Archaeology Lab Director Jobs

After artifacts and other material data are collected in the field, they make their way to archaeological labs to be cleaned, analyzed and curated. This process is of fundamental importance to archaeological research and is overseen by the lab director or lab supervisor.

Lab Responsibilities

Lab directors are responsible for overseeing the processing of all data recovered from archaeological sites that come into the lab. This includes everything from cleaning, analyzing, and cataloging artifacts, to overseeing preparation and analysis of soil and flotation samples. Other responsibilities include:

  • Overall setup, organization, and maintenance of lab
  • Performing quality assurance on work conducted by lab staff
  • Preparation of databases for keeping track of and cataloguing artifacts
    Submitting artifact samples for special analyses (e.g., chronometric dating)
  • Preparing and submitting collections for curation
  • Writing portions of archaeological reports
  • Working with other archaeologists and project directors to coordinate project resources and needs

Education and Training Requirements

Although some lab directors have bachelor’s degrees, most have master’s or doctorate degrees in anthropology, archaeology, historic preservation, or museum studies. In addition, lab directors generally must have completed a field school from an accredited institution. Lab directors generally also have education or experience in such related fields as chemistry and geology.

Before reaching the level of lab director, individuals generally gain experience in processing and analyzing archaeological data while serving as lab technicians. Organizational skills, an eye for detail, and tactile dexterity are highly desirable attributes for successful lab directors.

Salary and Advancement Opportunities

According to a poll conducted by the Society for American Archaeology, archaeological lab directors earn an average annual salary of approximately $37,000 to $58,000. These numbers, of course, depend on location and experience.

Many lab directors start out as lab technicians before moving up to become lab directors. With increased experience and perhaps education, lab directors may move on to become principal investigators or project directors of cultural resource management firms or curators of archaeological museum collections.

Job Outlook

Lab directors generally find work with larger cultural resource management firms, engineering firms, environmental firms, and universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of archaeologists is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. With more archaeology comes more data to process in labs. As a result, archaeological lab directors should see steady employment in the near future.

Online Resources

The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (the MAC lab) curates approximately seven to ten million artifacts recovered from both land-based and underwater projects, and uses cutting-edge lab equipment to conduct archaeological research. You can even get a tour of the lab for a small fee!

The University of North Carolina’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology is an impressive facility that curates over five million artifacts and is comprised of an artifact processing lab, a paleoethnobotany lab, a geographic information systems (GIS) lab, a digital imaging lab, a darkroom, and an archival collection, among other things.

Check out this exercise from the National Park Service to see how archaeologists date ceramics in the lab, and, in turn, determine the age of an archaeological site.

This activity from the Illinois State Museum will show you how archaeologists date historic glass bottles in the lab.

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