What is an Archaeology Degree?

The focus of archaeology degree programs is the study of how people lived in the past. Students of this social science learn about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. They attend lectures and work in labs and on research projects. They get a sense of archaeology degree jobs by conducting excavations to recover artifacts like tools, clothing, decorations, and ancient ruins.

A Master’s Degree in Archaeology or Anthropology is the minimum requirement to become an archaeologist. With a bachelor’s degree graduates are able to enter some related careers.

Here are some of the subject areas covered in archaeology degree programs:

  • Archaeology theory and methods
  • Ancient archaeology from regions throughout the world
  • Human fossils and evolution
  • Ancient DNA analysis
  • Forensic anthropology – the study of human remains
  • Indigenous art
  • Museum studies

Program Options

The Society for American Archaeology recommends that students choose degree programs that combine lectures, laboratory work, and fieldwork. Many programs include an internship with a field school, museum, government agency, or archaeological association.

Note: Some schools do not have an independent archaeology degree program; they offer archaeology courses through the department of anthropology. In these cases, students earn an anthropology degree with an archaeology concentration.

It is possible to earn an associate or bachelor’s archaeology degree online. But students who begin their studies online generally transfer to a campus-based program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Archaeology – Four Year Duration
A master’s degree is required to work as an archaeologist. Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Archaeology often qualify for these related jobs: archaeological lab technician, field assistant/technician, research archaeologist, museum technician, and park ranger.

Here are some examples of courses offered at the bachelor’s level:

  • Ancient Peoples and Places
  • Human Origins
  • Prehistory of Religion
  • Archaeology of the Old World (from Paleolithic to the Bronze Age)
  • Archaeology of the New World
  • Global Cultural Heritage – how national and international laws protect heritage resources
  • Greek Art and Archaeology
  • Roman Art and Archaeology
  • Zooarchaeology – the study of animal remains from archaeological sites
  • Archaeological Conservation
  • Human Osteology – the study of the human skeleton
  • The Archaeology of Food – the cultural significance of foods
  • Paleoanthropology – the study of the relationship between culture and biology in prehistoric human evolution
  • Ethnoecology – the study of the relationships between people and their environment
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Archaeological Field Methods

Master’s Degree in Archaeology – One to Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in Archaeology generally qualify for roles as archaeological field directors, Egyptologists, and archaeology instructors.

Most master’s students specialize in a specific geographic region, time period, small-scale societies, or complex societies. The typical master’s degree curriculum includes:

  • Analysis and Laboratory Techniques
  • Archaeological Excavation and Removal Methods / Field Practice
  • Historic Preservation
  • Ethnographic Research – research through observation and interaction with a study’s subjects in their real-life environment
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Doctoral Degree in Archaeology – Five to Six Year Duration
Archaeology Ph.D. students focus on a specific area of research, such as classical archaeology, biblical archaeology, or underwater archaeology. Or they may study a particular culture or society. Most programs require that doctoral candidates be proficient in the native language of their geographic area of study. Some require that they speak at least two foreign languages.

Core courses at this level may include:

  • Contemporary Theory and Method in Archaeology
  • Scientific Methods in Archaeology
  • Archaeological Ethics and law

Degrees Similar to Archaeology

Anthropology is the study of the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, and how they communicate and socialize with one another. Subfields of anthropology include sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.

Art History
Degree programs in art history focus on the study of the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

Classical Studies
The study of the languages, literatures, philosophy, history, archaeology, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome is the focus of a degree in the classics.

Archaeology degree programs are concerned with the study of past human societies through analysis of what they left behind. Geology is about the history of the Earth and the forces that act upon it. Geology coursework covers subjects like geochemistry, geophysics, and mineralogy.

Archaeology and history degree programs both study past civilizations and events. History majors may take courses in American, Canadian, Latin American, and European history, as well as in the history of science and the history of politics.

Sociology studies how being part of a social group affects individual behavior. It examines patterns in human behavior and how they impact human relationships.

Zoology is the study of the evolution, anatomy, physiology, behavior, habitats, and health of animals and humans. Students observe animals in their natural habitats, in zoos, in veterinary clinics, and in labs and classrooms.

Skills You’ll Learn

Archaeology students learn these transferable skills:

  • Verbal and written communication
  • Collaboration / teamwork
  • Attention to detail
  • Patience
  • Methodical approach to work
  • Research
  • Analysis and classification
  • Photography
  • Project management
  • Flexibility
  • Physical stamina
  • IT software – Adobe Illustrator, computer-aided design (CAD), geographic information systems (GIS)

What Can You Do with an Archaeology Degree?

There are two kinds of archaeologists. Some work with universities as educators and researchers. Others work in the area of cultural resource management (CRM) conducting archaeological investigations.

‘Academic archaeologists,’ employed by universities, may earn tenure and a permanent position. But most CRM archaeologists work on a contract/per project basis. Archaeological firms and contractors hire for several CRM positions. Here are some examples:

  • Field Technician
  • Crew Chief
  • Field Supervisor
  • Project Archaeologist
  • Principal Investigator
  • GIS Specialist

CRM firms hire lab directors and research librarians on a full-time basis.

Heritage and Conservation / Government Agencies
State Historical Preservation Offices (SHPO) sometimes hire individuals with an archaeology background. The position of ‘SHPO Archaeologist’ involves identifying, evaluating, organizing, and preserving historic sites, buildings, shipwrecks, and documents.

Museums and Galleries
Museums and galleries, especially those with archaeological collections, may employ archaeologists.

National Parks
Some archaeology graduates find employment with the national parks. They may work as interpretive guides or interpretive hiking guides.


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