If you’ve ever seen the television show Time Team, you might think that archaeologists spend their entire time wearing terrible multi-coloured sweaters and getting annoyed with Blackadder’s Baldrick (Tony Robinson). This isn’t always the case! You can also wear bland clothing if you deem it appropriate, and Tony Robinson is easily avoidable. Trust us!
Archaeologists do, however, spend a lot of time out in the field, investigating, excavating and analysing archaeological artefacts, such as pottery, weapons, coins or human remains.
Field work is not the only aspect of an archaeologist’s job, however. Indeed, you won’t just be digging holes, waving a trowel around and unearthing skeletons using a little brush.
Archaeologists spend a large part of their time conducting research, planning excavation projects and analysing artefacts from the comfort of a laboratory.
Many archaeologists also take responsibility for the conservation and restoration of the artefacts they discover, as well as dabbling in a bit of radiocarbon dating.
The planning part of an excavation project is incredibly important. During this process an archaeologist will be responsible for conducting geophysical surveys, taking aerial photographs of excavation sites, and using state-of-the art equipment, such as geographical information systems (GIS).
All archaeological work needs to be recorded. Consequently, as part of this responsibility, archaeologists are required to take photos, produce detailed drawings, take notes and use computer-aided design (CAD) techniques.
Once all the artefacts and data have been collected, archaeologists are usually required to write and publish detailed project reports.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level archaeologists tend to earn between £14,000 and £18,000 per annum, but this can increase to around £30,000 as you gain more experience.
Senior archaeologists with project management responsibilities can earn up to £32,000 and beyond.
Archaeologists tend to work between 35 and 40 hours a week. Field work only tends to be done during daylight hours. However, weekend work is a frequent occurrence, as some ‘digs’ may have tight deadlines due to property development schedules and so forth.
Much of an archaeologist’s time is spent in the great outdoors; however, some of an archaeologist’s time will be spent in a lab or a workshop, working on artefacts and other excavated materials.
It is possible to become an archaeologist without doing a degree. Indeed, trainee archaeologists may be invited to study an NVQ in archaeological practice whilst they learn on the job.
The majority of archaeologists, however, complete an undergraduate degree in subjects such as archaeology, anthropology and history.
Plenty of people with a computer science background also enter the profession, especially since excavation and investigation techniques are becoming increasingly technical. For instance, many specialists in geographical information systems (GIS) now work in archaeology.
Candidates with degrees in other scientific or humanities subjects may also be accepted; however, students might want to complete a relevant postgraduate course to boost their chances of breaking into the profession.
Gaining relevant work experience is also a fantastic way of establishing yourself in the world of archaeology. Volunteering on digs in your local area is a sure-fire way of meeting the right kind of people.
Training & progression
The majority of training is given on-the-job under the supervision of a senior archaeologist. However, it is advisable for all archaeologists to keep their knowledge and skills sharp by conducting their own research and taking part in training courses offered by public sector organisations, such as English Heritage.
From the entry-level position of digger, you will progress to become a site supervisor. As you rise up the ranks even further, you may be promoted into the position of project manager.
Some archaeologists take the academic route and become university lecturers. Alternatively, there is a possibility to become a freelance archaeologist, working as a consultant on different projects with various archaeological teams.
Highly-experienced archaeologists with specialist knowledge may even get the opportunity to work on excavation projects overseas.