parks and historic sites—jobs that involve managing collections or public programs or education. Other archaeologists travel but within a confined geographic area. For example, an archaeologist who manages projects for a large engineering firm may travel within a several hundred mile radius as needed by the company, depending on the projects that are active at the moment, but may spend much of his or her time in the lab and office doing analysis and writing reports and other publications. All professional archaeologists spend much more of their time involved in these other tasks than they do in the field.

Is it all right to collect artifacts?
In some case, removing an artifact from where you found it is against the law—in state and national parks, for example, and on tribal lands. Removing artifacts from these areas is a crime that is punishable by jail time and fines. Collecting artifacts on private property is not against the law if you have permission of the landowner.

What should I do if I find an artifact?
It is best to leave the artifact where you found it -- but record as much information as possible: a description of the artifact and its location. It is useful to draw or photograph the object, and to record its location on a map. Share this information with a professional archaeologist. If you are visiting a state or national park, inform a park ranger or a naturalist. Each state has an historic preservation office that records the exact location of archaeological sites.

Can I get involved in archaeology in middle or high school?
Yes! Most states hold an annual archaeology week or month celebration that includes public events including opportunities to participate in archaeology. Some states have Site Steward programs that use volunteers to monitor sites and record changes to them. State archaeological societies often welcome volunteers to help record, survey or excavate sites. The US Forest Service has a volunteer program that includes archaeology.

For more information on activities in your area, contact your state archaeologist or the Society for American Archaeology Network of State and Provincial Archaeology Education Coordinators.

How can I find an archaeologist to interview for my class assignment?
You may contact the Society for American Archaeology Network of State and Provincial Archaeology Education Coordinators to look for an archaeologist to interview. Most state offices of archaeology and historic preservation have staff directories with email links. In addition, the Register of Professional Archaeologists has an online directory of archaeologists by state.

You can also visit an Ask an Archaeologist Web site for answers to specific questions.