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Archaeology Career Opportunities

Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
If you are fascinated by the mysteries of the past, and want to know about things which people around you may not be even aware of, then archaeology is a great career option for you. Did you know that you can choose from a variety of opportunities in this field, depending on your interest, qualification and experience!
Archaeology is a discipline that studies the past. It is a study of the events, happenings, trends, and lifestyles of the people living in the past, with the help of their material remains. Archaeology, thus, attempts to not only rebuild the past in a chronological order but also tries to answer why certain things happened the way they did.
This is done on the basis of all the tangible remains which are recovered from the systematic digs performed on archaeological sites. These include artifacts, structures, human and animal remains, which help determine the social and cultural history of the site; and a number of ecofacts which help ascertain the ecology and natural history of the site and its effects on human behavior.
Today, archaeology as a discipline, has made great advances. Now, it pertains not only to collecting and recording historical finds but also interpreting the past on their basis. It also pertains to rewriting history in some cases and filling up the gaps in others.
An archaeologist needs, therefore, to pay attention to every minute detail that pertains to his site at a particular historical juncture, because even minuscule things tend to make a lot of difference in archaeology.
Thus, apart from being a detective in search of evidences - big and small, he also needs to be a scientist as well as an analyst, who can efficiently extract the desired information from his finds and available resources.

Career Opportunities for an Archaeologist

Professional archaeologists pursue their careers in a number of different ways. Many of them work on the field, i.e. onsite, doing the actual digging and recovering first-hand information. Some of them work as academics, teaching archaeology to fellow students and doing their bit of research work.
Museums and archives also have numerous job openings; not to forget several NGOs and government bodies that have a lot to offer to this profession. However, the career one opts for depends on the level of education and experience.

Field Archaeology

  • Responsibilities: The responsibility of a field archaeologist is to conduct field investigations, explore and excavate sites, analyze the findings, and publish a final report of the fieldwork.
  • Education: To work as a field archaeologist, one needs to major in archaeology or other related disciplines, which include anthropology, geology, geography, cartography, archaeometry, archaeobotany, archaeochemistry, paleontology, palynology, ethnography, and history, and should possess previous field experience.
  • Where You Can Work: One may work with universities or with cultural resource firms that conduct archaeological research.
  • Growth: For a beginner, the first job would be the one of a field technician. With experience and expertise, he may advance to higher positions and ultimately become a field director.
However, one has to note that the jobs in field archaeology are project-based, and hence, of a temporary nature until an excavation goes on. Usually, field archaeologists are also lecturers and professors in educational institutions.


  • Responsibilities: People working in academics are generally teachers, lecturers, and researchers, who often have to work on the field as well.
  • Education: For the position of faculty in colleges and universities, a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in archaeology is required; whereas, to become a professor/lecturer in community colleges, one needs to have a Master's degree in arts or science, with specialization in archaeology. 
With a doctoral degree in archaeology, you can work in various departments such as archaeology, anthropology, art history, history and architecture, and even pursue personal research.
  • Where You Can Work: Depending on the qualifications and experience, one can work as faculty in universities, colleges or community colleges. Archaeologists working at academic positions are also seen to be taking field jobs from time to time, which enhances their experience as well as expertise.
  • Growth: A person can either start with a position of a research assistant and go on to become a research head, or he can begin with a position of a lecturer and go on to become a professor.


  • Responsibilities: Here, responsibilities include acquiring, preserving, displaying, and cataloging the important possessions of the museum. They carry out research, analyze the results, prepare a technical report, and publish it. They are also responsible for teaching and providing information to the public by giving presentations and preparing displays.
  • Where You Can Work: There are job openings for archaeologists in public museums as well as university museums. The positions include curator, archivist, technician, and conservator.
  • Education: To apply for museum positions, the minimum educational qualification is a Master's degree in archaeology.
  • Growth: Newcomers in this field may start working in the museums as technicians, and with the passage of time, may go on to become curators and directors.

Government Sector

  • Responsibilities: Archaeologists are hired by the state and federal governments to protect and conserve important sites in the region, and sometimes even to perform salvage operations, which are carried out to save those archaeological sites that are on the verge of destruction due to the execution of developmental projects on them.
  • Where You Can Work: Some of the departments hiring archaeologists include the Forest Services, Bureau of Land Management, Cultural Resource Management (CRM), National Park Services, Highway Department, and Water Resource Department.
  • Education: Most of these positions require at least a Master's degree in archaeology.
  • Growth: Those working with government organizations generally begin their careers as assistant archaeologists, and then go on to become directors of archaeology.

Non-government Sector

  • Responsibilities: Various non-governmental organizations are active in the field of archaeology, and there are several positions available with them as well. 
The main duties of the archaeologists working with NGOs include Cultural Resource Management (CRM), and conservation of antiquities and heritage structures. Many of them also undertake the tasks of documenting heritage sites and ancient remains.
  • Where You Can Work: Several NGOs work towards the cause of archaeology. Some of the famous NGOs include National Trust for Historic Preservation, Civil War Preservation Trust, Global Heritage Fund, and not to forget, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
  • Education: Minimum qualification required in order to work with an NGO is a Major in archaeology or any of the related disciplines.
  • Growth: Career growth in the non-government sector usually depends upon the nature of the organization, and the kind and quality of work one is involved in.

Corporate Sector

  • Responsibilities: The corporate sector employs archaeologists mainly to undertake 'rescue archaeological operations' in order to save historical sites from destruction due to developmental and infrastructural activities. Archaeologists are also hired as legal advisers (with respect to archaeological remains) and heritage consultants.
  • Where You Can Work: There are many big companies and corporate houses which undertake developmental activities and need the aid of professional archaeologists.
  • Education: For applying for corporate positions, at least a Master's degree in archaeology is necessary. Previous field experience can be an added advantage.


Responsibilities: Apart from the positions offered by institutions and government organizations, many archaeologists also prefer to work as freelancers, who operate independently and take up tasks such as site surveys, report making, analyzing archaeological finds, recording artifacts, cartography, photography,
 and finding and listing new archaeological sites. Freelancers sometimes also carry out small-scale excavations on the sites.
  • How They Function: The tasks that are carried out by freelancers are often outsourced to them by larger organizations. In order to be a freelance archaeologist, one needs to have an experience of at least ten years, so that he understands how the entire field of archaeology functions. It is very difficult for a newcomer to establish himself as a freelancer.
There rate of growth of employment opportunities for archaeologists has been consistently increasing since 2008, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job vacancies in this field are expected to rise 10% from 2018-2028. The earnings of an archaeologist depends upon his post and experience, as well as the place he operates from.
For instance, a beginner earns about $12 an hour, whereas an experienced museum curator or a professor with a doctoral degree can earn up to $97,170 per year. Having good connections in the field helps to a great extent to acquire a good, desired job, which one needs to develop from the day he begins with his education in the field.
Depending upon the job requirements, an archaeologist may have to indulge in fieldwork, work in a lab, or even conduct research in a library.