How to become archaeologist

What does an archaeologist do?

Archaeologists study material remains left by people and societies from all periods of history. These include pottery, stone, wood and metal artifacts, buildings and environmental evidence such as animal bones, seeds and insect remains.

Typical archaeology tasks include:

  • identifying possible archaeology sites using a range of methods such as aerial photography, fieldwalking and surveying
  • taking part in archaeology excavations ('digs') usually as part of a team
  • recording finds and sites using photography, detailed notes and drawings
  • cleaning and conserving archaeology finds
  • identifying and classifying finds and using laboratory analysis and carbon dating
  • carrying out research
  • using computers to produce simulations of the way a site or artifact would have looked.

There are several specialisms within the role:

  • field archaeology - most of the time is spent planning digs and analysing finds, with a smaller proportion of time on the actual excavation
  • county and regional archaeology - checking planning applications and identifying the impact of development on archaeological sites
  • archaeological survey investigation - using a variety of survey work, including aerial photography
  • inspection - in order to preserve and protect important sites, buildings and monuments
  • museum work - displaying and looking after artifacts in a museum
  • industrial archaeology - preserving industrial artifacts and buildings
  • archaelogical conservation - cleaning, recording and investigating artifacts and materials in a laboratory, possibly working in a museum or university
  • teaching in universities, colleges or schools.

Most archaeologists specialise in a particular aspect of the subject.

What's the working environment like for an archaeologist?

Archaeologists normally work a 38 hour week, 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Those who work in museums may have to work weekends on a rota basis. When working on excavations, field archaeologists often work variable hours.

The workplace and working conditions are very varied. Archeologists may work inside in a museum or laboratory or outdoors carrying out excavation work.

What does it take to become an archaeologist?

As an archaeologist you should:

  • have an enquiring mind
  • be patient, methodical and able to pay attention to detail
  • have planning skills in terms of time, budgets and projects
  • be able to work to deadlines
  • have the perseverance to pursue research
  • have a working knowledge of computers
  • have good communication skills and the ability to write reports
  • be physically fit.


Archaeologist career opportunities

Further information

If you would like to know more about archaeologist careers that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Council for British Archaeology
St Mary's House
66 Bootham
YO30 7BZ
Tel: 01904 671417

British Archaeological Jobs Resource
5/2 Hamilton Terrace
EH15 1NB
Tel: 0131 669 2683

Council for Scottish Archaeology
c/o National Museums of Scotland
Chambers Street
Tel: 0131 247 4119

Cadw:Welsh Historic Monuments
Plas Carew
Unit 5/7
Cefn Coed
Parc Nantgarw
CF15 7QQ
Tel: 01443 336 000

Environment and Heritage Service
5/33 Hill Street
Tel: 028 9054 3034






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