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How to Become an Archaeologist: Education & Career Requirements

Jun 15, 2021

An archaeologist regularly delves, digs and looks into the past. A master's degree is the minimum education to become an archaeologist, but related careers exist with an undergraduate degree. With the proper education and training you can play a part in helping to unlock history's mysteries.

Archaeology Career Overview

Archaeologists are social scientists who conduct excavations to recover, study and preserve such artifacts as ancient ruins, tools and ceramics. Their objective is to learn more about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. Qualifications needed to be an archaeologist usually include a master's degree and field experience. Archaeologists may work for archaeological firms, museums, historic site preservation organizations or government agencies.

Job Duties

In the course of their work, archaeologists may perform duties including:

  • Planning and conducting research
  • Managing archaeological sites
  • Excavating and preserving cultural artifacts
  • Collecting field data
  • Writing research reports and presenting findings
  • Analyzing archaeological samples

Useful Skills for an Archaeologist

If you are interested in how to become an archaeologist, you should possess or develop certain useful skills that will contribute to career success. They should have analytical skills and knowledge of scientific principles in order to analyze and interpret data. Critical thinking skills help the archaeologist to draw conclusions from data collected during research through field observations and experiments. Archaeologists should have good communication skills, as they write research reports and present their findings to other archaeologists, companies, governmental agencies and the public. Since an archaeologist may be working in the field in remote locations, the fieldwork may require physical stamina.

Required Education Master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 5% (for anthropologists and archaeologists)
Median Salary (2019)* $63,670 (for anthropologists and archaeologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an archaeologist?

Archaeologist requirements include education and field experience, such as volunteer fieldwork or an internship. If you are interested in becoming an archaeologist, you will need to complete a minimum of a bachelor's degree (four years) as well as completing fieldwork experience. A master's degree (two years) is standard for this field. To meet education and field experience requirements, it is likely to take approximately six years.

What are the qualifications to become an archaeologist?

You will need to complete a bachelor's degree in anthropology or archaeology. Most archaeologists complete a master's degree. Many employers will also want you to have field experience; you can get this experience by doing volunteer fieldwork or completing an internship.

I would like to know what to study to become an archaeologist.

You will want to find a program in anthropology or archaeology that includes opportunities for fieldwork. Coursework will include classes in anthropology and archaeology. Archaeologist school requirements may include a fieldwork course.

How to Become an Archaeologist

You may wonder how to be an archaeologist. A suggested series of steps in seeking a career in archaeology are:

  1. Get a degree
  2. Gain field experience
  3. Seek employment in the archaeology field

Get a Degree in Anthropology or Archaeology

If you are wanting to learn how to become an archeologist, you should start by researching a degree in anthropology or archaeology. For many work opportunities in the archaeological field, you will need a master's degree.

Gain Field Experience

Many employers require prospective employees to already have fieldwork experience. You should be able to acquire this experience through volunteer fieldwork or an internship.

Archaeological dig site. You may have many opportunities to do fieldwork in an archaeology career.
Archaeological dig

Seek Employment in the Archaeology Field

Archaeologists can find work in both the public and private sector. You may find work in state and federal governmental agencies, or working for private sector consulting firms, such as engineering consultants and cultural resource management consulting firms. Other opportunities include working for museums and historical sites.

Archaeologist Education Programs

Though archaeologists generally need at least a master's degree, the archaeology field offers employment opportunities for those who have bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees. The Society for American Archaeology recommends that students seek degree programs with an archaeology laboratory, at least one staff archaeologist and fieldwork opportunities.

Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degrees are generally required for entry-level archaeology positions, such as field assistant, surveyor or museum technician. Aspiring archaeologists typically pursue degrees in anthropology, which consist of studies in archaeology, cultural anthropology, biological anthropology and linguistics. These archaeologist education programs combine classroom and laboratory instruction, and they may offer practical experience through fieldwork programs. Courses may include archaeology methods and theory, analytical techniques, prehistory, North American archaeology, evolution and sociolinguistics.

Graduate Degrees

Master's or doctoral degrees typically qualify students for upper-level positions in museums, archaeology firms and government sectors; Ph.D. degrees are also usually required for teaching positions in universities and curator positions in museums. Master's degree programs typically take 1-2 years of post-baccalaureate coursework to complete, and doctoral degree programs may last an additional 2-3 years. To graduate, students are typically required to submit a thesis or dissertation based on original research in a specific topic.

Internships

Archaeologists may gain the fieldwork experience necessary for many positions in the occupation by completing internship programs. Internships and similar training programs may be available through field schools, museums, government agencies and archaeological associations. These programs promote professional development and allow students to sharpen their archaeological research and excavation skills under the supervision of experienced archaeologists.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, archaeologists and anthropologists were expected to experience a 5% growth in employment from 2019-2029. This growth, faster than the average for all occupations, was predicted to be spurred by steady use among corporations to understand cultures and social groups. This is good news if you are interested in an archaeology career.

Archaeologists are also needed to confirm that historical locations and structures are not affected by construction projects. Archaeologists qualified for cultural resource management positions may see the greatest employment opportunities. As of 2019, the median salary for archaeologists and anthropologists was $63,670, according to the BLS.

While you'll need at least a master's degree in archaeology or anthropology to secure most positions as an archaeologist, some positions or organizations require that you hold a Ph.D. A bachelor's degree and some field experience might land you an entry-level slot as a field or research technician or as an assistant.

Expert Contributor: Christiane Warren Christiane has M.Phil & PhD degrees in American Intellectual History. She's been an academic/career advisor, assistant dean and higher ed consultant.

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