Archaeologist: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

ProfGuide Updated 
Archaeologist: what they do, how to become one, and where to study

Have you ever dreamt of unearthing ancient civilizations, uncovering hidden treasures, and piecing together the mysteries of the past? If so, then the profession of an archaeologist might be just what you're looking for. Archaeologists are modern-day adventurers who dig deep into the past to understand the origins of human history and culture. In this article, we'll delve into the fascinating world of archaeology and explore what it takes to become an archaeologist. By the way, recently the ProfGuide career guidance center has developed a precise career orientation test, which will tell you which professions are suitable for you, provide a conclusion about your personality type and intelligence.



Archaeology is a diverse field with numerous specializations. Depending on their interests and expertise, archaeologists can focus on various aspects of the past. Some specialize in historical archaeology, studying artifacts and structures from more recent times. Others may be drawn to classical archaeology, exploring the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. There are also those who specialize in underwater archaeology, delving into the depths to discover submerged ruins and shipwrecks. The possibilities are vast, and each specialization offers its own unique challenges and rewards.

Tasks and Responsibilities

As an archaeologist, your work involves a combination of fieldwork, research, and analysis. Here are some of the key tasks and responsibilities you'll encounter:

  1. Excavation: Digging at archaeological sites to unearth artifacts, structures, and human remains.
  2. Documentation: Recording detailed notes, sketches, and photographs of excavated findings.
  3. Preservation: Ensuring the proper handling, cleaning, and storage of recovered artifacts.
  4. Analysis: Studying artifacts and materials to gain insights into past cultures, technologies, and lifestyles.
  5. Research: Conducting historical and scientific research to contextualize and interpret archaeological discoveries.
  6. Collaboration: Working closely with historians, anthropologists, and other experts to piece together the puzzle of the past.

Pros and Cons

Like any profession, archaeology has its pros and cons. Let's take a look at both sides of the coin:


  1. Adventure and Discovery: Archaeology offers the thrill of exploration and the satisfaction of unearthing ancient secrets.
  2. Contribution to Knowledge: By studying the past, archaeologists contribute to our understanding of human history and cultural heritage.


  1. Challenging Conditions: Fieldwork often involves working in remote locations, extreme climates, or challenging terrain.
  2. Limited Funding: Archaeological projects can be costly, and funding is not always readily available, leading to potential career instability.


The demand for archaeologists varies from country to country. In the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia, the demand for skilled archaeologists remains steady. These countries have rich histories and significant archaeological resources that require ongoing research and preservation.

Salary Ranges

The salary ranges for archaeologists can also differ based on location and experience. Here are some approximate salary ranges in the mentioned countries:

United States:

  • Entry-level: $35,000 - $45,000 per year
  • Mid-career: $50,000 - $70,000 per year
  • Experienced: $70,000 - $90,000+ per year


  • Entry-level: CAD 40,000 - CAD 50,000 per year
  • Mid-career: CAD 60,000 - CAD 80,000 per year
  • Experienced: CAD 80,000 - CAD 100,000+ per year

Great Britain:

  • Entry-level: £20,000 - £25,000 per year
  • Mid-career: £30,000 - £40,000 per year
  • Experienced: £40,000 - £50,000+ per year


  • Entry-level: AUD 50,000 - AUD 60,000 per year
  • Mid-career: AUD 70,000 - AUD 90,000 per year
  • Experienced: AUD 90,000 - AUD 120,000+ per year

Where Do Archaeologists Work? Why is This Profession Needed?

Archaeologists can work in a variety of settings, both in the field and in research institutions. Here are some common work environments for archaeologists:

  1. Excavation Sites: Archaeologists spend a significant amount of time working on archaeological digs, carefully excavating and documenting artifacts and structures.
  2. Museums and Cultural Institutions: Many archaeologists work in museums, where they curate and display archaeological collections, conduct research, and educate the public about ancient civilizations.
  3. Research Institutions: Archaeologists also work in universities, research centers, and government agencies, conducting research, publishing scholarly articles, and contributing to academic knowledge.
  4. Consulting Firms: Some archaeologists work for consulting firms that specialize in cultural resource management. They assess the impact of construction projects on archaeological sites and provide recommendations for their preservation.
  5. Nonprofit Organizations: Archaeologists often collaborate with nonprofit organizations dedicated to cultural heritage preservation and archaeological research.

The profession of an archaeologist is essential for several reasons. Firstly, it helps us gain insights into the past, providing a deeper understanding of human history, culture, and societal development. By studying archaeological remains, we can trace the origins of civilizations, track cultural exchanges, and uncover forgotten narratives.

Secondly, archaeology plays a crucial role in heritage preservation. By excavating and documenting archaeological sites, archaeologists ensure their protection and contribute to the preservation of cultural treasures for future generations.

