Archaeologists study prehistoric peoples and their cultures by recording, analysing and preserving their artefacts, monuments, inscriptions and other cultural remains.
Many archaeologists choose to specialise in a particular area of archaeology, such as historical archaeology, historical archaeology, taphonomy, osteology, aerial archaeology or marine archaeology.
- Identify, survey or assess sites using various methods such as aerial photography
- Participate in excavations or digs
- Records finds and sites using photography, detailed notes and drawings
- Identify and classify finds
- Clean, restore and preserve artefacts and buildings
- Conduct laboratory tests, such as carbon dating
- Produce and publish detailed excavation and site reports
- Present findings to peers and the general public
Skills and qualities
You will typically begin your career in archaeology as a site digger. With experience, you could progress to a more senior role, such as site supervisor.
After further study, you could also move into a lecturing or academic research role, or even pursue consultancy work.
Nights and weekends occasionally
Archaeologists work in a variety of settings, including offices, laboratories and museums. They also often do fieldwork, which is conducted in all kinds of weather. Fieldwork is physically demanding and requires wearing protective clothing. It may also involve living in remote areas for extended periods of time, sometimes between one and two months a year. Local and international travel is frequent, particularly to excavation sites and for attending meetings, seminars and conferences.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Qualifications and training
Master’s degree in archaeology
The minimum requirement for becoming an archaeologist is a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years to complete. However, this will only get you so far, with opportunities limited mainly to assistant or fieldworker roles.
A master’s degree in archaeology is preferred by most employers and will boost your career prospects. This generally takes two years to complete and involves field and lab research.
That said, some jobs – particularly in academia and research – require a minimum of a PhD, which can take a further two to four (or sometimes more) years to complete.
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022