CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an archaeologist.
Is becoming an archaeologist right for me?
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High school students interested in pursuing a career in archaeology can take a variety of courses to build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills. Here are some recommended courses that can be beneficial:
- History and Social Studies: History courses provide a fundamental understanding of past societies, cultures, and events, which is crucial for archaeological research. Courses that cover world history, ancient civilizations, and anthropology can be particularly helpful.
- Science: Science courses, such as biology, chemistry, and geology, provide a scientific background necessary for archaeological analysis. They can help develop skills in scientific observation, data analysis, and understanding geological processes that impact archaeological sites.
- Foreign Languages: Archaeologists often work in international contexts and collaborate with diverse communities. Studying foreign languages, such as Latin, Greek, or ancient languages like Egyptian hieroglyphs or Maya glyphs, can be valuable for interpreting ancient texts and inscriptions.
- Mathematics: Mathematics is essential for archaeological fieldwork and data analysis. Courses in statistics, geometry, and data interpretation can help develop quantitative and analytical skills needed for measuring, mapping, and analyzing archaeological data.
- English and Communication: Strong writing and communication skills are important for archaeologists to convey their research findings and collaborate with colleagues. English courses can help improve written and verbal communication, critical thinking, and research skills.
- Anthropology and Archaeology Electives: If available, taking elective courses specifically focused on anthropology or archaeology can provide a more in-depth understanding of the field. These courses may cover topics such as archaeological methods, cultural anthropology, or human evolution.
Additionally, participating in extracurricular activities related to history, cultural heritage, or science, such as joining a history club, volunteering at local museums, or participating in archaeological field schools or summer programs, can provide hands-on experiences and further develop skills and interest in archaeology.
Steps to Become an Archaeologist
Becoming an archaeologist involves a combination of education, field experience, and building a professional network. Here are the steps to becoming an archaeologist in a detailed manner:
- Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Archaeology, Anthropology, or a related field. This provides a solid foundation in archaeological theory, methods, and cultural context. Take relevant coursework in archaeology, history, anthropology, biology, chemistry, and statistics.
- Gain Field Experience: Seek opportunities to gain field experience through archaeological field schools, summer programs, or volunteering on archaeological excavations. Field experience is essential for learning excavation techniques, field documentation, artifact handling, and developing practical skills.
- Pursue Advanced Degrees (optional): Consider pursuing a Master's or Doctoral Degree in Archaeology or a specialized subfield. Advanced degrees can open up opportunities for research, teaching, and higher-level positions in the field. Focus on a specific area of interest, such as classical archaeology, prehistoric archaeology, or underwater archaeology.
- Specialize in a Subfield (optional): Consider specializing in a specific subfield within archaeology, such as historical archaeology, bioarchaeology, or cultural resource management. This can help you develop expertise and distinguish yourself in a particular area of interest.
- Build a Professional Network: Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars to connect with other archaeologists, researchers, and professionals in the field. Join professional organizations, such as the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), or regional archaeological societies, to access resources, publications, and networking opportunities.
- Publish Research: Contribute to the field of archaeology by conducting research and publishing your findings in scholarly journals or presenting at conferences. This helps establish credibility and visibility within the archaeological community.
- Gain Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Experience: Consider working in cultural resource management firms or government agencies to gain experience in conducting archaeological assessments, site surveys, and compliance with regulations. CRM experience can provide valuable skills and job opportunities in archaeological consulting.
- Obtain Required Permits and Certifications: Depending on the region and specific type of work you want to pursue, you may need to obtain permits or certifications. For example, underwater archaeologists may need scuba diving certifications, while CRM professionals may need permits to conduct archaeological work on protected lands.
- Seek Employment Opportunities: Look for job openings in academia, government agencies, museums, cultural heritage organizations, or private consulting firms. Networking, attending job fairs, and using online job boards focused on archaeology can help identify employment opportunities.
- Professional Development: Stay updated on the latest research, methodologies, and technologies in archaeology by attending workshops, continuing education courses, and professional development opportunities. This helps enhance your skills and knowledge throughout your career.
There are several professional associations and organizations dedicated to archaeology that provide resources, networking opportunities, publications, and support for archaeologists. Here are some prominent associations for archaeologists:
- Society for American Archaeology (SAA): The SAA is one of the largest professional organizations for archaeologists in the Americas. It promotes the study and protection of archaeological heritage and offers conferences, publications, grants, and career resources.
- Archaeological Institute of America (AIA): The AIA is an international organization focused on promoting archaeological research, education, and public outreach. It organizes conferences, supports excavations, publishes journals, and offers fellowships and grants.
