The field of archaeology has provided the action-packed backdrop for countless films, novels, video games and even children’s toys over the years. For many people, just the word “archaeology” conjures up images of Indiana Jones swinging from his whip, or Lara Croft, pistols in hand, racing around the world in search of ancient treasures. Exotic locales, groundbreaking discoveries, and the search for treasure often serve as the driving forces behind such romanticized portrayals of archaeology in popular culture. But what is the field of archaeology really like, and what do archaeologists actually do in the real world?
Archaeology is the study of the human past through the recovery, analysis, and interpretation of material remains. Material remains can include anything from prehistoric stone tools and pottery, to buildings, bones, and even trash heaps. Such remains are direct products of human behavior and the relationship of humans to their environment. Through the analysis and interpretation of material remains, archaeologists can help us to understand past human behaviors and how these behaviors have changed through time.
Archaeology is often considered to be a subdiscipline of anthropology, along with physical anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistics. Although the term “archaeology” literally means “the study of ancient things,” the field has grown over the decades to incorporate all periods of the human past, including recent history. The field is often roughly separated into two general groupings: prehistoric archaeology and historic archaeology.
Prehistoric archaeology focuses on societies that have left behind little to no literary evidence, while historic archaeology focuses on more recent history in which literary evidence is available to use in conjunction with material remains.
There are a variety of career paths available for professional archaeologists.
- Cultural resource management firms
- Federal government archaeologist jobs
- State government jobs
- Colleges and universities
- Non-profit organizations
Such employers present a variety of archaeology job opportunities for professional archaeologists, many of which we will be discussing in the following pages. Examples of archaeological jobs include:
- Conducting research on shipwrecks as an underwater archaeologist
- Identifying bones at archaeological sites as a bioarchaeologist
- Creating digital maps of archaeological sites in a GIS specialist job (geographic information system)
- Cleaning and preserving artifacts as an archaeological lab director
- Teaching and training future archaeologists as a university professor
These, of course, are just a few of the many different careers that archaeologists can choose. We hope that you will continue to explore the world of archaeological job possibilities in the pages to come.
Because the responsibilities for these different positions can be extremely diverse, it is important for successful archaeologists to develop an array of skills. Some key skills that successful archaeologists will acquire over the course of their career include:
- Excavating archaeological sites
- Analyzing artifacts in the laboratory
- Developing a strong familiarity with historic preservation laws
- Perfecting verbal and written communication skills
In the following pages, you will find an overview of the study of archaeology, the practice of archaeology in the professional world, and the different career paths that are available to the trained archaeologist. Special attention will be given to the pages dealing with the different archaeological career paths, which focus on such fundamental job issues as compensation, required education and qualifications, and general availability of positions both internationally and nationwide.
The final page of this topic provides a listing of valuable archaeological resources designed to advance your research into the archaeological career field, including websites of professional organizations and job search sites created by and for professional archaeologists.