The physical remnants of ancient civilizations tell us a story about cultures that preceded us. Through a systematic study of the relics, we can understand how communities developed and flourished over the ages. Archaeology thus provides an insight into the lives of people during a period of time.
The discipline attracts individuals who are adventurous, and possess the curiosity to delve deeper into past eras. Archaeologists explore areas for the existence of old-time civilizations following up on material evidence that has turned up, and by researching archival documents that indicate human settlement in a region. On locating a site they map the place and conduct an investigation using various techniques. They excavate, analyze, and interpret natural and man-made objects, and structures unearthed to shed light on the chronology, historical context, and customary practices of the society. Archaeologists are also involved in conserving our cultural resources, and in public education. They work in the following areas.
As curators, they oversee the acquisition, evaluation, and classification of the exhibits in a collection. They prepare displays and give public presentations. Curators are involved in the institution’s research projects, as well as in its fundraising and promotional activities.
2. State and Federal Government
Archaeologists are employed by various government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Land Management Bureau, Army Corps of Engineers, state parks department, and water resource department. They are responsible for managing and preserving archaeological sites on federal and state lands, and in the handling of local ordinances protecting heritage areas.
As faculty members at colleges and universities archaeologists teach courses in history, anthropology, or archaeology. When not teaching they take up field research funded by grants.
4. Private sector
Archaeologists work for engineering and environmental companies or organizations specializing in archaeological investigations. They are employed by cultural resources management (CRM) firms retained by clients for surveying, evaluating, and conducting impact analyses on sites of significance prior to their use for construction and developmental activities. Cultural resource specialists’ workout mitigation plans for a site as required by applicable laws.
Becoming an Archaeologist
So how does one get a start in the profession? The basic educational requirement is a B.A. or B.S. degree with a major in archaeology or anthropology. The course of study covers archeology, as well as relevant subject areas such as history, architecture, linguistics, geology, and cultural anthropology of regions around of the world.
Academic work is supplemented with training in survey methods, tools and techniques used in excavations, and laboratory analysis. By spending their summer at an archaeology field school students can gain experience in working on digs.
Universities also offer interdisciplinary programs that combine archaeology with other sciences, for instance, a master’s degree in zooarchaeology, which is a study of animal remains from an archaeological perspective. An innovative program that has been introduced is a degree in cultural resources management that’s geared towards developing professionals with competency in CRM and related areas. Completion of a doctoral degree opens up further career options. It is a requisite qualification to be put in charge of an excavation and to hold faculty positions in universities.
Archaeologists with a doctoral degree are also preferred for museum curator positions and senior administrative posts in a nonacademic setting. Some archaeology majors go on to pursue a degree in law to become practicing lawyers counseling developers, and individuals about prevailing regulations concerning development of the property, and ownership of cultural property etc.
As for the employment scene, undergraduate degree holders can begin as laboratory technicians or field technicians. Archaeology field school experience helps in landing a field crew position. The job can be demanding, involves travel, and often performed in difficult climatic conditions and terrains. Sometimes there can be short periods of downtime between projects. On the plus side being a field technician affords the opportunity to update one’s knowledge, and become skilled in latest archaeological techniques. This practical know-how proves valuable further into the profession.
For those with advanced qualifications the scientific, engineering, and cultural resource management services are among the areas predicted to offer good employment prospects; presently academic job opportunities are rather limited. As the demand for archaeologists corresponds to increase in developmental and construction activities more employment growth is seen in related sectors.
In essence, with the various specialty areas of work within the profession, you can forge a promising career in a sphere of archeology that’s in line with your interest.