Archaeologist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an archaeology career? Get a real job description, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming an archaeologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Archaeology

If you want to be an archaeologist, keep in mind that though there are advantages to the career, it might be a little more mundane than Indiana Jones makes it look. Read more about the pros and cons of a career in archaeology to see if it's the right fit for you.

Pros of being an archaeologist
Have the chance to travel*
Decent employment growth expected through 2022 (19%, combined with anthropologists)*
Positions available in a variety of sectors*

Cons of being an archaeologist
Work can be physically strenuous*
May need to relocate to work site for long periods of time*
Higher postsecondary degrees are generally required for advancement*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Archaeologists typically recover and examine materials in order to learn more about past cultures. As an archaeologist, you might work for a consulting firm, a museum, a university or a government agency. While it's not all about exotic adventures, you might get the chance to travel to excavation sites or research meetings. Advanced technology is now used to target excavation sites and identify artifacts, so you should be comfortable learning how to use new computer programs and gadgets. After you've found historical items, you'll need to use your expertise to identify and describe them. You'll use that data to pull together conclusions about the culture and history of the people from that area.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, archaeologists and anthropologists earned an average annual salary of $61,980 in May 2014. States with the highest levels of employment were California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon.

As an archaeologist, you can look forward to a predicted 19% growth in employment from 2012-2022. Opportunities will be best with the federal executive branch. Anticipated growth in the profession is partially driven by expansion in these sectors, as well as an increase in building construction projects across the country. These projects commonly require the expertise of archaeologists to ensure compliance with preservation laws and other regulations designed to protect historic sites.

What Are the Requirements?

A bachelor's degree might qualify you for an entry-level position, such as an archaeological technician or assistant. Some jobs might require a master's degree, and candidates with advanced degrees will generally have the best job prospects. If you're interested in moving into a supervisory role, you'll need a master's. If you want to teach at the postsecondary level or lead an overseas excavation, a doctorate is probably necessary. General skills you will need include:

• Good analytical abilities

• Excellent communication skills

• Objectivity and an open mind

• Patience and attention to detail

• Ability to work with others on a team

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many positions require familiarity with certain technologies - such as geographic information systems (GIS) - or particular legislation. While there are lots of other options out there, the selected job postings below give an idea of what real employers were looking for in March 2012:

• A professional and technical services company located in California posted for an archaeologist to assist with digs and searches. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field and one year of work experience are required.

• A consulting firm posted for a mid- to senior-level archaeologist/cultural resource specialist in Colorado. It requires 4-7 years of experience, including in the western area of the country. A master's degree is highly desired.

• A power company in Idaho sought an environmental technician/archaeologist for entry-level work. Duties include assisting with surveys and artifact analysis. The position is a temporary, seasonal job without any initial benefits.

• An engineering and environmental consulting agency in Missouri looked for a specialist in the area of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The posting specifies that candidates will inspect potential locations for wireless facilities and ensure their compliance with NEPA regulations. A four-year degree is required.

• A program management company in Texas advertised for a staff archaeologist to perform field work, excavation and analysis of historical documents. Familiarity with GPS and GIS technologies is necessary, as is a willingness to travel.

• A federal government agency looked for an archaeological technician to work in a national park in Arizona. The position is full time and seasonal, and involves both classifying archaeological objects and developing fire safety measures for dig sites. Employees must live in shared housing, and periodic primitive camping might be necessary.

How Can I Stand out?

Get Field Experience

Aspiring archaeologists should research field work opportunities to supplement their studies. It's possible to enroll in field work schools for a summer term, sometimes in other countries. If cost or distance is an issue, you could sign up for volunteer archaeological field work somewhere closer to home.

Continuing Education

To move beyond entry-level positions, you'll need to attain a master's or a Ph.D. in archaeology or a related field. You can also specialize your studies depending on your ultimate career goals; for example, aspiring classical archaeologists need a command of Latin and ancient Greek, in addition to comprehension of other foreign languages to aid in research.

Other Career Choices


If you love maps and are interested in preforming field work but archaeology doesn't feel quite right, consider a career as a cartographer. Employment was predicted to grow 22% from 2008-2018. You might collect data and perform calculations in order to help make maps and establish official boundaries. You'll probably need a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, and you might need to be licensed as a surveyor by the state in which you work.


If you're more interested in educating the public about cultural history, you could become a curator. In addition to museums, you could work for any organization that needs experts in historic preservation. Employment is expected to grow 20% from 2008-2018. However, you might need to pursue a lot of internship work before securing a job as a curator, since job competition can be tough, and a doctoral degree might even be required. Curators earned an average annual salary of $54,000 in May 2011.

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