Start a career in archaeology

 8 February 2011

Archaeology is popular. You see it on television, local societies and heritage groups. But if you want to become a professional archaeologist, where do you start?

Some archaeologists stay in university doing research and teaching.
Some archaeologists stay in university doing research and teaching.

Archaeology has greatly expanded over the last few decades, with more jobs than ever before. It is highly satisfying profession with varied work and immense intellectual and emotional rewards.

Archaeology can appeal to those who like to focus on detail and analyse data, those who love to solve complex problems and those who like communicating with people. It really does have something for everyone.

Archaeology in the field

The largest group of archaeologists are employed in the field excavation and survey area.  There are various large, medium and small companies and charitable trusts which bid for the contracts to carry out fieldwork in advance of development. Larger organisations, like Wessex Archaeology, will carry out a great many projects in different parts of the country.

Some organisations have historic sites in their care, conserving them and making them open to the public.

Other archaeologists will work mostly within a particular city or district, such as York Archaeological Trust. Most will have a core of full-time supervisory and specialist staff, and employ field staff on a short term contract basis as and when projects become available.

You could also become an independent consultant, advising building construction companies on any archaeological problems they may face, analysing finds for big field units or working with schools and the public.

Archaeological preservation and research

Some archaeologists work in local authorities or national agencies, with the remit of ensuring the historic environment is safeguarded for future generations. Many work in planning departments, in charge of inventories of archaeological sites and finds.

Making these inventories available to researchers and the public can be an important part of their work. Some organisations have historic sites in their care, conserving them as well as making them open to the public to visit.

Some people stay on in university doing research and teaching. These often carry out long-term research excavations in Britain or abroad, and have the important task of teaching the next generation of archaeologists the latest thinking and techniques. 

Another stream of work is in museums, looking after finds or putting them on display to the public. Museum work is a much wider discipline than archaeology but archaeologists have an important role to play in it.


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