- Study historical sites and artefacts using specialist techniques and knowledge
- You may work outdoors doing excavation work or indoors at a museum, laboratory or office
- Temporary contracts are common
Archaeologists study the past by looking at places and artefacts in order to better our understanding of history and humanity. You may be involved directly in carrying out excavations, commonly called digs, or related work such as, advising local authorities on the archaeological implications of planning applications; assisting with the preservation, conservation, display and interpretation of artefacts in museums or heritage centres; or carrying out research and educational work.
Your role will be varied and will depend on your specialist area. It could include:
- Identifying possible sites to study using aerial photography
- Field-walking and surveying
- Taking part in excavations or digs
- Recording finds and sites using photography, detailed notes and drawings
- Identifying and classifying finds
- Cleaning and preserving finds in a laboratory
- Using laboratory analysis like carbon-dating
- Using computers to produce simulations of the way a site or artefact would have looked
- Preserving industrial artefacts and buildings
- Checking planning applications and identifying the impact of development on archaeological sites
- Making sure important sites, buildings and monuments are protected
- Classifying, displaying and looking after artefacts in a museum
You may also carry out research and publish your findings, or teach at universities, colleges or schools.
You could work in a museum, in an office or visit sites.
Your working environment may be outdoors some of the time and you may spend nights away from home.
You could work for organisations like English Heritage, the National Trust, local councils, or museums and universities. Archaeologists are also often required to conduct surveys of land that is being developed for new building projects to make sure that important information about the past is not lost.
You'll need a strong interest in history, be willing to work outside in dirty environments, and have good map-reading skills.
Most professional archaeologists have a degree, and many also have a postgraduate qualification.
You can do degree courses in archaeology, as well as those specialising in different aspects of the work, like conservation, environmental archaeology, human evolution, forensic investigation, or archaeological science.
If you've got a degree in a relevant subject like history, geography or science you could take a postgraduate course in archaeology to get you started. You may be able to get into this role through an apprenticeship. Experience and qualifications in computing, computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) may also be helpful.
Competition for courses and jobs can be high, and getting practical experience is likely to help you get a place. Local and regional archaeological associations often have programmes of field activities that you can join. You'll find details of volunteering opportunities through the Council for British Archaeology. Experience and qualifications in computer aided design (CAD), illustration and geographical information systems (GIS) can be helpful.
Archaeology is a popular profession and your career path will vary according to the type of sector you work in and your specialist area. With experience, you may progress into a senior role like site supervisor or director. You could also specialise in teaching, academic research or preservation. If you have specialist skills, there may opportunities to develop your career in related areas such as forensic archaeology, conservation, heritage management, curating and archaeological sciences.