Project Archaeologist Jobs

Principal investigators, also known as P.I.s or project archaeologists, are a critical link in the world of cultural resource management. Depending on their size and the number of projects that they undertake, cultural resource management (CRM) firms may hire any number of principal investigators to oversee individual archaeological projects.

Job Responsibilities

A principal investigator’s duties often vary based on the size of the CRM firm that employs them and the workload that the firm takes on. While some principal investigators may occasionally partake in fieldwork alongside their technicians, others may assist busy CRM firm managers by writing up proposals and managing project budgets.

Generally speaking, however, principal investigators often serve as the link between CRM firm managers and the workers in the field. They are responsible for managing the archaeological projects that have been assigned to them from creation to completion. This includes conducting preliminary research on projects, overseeing fieldwork and lab work, and producing final archaeological reports. Some of the duties that they may undertake to this end include:

  • Conducting project research using documents, maps, and aerial photos
  • Developing research designs
  • Coordinating projects and fieldwork with other principal investigators
  • Scheduling projects and adhering to project budgets
  • Hiring and organizing field crews
  • Monitoring field and lab procedures
  • Modifying research designs and procedures to ensure that projects are completed within budget and on time

Education and Training Requirements

Most archaeologists must have a master’s or a doctorate degree in archaeology or anthropology in order to become a principal investigator. In addition, principal investigators generally must have several years of supervisory experience, preferably at the field director level.

Although not necessary, it is highly desirable for principal investigators to be members of the Register of Professional Archaeologists, the professional archaeological institute in the United States. When an archaeologist registers with this institute, they become certified as Registered Professional Archaeologists, or RPAs.

Seeing archaeological projects through from beginning to end is not an easy job. As such, successful principal investigators must have strong organizational skills and must be able to multitask. Other important skills and abilities include:

  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Strong computer skills
  • Ability to effectively lead and supervise small to large teams of workers
  • Ability to quickly solve problems that may arise over the course of an investigation

Salary and Advancement Opportunities

Depending on location, experience, and employer, principal investigators earn an average annual salary of approximately $40,000 to $80,000. While many principal investigators are quite content with the career level that they have achieved, some may choose to advance their career by becoming a CRM firm manager or owner.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in CRM archaeology is expected to increase considerably in the coming years due to the projected increase of general construction across the country. New archaeological investigations will open up to determine the possible impact that construction will have on archaeological sites. As a result, principal investigators should expect steady work in overseeing these projects.

Online Resources

American Cultural Resources Association
Register of Professional Archaeologists

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