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Archaeologist Job Description

Archaeology is a profession which combines adventure with expertise. It pertains to reconstructing history on the basis of material remains obtained from the archaeological sites.
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The main aim of archaeology is to unravel the mysteries of history. It involves both, extensive fieldwork as well as meticulous research and experimentation in the library or a laboratory. This is done by minutely observing the ancient remains of material culture which were of great importance in the day-to-day life during those times.
Archaeologists uncover and preserve things which depict the important characteristics of the ancient world's culture and heritage. You will find many successful people who have specialized in various fields working at high positions in the field of archaeology, due to the fact that archaeology is a multidisciplinary subject, which encompasses not only history but also other general and social sciences, as well as mathematics and statistics.

What an Archaeologist Does

The main job of an archaeologist is to try to solve the jigsaw puzzle that history poses before mankind. This, he does, with the help of numerous artifacts and other material remains, which he acquires from the archaeological site.


On a site, an archaeologist carries out two kinds of activities. One is the mere exploration of the site in question, where he just surveys the site and collects and records the artifacts which are found on the surface. The second is the excavation, which amounts to actually digging deep inside the earth, not only to acquire the material remains from the past but also to study the stratigraphy of the site.

Stratigraphic Study

Stratigraphic study refers to a detailed study of various levels of habitation deposit found underneath the surface of the earth on an archaeological site. This study enables an archaeologist to construct a step-by-step history of that particular place, and also sometimes fill in the loopholes in historical records.

Analyzing Material Remains

Material remains that can be recovered from sites include artifacts made of stone, metal, glass, bone, shell, terracotta, various kinds of pottery, remnants of human burials, foundations/ruins of structures, inscriptions, and so on. The excavation work is done in a group or a team.
The useful and notable things found during these excavations are identified, classified, and recorded in a systematic way, and preserved for posterity.

Making Reports

Every excavation is followed by a detailed report of how it was actually carried out. An archaeological report includes each and every detail about the site in question, right from textual descriptions to detailed photographs, sketches, and maps.

Making Presentations and Conducting Seminars

Various presentations and seminars are conducted in order to disclose the information gathered after the excavation.
Initially, this work was only limited to collecting artifacts and recording them. But with advancement of the discipline, archaeologists are also expected to interpret historical events and trends on the basis of their finds. This is what makes their work more interesting, as it needs imaginative and analytical skills, apart from tedious physical activity.

Prerequisites for a Professional Archaeologist

The scope of archaeology as a discipline is immense. The basic qualification needed to pursue archaeology at a professional level is a master's degree in the discipline. A doctoral degree (Ph.D.) can further broaden the horizons. There are also a number of post-doctoral programs which one can go in for, if one is interested in extensive research or academics. Owing to the interdisciplinary approach of archaeology, individuals specializing in related disciplines can also look for a job in this field.
Employment opportunities are available in both private as well as public sectors. In general, archaeologists begin their careers either by assisting their seniors in the field and laboratories, or work as their research assistants. Museums and archives also offer jobs to archaeologists, besides the academic jobs in teaching and research that are available. Various NGOs working towards different causes also have job openings in this field.
Archaeology does not pertain only to history. For practicing archaeology as a profession, one also needs to be extremely well-versed with other disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, zoology, botany, palynology, geography, cartography, geology, mathematics and statistics, anthropology, ethnography, and paleontology.
A thorough knowledge of all these subjects is necessary, as archaeological finds are of different kinds, and each kind needs a different treatment.
For instance, the age of a bone can be found through radiocarbon dating, the process which involves chemical reactions, whereas the age of wood can be ascertained by a method called dendrochronology, which involves mathematical calculations.
In order to pursue archaeology as a full-time career option, one needs to be well-versed with other related subjects as well. One also needs to possess certain skills, which prove to be extremely beneficial in the long run. These are as under:

Thorough Knowledge of History

This is a major prerequisite for becoming a full-fledged archaeologist. A prior knowledge of history is important, because in order to be able to interpret a particular site in general or artifacts in particular, proper contexts in which they may have appeared need to be known.

Knowledge of Other Subjects

Other disciplines need to be known as well by an archaeologist. A professional archaeologist can also specialize in some of the related subjects and based on this specialization, he can be, for instance, an anthropologist, an archaeozoologist, a palaeobotanist or an archaeochemist.
Because of the fact, that generally, excavations involve a group of people, numerous specializations tend to come together in order to put the bits and pieces into a systematic whole.

Good Analytical Skills

A good archaeologist has to be a great analyst. Right from ascertaining which site is suitable to carry out an excavation to identifying the artifacts, he has to analyze each and every detail not only at face value but in-depth. In this age, when archaeology is considered as a tool to reconstruct the ways of life of the people living in the past, the analyses and hypotheses of the archaeologist based on first-hand data is very crucial.

Precision and Attention to Detail

This is a vital quality that every professional archaeologist must possess. He needs this quality in order to interpret his finds and make a detailed report of the same.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills also refers to communication skills. An archaeologist needs to be a good orator as well as a good listener. Only then will he be able to interact properly with his team members, before, during, and after the excavation. Clarity of thoughts in stating and explaining things is of utmost importance.
Having good interpersonal skills also involves the knowledge of local languages and dialects of the various places where excavations are conducted. This helps to interact with local people and record local narratives/folk histories/oral traditions that might be helpful in historical reconstruction.

Knowledge of Legal Provisions Pertaining to Archaeology

Having proper legal knowledge is an important factor in any profession, and archaeology is no exception. There are several laws that aim at the protection and preservation of heritage and archaeological remains, a thorough knowledge of which, helps to a great extent.
For instance, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act aims at the protection of archaeological resources on public properties and the lands belonging to the Native Americans, and the Antiquities Act, 1906, aims to protect all prehistoric and historic sites on federal lands, and forbids any kind of excavation or destruction of the antiquities.

Knowledge of Ancient Scripts/Languages

A professional archaeologist should have some knowledge of the scripts/languages which were written/spoken during the historic period in question. This helps in reading/interpreting the epigraphical evidences recovered from some of the sites, which provide an exact insight into the events of that particular period.

Salaries and Earnings

On an average, the annual salary of an archaeologist ranges from $50,000 to $65,000. For a beginner in this field, the salary ranges between $40,000 to $50,000. This again depends on the kind of organization one is working with. Usually, those working as museum curators or professors tend to earn higher than those working in government agencies.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for archaeologists is great. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008, about 6,000 people were employed as archaeologists in American colleges, government agencies, and private institutions. This number is expected to grow at the rate of nearly 30% up to 2018, because of the constantly rising graphs of the related consulting and scientific services. On an average, the growth in the number of job opportunities is anticipated to be faster than in other sectors.
Archaeology is thus, a highly challenging and coveted field. There is a good opportunity for deserving candidates to make a good career in this field, provided they are passionate enough. Patience can be a virtue, because tedious excavations and formulation of historical hypotheses demand a lot of it.