- European Association of Archaeologists (EAA): The EAA is an association dedicated to advancing archaeological research, collaboration, and dissemination of knowledge in Europe. It hosts annual conferences, publishes a journal, and provides networking opportunities for European archaeologists.
- World Archaeological Congress (WAC): The WAC is a global organization that brings together archaeologists from around the world to promote ethical practices, diversity, and inclusivity in archaeology. It organizes conferences, publishes a bulletin, and advocates for heritage protection.
- Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA): The SHA focuses on the study of historical archaeology, which investigates the material culture of more recent periods with written records. It provides resources, organizes conferences, publishes a journal, and supports collaboration among historical archaeologists.
- Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA): The RPA is an organization that promotes professionalism and ethical standards in archaeological practice. It establishes guidelines for professional conduct, offers a registry for qualified archaeologists, and advocates for the protection of cultural resources.
- American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA): ACRA represents cultural resource management (CRM) firms in the United States. It serves as a platform for CRM professionals, promotes best practices, provides resources, and advocates for the CRM industry.
- Council for British Archaeology (CBA): The CBA is a UK-based organization that aims to promote public engagement and participation in archaeology. It supports research, organizes events and initiatives, and advocates for the protection of archaeological heritage.
In the United States, there are several certifications and professional designations available for archaeologists that demonstrate their expertise, adherence to ethical standards, and professional qualifications. Here are some notable certifications for archaeologists:
- Registered Professional Archaeologist (RPA): The RPA designation is administered by the Register of Professional Archaeologists. It is a voluntary certification that indicates an archaeologist has met specific professional qualifications, including education, field experience, and adherence to ethical standards. The RPA certification is widely recognized and often required for employment in cultural resource management (CRM) firms or government agencies.
- Certified Archaeological Technician (CAT): The CAT certification is offered by the National Association of Field Technicians (NAFT). It is designed for individuals with fieldwork experience who wish to demonstrate their technical skills and knowledge in archaeological survey and excavation. The CAT certification is beneficial for entry-level positions in archaeology.
- Society for American Archaeology's (SAA) Digital Data Practitioner (DDP) Program: The DDP Program, developed by the SAA, provides training and certification for archaeologists in the management, analysis, and preservation of digital archaeological data. It focuses on best practices in data management, digital archiving, and the use of technology in archaeological research.
- State-Specific Certifications: Some states may have their own certification programs or requirements for archaeologists. For example, in California, the California Archaeological Site Stewardship Program (CASSP) offers a certification program for site stewards involved in archaeological site monitoring and protection.
Archaeologists can pursue a variety of employment opportunities in different sectors. Here are some common employment avenues for archaeologists:
- Academic Institutions: Many archaeologists work in universities and research institutions as professors, researchers, or project directors. They contribute to teaching, conduct research, publish scholarly articles, and supervise graduate students.
- Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Firms: CRM firms employ archaeologists to assess, survey, and mitigate the potential impact of development projects on archaeological sites. Archaeologists in CRM firms conduct fieldwork, analyze data, prepare reports, and ensure compliance with cultural resource regulations.
- Government Agencies: Federal, state, and local government agencies employ archaeologists for various roles. These agencies include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, state historic preservation offices, and tribal historic preservation offices. Archaeologists in government agencies conduct research, manage cultural resources, provide consultation, and oversee compliance with preservation laws.
- Museums and Cultural Heritage Organizations: Archaeologists can work in museums, historical societies, and cultural heritage organizations. They may curate collections, conduct research, develop exhibits, and engage in public outreach and education.
- Private Archaeological Research Organizations: Private archaeological research organizations focus on conducting archaeological research and excavation projects. They may work on contract-based projects, collaborate with universities, or conduct independent research.
- International Organizations and Nonprofits: Archaeologists can find employment with international organizations and nonprofits involved in heritage conservation, research, and cultural exchange programs. These organizations may work on projects in various countries or focus on specific regions or themes.
- Consulting and Heritage Management: Archaeologists can work as consultants or heritage managers for organizations involved in urban planning, land development, or environmental impact assessments. They assess and manage the impact of projects on cultural heritage and develop strategies for preservation.
- Forensic Archaeology: Some archaeologists specialize in forensic archaeology and work with law enforcement agencies to assist in the recovery and analysis of human remains or other forensic evidence.
- Independent Consulting and Contract Work: Some archaeologists work as independent consultants, taking on contract-based projects, providing expert advice, or conducting research on a freelance basis.