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Archaeology: It’s Not Just Digging up Artifacts…
the archaeological site of Delphi in Greece

Everything You Need to Know About an Archaeology Degree

Who among us hasn’t watched a great movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark and been absolutely mesmerized by the swashbuckling archaeologist, Indiana Jones? So, what is archaeology really like?

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According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, archaeologists, in concert with their science brethren anthropologists, typically do the following:

  • Plan cultural research
  • Adapt data collection methods corresponding to a particular region, specialty or project
  • Gather information from observations, interviews and documents
  • Record and manage records of observations done at sites
  • Analyze data, lab samples and other sources of information to uncover patterns about human life, civilization and origins
  • Write reports and present findings
  • Advise organizations on the cultural impact of government and business policies, programs and products

Archaeologists analyze, recover and safeguard evidence of human activity from past societies. They analyze human remains and artifacts, like tools, pottery, cave paintings and ruins of buildings. They relate their findings to information about past environments to understand the history, customs and behaviors of people in earlier eras. Archaeologists also manage and protect archaeological sites.

Some may wonder if you can get a degree in archaeology, what careers are out there for graduates, and what the job outlook is for this niche science.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Archaeology

One of the most prestigious universities in America, Boston University, offers one of the best degrees in archaeological science. Students majoring in Archaeology must complete twelve 4-credit courses (nine in archaeology, two in anthropology and one in statistics).

Required archaeology courses include:

Introduction to Archaeology

  • theory, methods and aims of prehistoric and historical archaeology
  • excavation and retrieval of data
  • carbon-dating processes
  • evaluating artifacts
  • how archaeology relates to history and other social sciences
  • examination of world cultures

Archaeological Science

  • how biology, chemistry and geology are an essential part of modern archaeology and how they are used in artifact dating
  • reconstructing ancient societies and diets
  • analysis of remains
  • labs focus on physical, biological, geological and chemical methods

Methods and Theory in Archaeology

  • intellectual history of archaeology
  • research methods, theories and perceptions
  • problems with archaeological theory
  • forming research plans

Archaeological Field Experience

  • students working at dig sites with professional archaeologists

Every Archaeology degree candidate must join an approved archaeological field experience. Students should expect to observe and practice survey, remote sensing techniques, excavation methods, laboratory analysis, legacy management or other research relating to an archaeological project.

In the case of exceptional circumstances, broad or rare fieldwork that is not eligible for credit may be used to satisfy course requirements with approval from the student’s advisor, the director of undergraduate studies and the director of the Archaeology Program. Faculty advisors will help students find an appropriate field work placement to meet their requirements.

Career Fields

Graduates with a degree in archaeology are skilled in research and professional development suitable for any field. If you plan to pursue a career in archaeology (in research, higher education, museum work or cultural resource management), you will need an advanced degree from a graduate program. There are far more opportunities for those holding advanced post-graduate degrees than for those holding only a bachelor’s degree.

For those students who choose another career, the broad range of studies in undergraduate programs, with strong focus on the Liberal Arts, represent an outstanding foundation for any career (from law, business and medicine to education and beyond). Because archaeologists have a diverse skill set and wide breadth of knowledge, employers in government service, publishing, foreign service and management will consider them for employment.

Some archaeologists work to educate the public by serving in national parks or at historical sites. Other archaeologists assess building sites to make sure construction plans abide by federal regulations related to site preservation. Some archaeologists specialize in a specific time period, geographic area or study of specific objects, like underwater sites or animal remains.

Job Outlook

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for anthropologists and archaeologists was $62,410 in May 2018. There were only 6,500 archaeology jobs in 2018.

Because this is such a specialized field, employment of anthropologists and archaeologists will only grow 10% from 2018 to 2028. Though this is faster than average for most jobs, there is stiff competition due to the specialized nature of archaeology.

Conclusion

The work done by archaeologists gives society an understanding of the physical and cultural history of the world. They work in hostile, even dangerous, environments looking for evidence to support historical theories. They are skilled in the natural sciences and management of historical legacies. They do physically demanding work with delicate artifacts, in an effort to add to the historical timeline and provide an understanding of where humans have been and where they are now.

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