What does a Archeologist do?

Median Pay $62,280
Growth Rate 4%
Citation Retrieved from BLS.gov

An archeologist studies civilization’s past by studying the physical remains of artifacts left by that civilization to understand their culture. Archeology is actually a subfield of anthropology, as anthropology is a broad study of all human culture. Archeologists want to understand why people lived where they lived, what life might have been like for a group of people, and what changes to their society may have occurred over time. Archeologists would even discover the advances made by the civilization over time.

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How to Become an Archeologist


According to the Society of American Archeology, this is also the only field of study that covers all times periods and all geographic regions inhabited by humans. An archeologist requires a master’s degree or PhD in archeology. They would normally do field work for 12-30 months while obtaining a PhD and many master’s degrees may also require field work hours as well.

Experience in some form of archaeological field work is usually expected, by employers. Those holding a bachelor’s degree may obtain entry level jobs as field workers or assistants, but to conduct independent studies or projects one must earn a doctorate degree.

Job Description of Archeologist

An archeologist researches the culture and past human life in history from remains, architectural features, artifacts, and structures found in excavation or underwater recovery or other discovery. They carefully record an object’s information and location then authenticate, date and identify the objects and structures that an excavation has recovered. Recordings would include an artifact’s function, shape, size, and decoration and can give descriptions based on an artifact’s attributes or physical properties, like the materials they were made of.

Archeologists answer specific questions about past societies and cultures according to their survey and research and write and/or publish reports that record site methodology, history and artifact analysis results. They would also give their recommendations and findings to colleagues and the general public for interpreting findings and conserving.

An archaeologist works very closely with anthropologist; they would draw and update maps of the site of features, stratum surfaces and unit profiles. A collection would be made of the artifacts of various materials and be placed and marked in bags identifying where they were discovered. An archeologist can work in museums, parks, historic sites, public education, or manage exhibits. Others work in laboratories studying samples or at archaeology field sites. Often times archeologist are traveling all over the world and to certain geographical locations.

Archeologist usually work full time and may work more than a traditional work schedule. At times they may work 7-10 days in a row consequently having to work on close deadlines or limited permits. Work hours in the field usually start in early mornings and end at noon, especially in hot climates. A technician or assistant may work in the evening processing data that has been found throughout the day. Archaeologists have a slow growth rate therefore employment opportunities are limited and can very be competitive.

Archeologist Job Posting

Let’s look at a job description posted by the Bureau of Land Management. This job announcement is looking for a person to perform the following physical demands and responsibilities:

Physical Demands/Work Environment: Field work is performed outdoors in conditions that include steep and rough terrain, dense vegetation, heavy rains, and insects; to include wet, muddy, uneven or rocky surfaces. Positions require physical exertions, such as, hiking, crouching, and stooping, reaching, or similar activities and may require primitive camping and living skills for up to two weeks at a time. Individuals should be able to work alone or with other people, during day/night hours.

Archeological Technicians assist other professional cultural resource specialists with on-the-ground field studies to identify cultural, historical, and/or paleontological resources. Work may involve designing and conducting inventories; compiling and interpreting collected data; researching reference materials; writing reports on inventory activities; or preparing documents for determinations of eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.

This position was posted to run 12/01/2018 until 01/29/2019 with a salary range of $29,847 to $53,773 per year on USAjobs.gov (link opens in a new tab). USAjobs.gov is an official website of the United States government and part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

Archeology Magazine (Online)

Archeology Online Magazine at archaeology.org (link opens in a new tab) is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. You can get the latest news on archeology here.

Educator Resources

There is a pdf guide to teaching Archeology for Grades 3-12 (link opens in a new tab) on the ssa.org website. This electronic booklet supported by funds from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service, Archaeological Assistance Division, and the Society for American Archeology. They also have an educator resource page (link opens in a new tab) you may find extremely useful.

Archeologist Career Video Transcript

What most people think about when they think of archeologist, is going out in the field and digging things up and finding bones and pots and things like that, and that’s certainly a big part of what goes into archeology. But probably the bigger part, the more important part, is being able to explain what those bits and pieces actually mean. We use things like shovels and sometimes picks. We also use smaller tools like trowels or smaller digging spades.

One of the tools that we use is something called a screen, which it’s actually sort of like your window screen but a little bigger and we put the dirt in there and shake it. So what that does is it separates all the smaller dirt particles from the artifacts and then you look through what remains in the screen. This farm was actually part of a plantation that was established in 1794 by a family of French people. They had about 748 acres total and they had 90 enslaved laborers in their possession.

An eye witness account that gave us a little of a clue as to the general location of where the slave quarters were and then we really just had to go out and start digging. We uncovered a wide variety of artifacts. Everything from broken glassware and ceramics to rusty old nails and pieces of hardware. Lots of food remains so bone and shell. This is a shell pendant and this is made of oyster shell, like the shell that we have here. So this would have been made likely by one of the enslaved individuals and they would have taken the larger shell and they would made it into this decorative object and then inscribe all of these little lines that go down here and the hole that they probably would have put a cord through to wear it. This is actually an 1817 U.S. large cent, which is the equivalent of what today is the penny and you can probably tell that it’s much bigger than a penny today and that’s one of the attributes along with the date that help us figure out when this was made.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Anthropologists and Archeologists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 19-3091.02. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the Public Domain and originally hosted on Kids.gov which is now USA.gov, an interagency product administered by USAGov, a division of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service.