Archaeology jobs - an overview of archaeology and jobs within this important field

Archaeology jobs involve researching, documenting and explaining the start and evolution of human cultures. This knowledge is informed by the study of artefacts that have been left behind from past cultures.

Typically, these are recovered through excavations of particular sites in search of buildings, roads and paths, bones, tools, weapons, domestic objects and other signs of habitation or activity. Archaeologists are interested in all cultures from prehistoric to the beginnings of present day societies.

A large percentage of archaeologists jobs are within commercial organisations, undertaking archaeology field jobs and research, or archaeological consulting firms. Others work in heritage and conservation, museums, national parks and wildlife organisations. Roles also exist within large corporations, such as mining companies. Most visible are those who work in academia, as professors, research fellows, lecturers and research assistants.

Most people who intend to work as archaeologists will spend the early part of their career gaining fieldwork experience on excavations (or 'digs'). They do this as a volunteer or apprentice, or during a vocational stage of their degree. This is a way of learning on the job from some of the best practitioners. Techniques and areas of knowledge are now so vast that most people specialise soon after graduating, usually with a PhD, which tends to be the minimum requirement these days.

Day-to-day activities within archaeology jobs

With so many specialist areas that archaeologists work in, it is rare to find many that share daily activities outside their own type of organisation. Here are some of the activities that different professionals may be involved in.

What does it take to be an archaeologist?

The lifestyle that goes with being an archaeologist usually depends on your area of specialisation.

In laboratories or office based jobs, hours can be fairly regular, Monday to Friday. The hours on sites where digs are taking place are far more variable and work is highly affected by weather conditions.

Working on digs frequently involves kneeling in the mud, dressed in protective clothing. It is hard physical work in a variety of climates. At times this can mean working in poorer countries where sanitation and drinkable tap water are not a given. Such work usually takes place over weeks or months, at sites a long way from home.

Those further along in their archaeology careers are more likely to spend time away from digs. Outside academia, working on temporary contracts is quite common, as commercial work can be project based, relating to highway and urban development. Fieldwork relates to particular periods of research activity.

Unsurprisingly, determination, patience and endurance are qualities that you need to have if you want a job as an archaeologist. The ability to work in a team and a scientific outlook are vital, as is the ability to research and remain objective. Detailed observation skills are required and strong writing skills. Good physical health and fitness would be an asset for archaeology field jobs.

Career / job prospects in archaeology?

Career development for archaeologists is frequently slow, with competition for openings fierce - so you need be determined, with good qualifications and experience. There is no predetermined career ladder and it is hard to plan a career route. Opportunities come up and have to be taken as they arise. Short-term contracts are common and it is hard to get established.

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Everyone starts working on digs as a field technician. This is usually a freelance role, involving travel - you need to obtain your own insurance and health insurance. Most people are well on the way to a degree in archaeology before they can secure these posts, which lead on to supervisory roles on excavations. Many posts are for volunteers and interns.

The first management tier is that of the project managers or project archaeologists. These managers prepare proposals, budgets and reports, and supervise the excavations. These are often permanent jobs and require a higher degree.

Academic positions are rare and usually require a PhD. Museum positions are also rare and strongly competed for. Commercial positions account for around 40% of all archaeologist posts and often require training in engineering or site development.

Salaries for archaeologists in the UK: How much do archaeologists get paid a year?

In the UK, the starting salaries for diggers, field technicians or site assistants is around £13,000 to 15,000 a year. Remember that paid positions at this level are rare.

A site supervisor could expect a little more at £13,500 to £15,500. Experienced and more senior archaeologists can expect to earn around double that.

University academics tend to earn the best rates, but it is still below that received by highly trained specialists in other disciplines.

Archaeology: salary range of archaeologists

In the US, a typical starting salary within archaeology for a graduate would be around $20,000 to $25,000 a year, working for government lands or private companies. Professors with PhDs can start earning at $35,000 to $50,000 a year.

Where to find archaeology Jobs and archaeology field jobs

In addition to the main general careers and jobs websites, you can also look at the following dedicated sites for the UK, US and Canada.

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In the UK

British Archaeological Jobs and Resources provides a gateway to jobs from British employers, including Universities. University positions can be found at International positions are listed here:

In the US

The Society for American Archaeology lists jobs on their site. Archaeology field jobs are advertised on the aptly named site Shovel Bums, more opportunities are listed at the American Anthropological Association site.

In Canada

Members of the Canadian Archaeological Association can submit their resumes to the site's database.


Few people work in archaeology for the money, although it compares well enough with other social sciences. It is acknowledged as being physically and mentally demanding work, with no clear or sure career progression.

However, for people who are attracted by the outdoors, travelling and investigations, it can be very stimulating. Job satisfaction is high, as discoveries are often fascinating and the process of continued learning is fulfilling.

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