An archaeologist is someone who has a burning desire to ensure their life’s work helps solve the mysteries of the past. They are primarily responsible for finding, recovering, and preserving artifacts (bones, ruins, tools etc.) of past civilizations to help today’s modern world understand what came before them. Museums are a big part of this field as they are places that archaeologists can “show off” their findings and teach society about what they’ve discovered.
Mankind has a vast and complex history and archaeologists aim to solve the many questions we have about the past. Their work is typically broken down into three general areas – field work, lab work and publication – and an archaeologist can be responsible for all three phases or specialize in just one. This means that on a daily basis archaeologists can be involved in one of many different processes. They can explore or excavate a historic site for artifacts, study or analyze those findings in a lab setting by using various techniques like stratigraphy, ensuring that all findings are identified, classified, preserved and recorded or make reports and presentations on these findings.
All in all a career in archaeology can be a very exciting one for those hungry for adventure and interested in reconstructing history.
Archaeologists can land anywhere on a wide-ranging pay scale depending on their position and experience. Those relatively new to the industry are typically part of the lowest 10% in the profession and they earn about $16/hour. The median hourly wage in this discipline comes in just under $28/hour ($27.61) for 2012 and those in the top 10% of their field bring in nearly $44/hour ($43.82).
Because of the wide scale in terms of hourly wages, annual wages can vary a great deal as well. Those archaeologists in the aforementioned bottom 10% bring home $33,330 annually while those in the top 10% earn a little over $91,000 annually.
The median annual salary for archaeologists was $57,420 in the US during the past year.
Education, Training and Certification
An individual can’t get anywhere in archaeology without a Bachelor’s degree (BA) in a related discipline. A BA in anthropology is the most commonly taken path for prospective archaeologists as that program covers topics like archaeology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. A Bachelor’s degree is only going allow one to find entry-level archaeology position like surveyor of field assistant-type jobs.
A Master’s degree in archaeology is generally considered the starting point for those who are serious about becoming an Archaeologist. Completing a Master’s degree will open up many more job opportunities for the individual. This includes working in museums, archaeology-based companies and government positions. A Master’s takes another 1-2 years of schooling after completing a BA, so those on the path to becoming an archaeologist must be prepared for extensive schooling.
Finally for those who wish to work as a curator (museums) or in a teaching capacity at a college or university will need to obtain their Ph.D. in archaeology.
While going through these various levels of schooling it is important that the future archaeologist finds time to take internship positions whenever they can. These types of positions enable the individual to get extensive time in fieldwork settings and help train and hone their skills for entering the field once they graduate.
Where Archaeologists work – Industries
As a large part of the archaeology industry is based on research, collecting data and studies, it shouldn’t be surprising that the majority of archaeologists find employment in the scientific research and development service industries. These are companies that will allow archaeologists to go out and collect artifacts from dig sits, compare findings from these sites and write/publish reports on these findings. This also includes working at places like museums, historical sites, labs and other such related scientific endeavors.
Archaeologists can also find work elsewhere though and government positions (at any level) are another big employer of those in this profession. Working alongside the government can bring archaeologists to some very interesting locales across the globe as they continue the pursuit of how humans lived in past cultures.
Finally, for those with Ph.D.’s in the field, working as a teacher at the college or university level is also a very lucrative employment option. However, these positions are usually filled with people that have worked in other archaeology fields previously and have extensive experience in fieldwork settings and publishing reports.
Where Archaeologists work – Location
Archaeologists can generally find positions all across the United States but because so much of their day-to-day activities in the field requires digging up historic sites, it’s the warmer states that highest levels of employment.
In terms of sheer numbers, California comes 1st with over 1,000 archaeologists employed within the state and they generally earn the 2nd highest wage (hourly and annually) in the country, next to Hawaii.
Texas, Arizona, Hawaii and New Mexico round out the top five (in that order) in employment numbers but other coastal states like Florida and Oregon still had over 230 archaeologists employed over the past year.