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Careers in Archaeology: Education Opportunities and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an archaeologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and career options to find out if this is the career for you.

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A master's or doctoral degree is typically required for a career in archeology. Archeologists work for the government, museums or in research. They may be involved in locating, excavating, examining and interpreting archeological artifacts and sites.

Essential Information

Archaeology is a discipline within social science that critically examines noncurrent human condition through the excavation, retrieval, analysis and documentation of material evidence, physical remains and environmental components. The work of archaeologists entails investigating and interpreting ancient architectural sites and artifacts to reveal the cultural, political, social and economic structures of inhabitants in earlier societies. Most archaeologists hold a master's degree in their field.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree for most research and field positions; bachelor's degree acceptable for some entry-level positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4% for archaeologists and anthropologists*
Median Annual Wage (2015) $61,220 for archaeologists and anthropologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Opportunities

Various accredited universities and colleges offer undergraduate degree programs in archaeological studies that expose students to key research processes and methods, computation, laboratory science and fieldwork techniques. Those who choose this major will study tools, weapons, cookware, jewelry and other recovered objects that ancient populations forged and used. Students learn to deduce how people in the past thrived, what customs, arts and abilities they possessed, which period in history particular communities existed and why they vanished. Aside from available specimen utilized in the classroom, students participate in field research, actual archaeological excavation and internships. They may even get to join international studies in China, Egypt, Greece, Peru, India and other locations.

Education Requirements

Undergraduate students need to develop competence in laboratory and field procedures such as absolute and relative dating methods, ceramic analysis, remote sensing and landscape analysis - skills that are important in evaluating archaeological records. Moreover, they study anthropology, long-term history and archaeology topics about ancient civilizations. They may select specific concentrations for research that pertain to subjects such as Mediterranean archaeology, heritage and small-scale societies. Additionally, they are required to be proficient in one foreign language that is related to their chosen region or topic.

Students who pursue graduate degrees may specialize in interpreting and analyzing materials from classical Greece and Rome, India and Central Asia, the Americas, the Pacific, the Islamic world and other archaeological regions. Fieldwork is also an important factor in graduate studies. Fieldwork allows students to acquire enhanced knowledge and hands-on practice on methods used in excavation sites. Doctoral degrees often require students to be able to comprehend two modern foreign languages. They must also complete dissertations to substantiate their skills in independent research and their ability to contribute to the professional study of archaeology.

Career Options

Individuals with an undergraduate degree in archaeology may snag entry-level positions as research assistants, archaeological surveyors, primary or secondary school teachers, museum technicians and market analysts. They may also be qualified to start careers in legal, medical and communications fields.

Those who have graduate degrees may teach in universities and colleges, covering courses such as geoarchaeology, prehistoric archaeology, Egyptology and classical archaeology. Some work in museums, research institutes and government agencies, while others engage in cultural resources management to locate undiscovered archaeological artifacts and sites.

Job titles for archaeologists with master's or doctoral degrees include:

  • Archaeological field director
  • Historic preservation officer
  • Cultural resources specialist
  • Collections manager
  • Contract archaeologist

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual income of archaeologists and anthropologists was $61,220. However, the lowest paid 10% of archaeologists and anthropologists earned approximately $35,440 or below per year, while the highest paid 10% made an annual salary of about $97,040 or more, according to BLS figures. The BLS also states the projected job outlook for these fields to be at 4% from 2014-2024.

According to the BLS, from 2014-2024 the job growth expectations for archeologists will be slower than average when compared to all occupations. Although applicants with a bachelor's degree can sometimes obtain an entry-level position in this field, typically a master's or doctoral degree is required.

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