Five Essentials for a Successful Archaeologist

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Popular culture idealizes archaeologists as adventurous, risk-taking explorers with a passion for past cultures and artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. In reality, you'd be hard-pressed to find an archaeologist fighting off Nazis with a whip, but a passion for the past is an absolute requirement for scientists who spend endless hours writing grants, surveying sites, painstakingly searching through layers of dirt, analyzing artifacts in the lab, and somehow piecing together all of their findings for publication. The reality might not make a great movie, but real archaeologists happen to find it truly exciting.

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lumps archaeologists together with anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, geographers, and historians under the broader category of social scientists. According to the 2008 to 2009 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 41% of social scientists are employed by the government, and most positions require a master’s or Ph.D. degree. Those archaeologists who work for ''federal, tribal, and state government agencies are responsible for managing, protecting, and interpreting archaeological sites on public land,'' according to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA).

There are not many positions for archaeologists in colleges, universities, or museums, and those that are available are highly competitive. The majority of archaeologist jobs can be found in cultural resource management. The BLS reports that ''as construction projects increase, more archaeologists also will be needed to monitor the work, ensuring that historical sites and artifacts are preserved.'' They have projected that between 2006 and 2016 there will be a 15% increase in the number of archaeologists and anthropologists in the country, and the majority of that growth will be in management, scientific, and technical consulting services. The following are five essentials for a successful archaeologist.

1. Good grades

Due to the highly competitive nature of the field, it is important for aspiring archaeologists to be serious about their studies. As an undergraduate, you can major in anthropology, history, or even focus on science. Recommended courses include geography, geology, history, and human physiology. Make sure that you do your research when it comes to choosing a graduate school. Base your decision on the program and course offerings, the professors, the involvement of the school in active digs, and the probability that the school will receive grants. If you want to teach at a university, you should get a Ph.D. The BLS reports that archaeology is one of the fields that requires the highest level of academic degree. Successful archaeologists are the ones that take their education to the limit and continue to seek out knowledge even after they’ve left school.

2. Field training

Practical experience is a must for a career in archaeology. Books and classes are essential and will give you a strong theoretical background, but field training offers hands-on learning and the experience needed to get your foot in the door. In field school archaeology students learn excavation techniques and get an idea of what it’s like to spend long hours outside on a dig, possibly in harsh weather and rough terrain.

3. Good written and verbal communication skills

As an archaeology student, you’ll have to excel at writing long term papers. Once you move into the field as a professional, written and verbal communication skills will remain important. Archaeologists have to be able to write grants to fund their projects, and publishing their findings is essential to success and recognition. Those who want to move into academia and become professors need to possess excellent verbal skills, and prominent archaeologists often write books.

4. Computer and technology skills

The field of archaeology is extremely dependent on technology. Archaeologists spend long hours on the computer, compiling and analyzing data. Advanced technological equipment, often extremely expensive and sometimes fragile, is used in the field. The use of geographic information systems (GIS) is widespread. According to the BLS, continued technological advances are making the excavation and analysis work for archaeologists a lot easier. Therefore, it is important for archaeologists to feel comfortable using technology and adapting to new equipment and processes.

5. A passion for the field

Archaeology is a competitive field. Money to fund projects is limited and so are jobs. Despite the fact that you’ll need to spend a lot of time and money on your education, it may not always pay off in dollars once you get settled into a career. For most archaeologists, the actual work is what makes the job worth it. The BLS reports the average archaeologist salary at just under $50,000 a year, but it varies greatly. Most archaeologists don’t strike it rich in the field, so a love of the job is important.
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 colleges  verbal communication  social scientists  Ph.D.  construction  universities  political scientists  offices  historians  archaeologists

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