Archaeology focuses on the study of past human cultures through research of historical sites and artifacts, such as tools, skeletal remains and structural ruins. A bachelor's degree (4 years) is considered the minimum educational requirement to begin a career in the field, but most archaeologists need an advanced degree and extensive field experience. Undergraduate degrees require a high school diploma or equivalent. Certain prerequisite coursework, such as a foreign language, geography or history, may be required.
Master's (2 years) and doctoral programs (various time lengths) include concentration areas such as small-scale or complex societies, heritage, a specific time period or a particular geographic region. Both master's and doctoral programs focus extensively on research. Anthropology, philosophy, and science degree programs may also contain archaeology specializations. Requirements for graduation usually involve a final project, thesis, exam and/or dissertation.
Master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree, a writing sample, letters of recommendation and standardized test scores. Doctoral programs require similar submissions with a master's degree in a closely related field, and they may require proficiency in more than one foreign language.
Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology
Bachelor's degree programs in archaeology hone students' skills in processing, analysis, computing, methods and theory related to archaeology. History, culture and art are also integrated into coursework. Many schools in the United States offer archaeology as a specialization within anthropology. Some schools may allow further concentration in small-scale or complex societies, heritage, or a particular geographic region.
Students in a bachelor's program for archaeology or anthropology have plenty of research opportunities abroad to participate in fieldwork. Laboratory classes provide students with an opportunity to utilize methods of cleaning materials. Some programs require an accompanying minor, such as biology, geoarchaeology or history. Students may also be required to become proficient in a foreign language in addition to core courses. In the second or third year of enrollment, students will concentrate more on archaeology. Some universities will call for students to complete a senior project to complete the degree. Some possible courses include:
- World cultures
- History of anthropological theory
- Historical geology
- Human evolution
- Earth materials
Master's Degree in Archaeology
Master's degree programs in archaeology allow students to specialize in a specific region or time period. Prospective students should apply to degree programs that are in line with their interests and professional goals.
Instruction in a master's degree program focuses on archaeological theory, methods of removal, practical field experience, analysis and laboratory techniques. A master's degree thesis is required in many programs. Some classes include laboratory or fieldwork components that afford students the opportunity to gain practical experience. Other classes focus on archaeological theory and methods of investigation. Some possible courses include:
- Archaeological laws and ethics
- Managing cultural resources
- Human osteology
- Ethnographic research
- Historic preservation
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
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Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology
Students enrolled in a doctoral degree program focus on a particular facet of archaeological research, such as a specific culture or society or a particular facet of anthropology. Common emphasis areas include Renaissance art, Greek archaeology, historic preservation and Roman archaeology and art.
Many anthropology and archaeology departments are closely connected, and they offer an opportunity to study overlapping areas of interest. Individuals work closely with scientific techniques, becoming proficient at analyzing, dating and interpreting details. Students should also be proficient in the language of the area they plan to study, and some programs require proficiency in at least two languages beyond the student's native language. For example, a student specializing in classical archaeology must be fluent in Latin and Greek. A comprehensive examination and a dissertation are required to complete the degree.
Some core courses in advanced archaeology are required before a student can focus on a particular facet of the field. Elective courses should provide additional information and background on a student's emphasis area. Some core archaeology courses may include:
- Classical Greek sculpture and painting
- Architecture of Periclean Athens
- Underwater archaeology
- Problems in ancient architecture
- Food-gathering societies
Popular Career Options
An undergraduate degree in archaeology opens up many career paths. Opportunities exist with governments, research organizations and museums. Some possible careers include:
- Archaeological lab technician
- Research archaeologist
- Cultural resources specialist
- Park ranger
- Collections manager
Many graduates of master's degree programs in archaeology enter into education or cultural resources management. Some possible careers include:
- Archaeology instructor
- Contract archaeologist
- Archaeological field director
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the employment of anthropologists and archaeologists will increase by 4% for the period 2014-2024. The 2015 annual median salary of archaeologists and anthropologists, according to the BLS, was $61,220.
Aspiring archaeologists can pursue degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, with the latter two usually being needed for an advanced career in the field. Graduates can enter careers in archaeological research, instruction, field direction, and more.