State Archaeology Jobs

Each state in this country is host to an assortment of archaeological sites that are important to both the state’s and the nation’s historical and cultural past.

It is up to the state archaeologist, or state historical preservation officer (SHPO), to protect and preserve these links to our past.

As you can probably guess, state archaeologists have a great deal of responsibility. They must focus their attention on not just on one institution, organization, company, project, or audience, but on all those that are somehow linked to an archaeological site (or a potential archaeological site) within their state. This can include everything from universities conducting research, to power companies wishing to develop on state land, to private citizens with an active interest in their local heritage.

State Archaeologist Responsibilities

Each state and U.S. territory (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, etc.) either appoints or hires one to two state archaeologists. Since their responsibilities are great, the state also generally hires additional archaeologists, preservation specialists, and/or architectural historians to assist the state archaeologist in his or her duties.

Perhaps the most important responsibility of the state archaeologist is to ensure that all archaeological and historic sites on state land are protected and preserved according to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Section 106 can be murky territory, but generally speaking, its purpose is to balance historic preservation interests with federal undertakings and to resolve any conflicts that may arise. Under Section 106 guidelines, state archaeologists review federal projects to be carried out within their state and identify how these projects might impact historic properties and cultural resources. Thus, state archaeologists are extremely important to the identification and protection of cultural resources under state and federal law.

In addition to the Section 106 review process, state archaeologists are also responsible for:

  • Coordinating archaeological research undertaken within the state
  • Advising and assisting the public and local, state, and federal agencies on cultural resource matters
  • Maintaining a statewide preservation plan
  • Engaging in the state’s public archaeology endeavors
  • Approving the licensing of professional archaeologists to undertake research on state land

Education and Training Requirements

All state archaeologists are required to hold a doctorate or a master’s degree generally in either archaeology or historic preservation. In addition, state archaeologists must meet the “Professional Qualification Standards,” as promulgated under federal law by the Secretary of the Interior. According to these qualifications, state archaeologists must have at least two and a half years of full-time experience in archaeological theory, methods, and practice, including one year of supervisory experience. Candidates for the position of state archaeologist must also be able to demonstrate their professional experience through such means as:

  • Publication of research
  • Production of educational materials for dissemination to the public
  • Presentations at professional conferences related to the preservation and protection of cultural materials and properties

In addition, state archaeologists should be very familiar with historic preservation laws and practices, such as the Section 106 review process, have strong oral and written communication skills, and have the ability to contend with professional and political pressure from an array of groups, including private contractors, preservationists, and politicians.

Salary and Advancement Opportunities

Depending on experience and which state or territory they work in, state archaeologists earn an average annual salary of approximately $50,000 to $90,000. State archaeologists generally begin their career like every other archaeologist – at the bottom. Before taking a position as a state archaeologist, they may work with cultural resource management firms, universities, or museums.

An ideal position to have before becoming a state archaeologist is with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The majority of SHPO employees are, in fact, archaeologists, and generally assist the state archaeologist with his or her tasks.

Job Outlook

Since there are only one to two state archaeologists per state, very few of these positions are available. However, state archaeologists tend to grow tired of political haggling and often miss pursuing their own research interests. As a result, many state archaeologists choose to move on within ten years of holding the position.

Online Resources

National Association of State Archaeologists
National Park Service Guide to State Historic Preservation Offices
Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards

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