Important Qualities of a Successful Archaeologist

To thrive as an archaeologist, certain qualities are advantageous. Here are some important qualities that can contribute to success in this profession:

  1. Curiosity and Passion: A genuine curiosity about the past and a passion for unraveling its mysteries are essential traits for an archaeologist.
  2. Attention to Detail: Archaeological work requires meticulous attention to detail, from careful excavation techniques to precise documentation and analysis of artifacts.
  3. Problem-Solving Skills: Archaeologists often face complex puzzles and challenges. The ability to think critically and creatively to solve problems is crucial.
  4. Physical Stamina: Fieldwork can be physically demanding, involving long hours of excavation in various weather conditions and terrains. Good physical stamina is necessary to endure such conditions.
  5. Collaboration and Communication: Archaeologists frequently collaborate with multidisciplinary teams. Strong interpersonal and communication skills facilitate effective teamwork and the exchange of knowledge.

Step-by-Step Career Path

  1. Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: Start by pursuing a bachelor's degree in archaeology or a related field, such as anthropology or history.
  2. Gain Field Experience: Participate in archaeological field schools or volunteer on excavation projects to gain hands-on experience.
  3. Pursue Advanced Studies: Consider pursuing a master's degree or Ph.D. in archaeology to specialize in a specific area of interest.
  4. Build Professional Network: Attend conferences, join archaeological societies, and connect with professionals in the field to expand your network and stay updated on industry developments.
  5. Publish and Present Research: Share your findings through research papers, presentations, and publications to contribute to the field and establish your expertise.
  6. Seek Employment Opportunities: Look for job openings in museums, research institutions, government agencies, and consulting firms specializing in cultural resource management.
  7. Continual Learning and Professional Development: Stay updated on the latest archaeological methods, technologies, and research by attending workshops, training programs, and conferences.

How to Become an Archaeologist

The path to becoming an archaeologist typically involves several years of education and practical experience. In the United States, a bachelor's degree in archaeology or a related field is the minimum requirement. However, higher-level positions and research opportunities often require a master's degree or Ph.D. It's important to note that the specific requirements may vary depending on the country and institution.

In the United States, it usually takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree in archaeology. After that, pursuing a master's degree typically takes an additional two years, while a Ph.D. program can take several more years to complete. These programs provide a deeper understanding of archaeological theory, research methods, and specialization in a particular area of interest.

While higher education is valuable, gaining practical experience through fieldwork is crucial in the field of archaeology. Participating in archaeological field schools, internships, and volunteering opportunities allows aspiring archaeologists to develop essential skills and build their professional network. Field experience provides hands-on training in excavation techniques, artifact analysis, and site documentation.

In terms of residency or graduate programs, it depends on the specific career path you choose. Some positions, such as working in academia or conducting research, may require completing a residency or pursuing a Ph.D. However, there are also opportunities available for archaeologists with a master's degree or even a bachelor's degree, particularly in cultural resource management or museum curation.

Where to Become an Archaeologist

If you're considering pursuing a career in archaeology, there are numerous institutions and universities worldwide that offer excellent programs and opportunities. Here are five examples in each of the mentioned countries, along with hyperlinks to their websites:

United States:

  1. University of California, Berkeley - Department of Anthropology
  2. Harvard University - Department of Anthropology
  3. University of Arizona - School of Anthropology 
  4. University of Michigan - Department of Anthropology 
  5. University of California, Los Angeles - Department of Anthropology 


  1. University of Toronto - Department of Anthropology 
  2. Simon Fraser University - Department of Archaeology 
  3. Memorial University of Newfoundland - Department of Archaeology 
  4. University of British Columbia - Department of Anthropology 
  5. University of Calgary - Department of Anthropology and Archaeology 

Great Britain:

  1. University College London - Institute of Archaeology 
  2. University of Oxford - School of Archaeology 
  3. University of Cambridge - Department of Archaeology 
  4. University of Edinburgh - Department of Archaeology 
  5. University of York - Department of Archaeology 


  1. Australian National University - School of Archaeology and Anthropology 
  2. University of Sydney - Department of Archaeology 
  3. Flinders University - College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences 
  4. University of Queensland - School of Social Science 
  5. La Trobe University - Department of Archaeology and History 

Can You Enter the Profession with a Different Degree?

While a degree in archaeology or a related field is typically the most direct path to becoming an archaeologist, it is possible to enter the profession with a different degree. Many archaeologists have backgrounds in anthropology, history, geology, or other relevant disciplines. However, it's important to note that additional coursework or practical experience in archaeology may be required to supplement your existing degree.

If you have a different academic background but are passionate about archaeology, you can consider pursuing a graduate program or specialized courses in archaeology to gain the necessary knowledge and skills. Additionally, gaining field experience through archaeological field schools, internships, or volunteer opportunities can also enhance your chances of entering the profession.

In conclusion, the profession of an archaeologist offers a captivating journey into the past, uncovering ancient civilizations and shedding light on our shared human history. It requires a combination of academic knowledge, practical skills, and a deep curiosity about the mysteries of the past. By pursuing education, gaining field experience, and continuously learning, you can embark on a fulfilling career as an archaeologist.

Remember, archaeology is not just about digging up artifacts; it's about understanding the stories they tell and preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. So, if you have a passion for exploration, a love for history, and a thirst for knowledge, the profession of an archaeologist may be your gateway to a thrilling and intellectually rewarding career.

(Note: The information provided regarding salary ranges, demand, and specific institutions is based on general knowledge and may be subject to change. It is advisable to research and consult reliable sources for the most up-to-date and accurate information.)

star_rate star_rate star_rate star_rate star_rate