Federal Government Archaeology Jobs

According to the National Park Service, an estimated six to seven million archaeological sites are known to exist on federal and public land in the United States. These sites, and the sites that are yet to be found, are an indispensable resource for our understanding of the nation’s cultural heritage. It is up to the archaeologists of the federal government to preserve and protect the cultural legacy that has left its mark on the ground of the United States.


Archaeological positions are available with many branches of the federal government. Most of the hiring, however, is done through the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Jobs with these branches are available at all levels. While a beginning archaeologist can find work as a seasonal field technician, a mid-level archaeologist might find work as a GIS (geographic information systems) specialist or a field director, and an advanced archaeologist might get a supervisory position in Washington D.C. Therefore, the responsibilities of federal government archaeologists vary considerably across the entire spectrum of the field.

Although responsibilities vary greatly, we spoke with one archaeologist who has provided us with an example of what a job with the federal government entails. Britt Betenson, an assistant district archaeologist with the Kaibab National Forest, has a wide range of responsibilities, including:

  • Establishing project budgets
  • Conducting preliminary research for archaeological projects
  • Hiring and supervising seasonal employees
  • Completing Section 106 reports (see “State Archaeologist” page)
  • Assisting with tribal consultation
  • Protecting archaeological sites during implementation of ground disturbing projects
  • Preparing GIS maps

Britt explains that the most enjoyable aspect of her job is working with people. “I really get a lot of satisfaction out of training seasonal employees in archaeological techniques,” she says. “Hopefully I can instill a sense of pride in the work they do. Seasonal employees are so important to getting the job done.”

Education and Training Requirements

Education and training requirements vary with the position that an archaeologist has with the federal government. Generally speaking, however, individuals must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in anthropology or archaeology. In addition, individuals must complete a field school from an accredited institution.

Britt Betenson also provides some guidance for those interested in an archaeological career with the federal government.
While you’re earning your degree, Britt suggests that you “volunteer or obtain a work-study position for your university archives, with your professors, or with local federal agencies or private companies.” She also explains that attending graduate school is extremely important for establishing a career with the federal government. However, she emphasizes, “a degree alone is not sufficient. Degrees plus experience is very important.”

Salary and Advancement Opportunities

Salary and wages vary tremendously for archaeologists within the federal government. Whereas field technicians with little experience might start out at $10.00 per hour, higher-level administrative positions can earn upwards of $100,000 per year. It all depends on education, experience, and level of responsibility.

Applying for entry-level and advanced positions with the federal government is no simple task. It can be an extremely lengthy and tedious process. Don’t let this stop you from getting the job that you want. And be aware: trying to cut corners will send your application straight to the recycling bin.

As Britt Betenson explains, “follow all directions carefully and always write about your experience when prompted. A resume will be required but you must also write about your experiences in clear and coherent sentences.” Finally, she adds, “Permanent government jobs are very competitive, so if this is your goal, you should do everything you can to make yourself stand out.”

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of archaeologists overall is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. The job outlook for archaeologists that specifically work for the federal government, however, is difficult to assess. As noted above, permanent positions with the federal government are extremely competitive, and individuals who are able to land these jobs are not quick to give them up. Field technicians, however, are always in demand so that the federal government can continue to collect field data for its ongoing projects across the country.

Online Resources

The National Park Service’s Archaeology Program
US Department of the Interior’s listings of federal CRM legislation

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