Young girl digging
Photo: Darrell J. Rohl
Do you love history? And camping? Then archaeology could be the career for you!
Archaeology is the study of human history (and prehistory) through the excavation of sites and examination of artifacts. Without archaeology, we would know very little about the past and our museums would be practically empty. Although there are some aspects of history that we can learn from written sources, or standing structures, the beginnings of agriculture or development of towns and cities would be a mystery to us. We would know nothing at all about our prehistory without archaeology.
What does an archaeologist actually do, though? Well, a lot! I find that when I mention archaeology to most people, they tend to think of Indiana Jones, who is awesome but sadly not a very good archaeologist. Archaeology can take you to some amazing places but if you barged in the way Indy does, I’m afraid you would cause a lot of upset!
In reality, archaeology is a painstaking and sometimes tedious job. Archaeologists can spend days, weeks, months, even years working on one site, carefully digging through dirt to uncover layers of history. This kind of methodological approach is essential to preserve the all-important context, which is what allows archaeologists to date each layer they are working on. Simply smashing through the earth destroys context; you may retrieve a beautiful artifact, but you will know nothing else about it!
So, how can you get into archaeology? The first thing to do is to check your local area for archaeology digs. There are many amateur archaeology groups who are always looking for volunteers! This link gives details for some digs going on worldwide. Some will limit their participants to university students but others are happy to take on any willing volunteer.
You can pursue archaeology as a hobby by joining a local group. However, if you want to go for a career in archaeology, you will need to complete a specialist degree. Many universities have archaeology programs, most of which do require that you complete some field work experience during the summer holidays, so if you already have contacts in the archaeological community, that can only help!
I mentioned camping at the start of this post; some archaeologists spend a great deal of time outside on digs, in all weather conditions. If this doesn’t sound like it’s for you, there are still other areas in archaeology that might be. These include:
- Lab work (such as examining botanical human, animal and material culture artifacts and remains)
- Teaching in universities
- Working in museums as conservators to look after archaeological collections
- Working with local planning authorities to make decisions for building and road development
- Maritime and marine archaeology – especially if diving is your thing!
As you can see, as a sector, archaeology offers a wide variety of employment so it can be a very rewarding career. Unfortunately, jobs can be hard to come by, especially in the current economic climate of so many countries. If archaeology is something you are truly passionate about however, I believe that it can be a very rewarding and exciting career to have!
Girl Museum Inc.