Topic ID #16391 - posted 2/10/2012 7:31 PM

I need some advice,I have a lot of questions


Hello. My name is Amanda. I though maybe I'm to young for this website, but I made an account anyway. So I'm 14 years old, and a freshman. For years history has fascinated me more than any other subject. Whatever my career will be, I definitely want it to be in history. An archeologist sounds like a job that fits me. So here are my questions: What are the pros and cons of working as an archeologist? I live in California, so is there any thing where I live that can help me achieve this goal? Any info is appreciated!

Post ID#19300 - replied 2/12/2012 6:26 AM


One:  You aren't too young for this board.

Working as an archaeologist:

I can describe my career path, but there are several.  Some are more difficult to attain than others.

Most archaeologists (as of the last survey) are involved in Cultural Resources Management (CRM firms) either with State and Federal government or more likely in the private sector with CRM.  There is also the academic venue, such as professors, lecturers, researchers etc...I wanted to go this route, but ended up in the other.

In very, very simplistic language CRM firms help developers get through the permitting process associated with Federal, State, and even local laws.  We go out ahead of the project and check the areas being disturbed for cultural resources (we also have architectural historians who check on the historic buildings and properties).  Now, the archaeology that pops to your mind is probably large squares carefully dug with small tools.  This does happen in the private CRM world, but not all that much.  I won't go too much into the different phases of the job, though.  Unless you ask.

So, that is sort of the arena I work in.  

Pros:  Outside, see a lot of small town America, Physical job, don't really have to pay rent.  It was a really fun job in my 20s.  As you get older the Cons really raise their heads.

Cons:  Pay is low, especially for the education.  The West Coast seems to be better off (even when cost of living is taken into account).  Never at home.  Last year I spent 280 days away from home and wife.  This year has been better so far.  I don't have many non-archaeologist friends -- hazard of the job.  When you aren't ever around it is hard to keep friends.  Hotels.  So many Hotels (and not the good one's).  

To get that first archaeology job, you will need a college degree with an associate major (Anthropology, History, etc) plus a field school -- which can be taken at college.  A Master's degree is needed for a position above Crew Chief (typically). 

For instance:  I am a Field Director, in charge of coordinating crews in the field, conducting fieldwork, communicating with clients, regulators, and other folks.  I also do some of the artifact analysis, write reports, etc... etc.  I have a BA in History and Anthropology and an MA in Anthropology.

I hope some of this helps a little.

Most other folks will be more positive about the discipline, but I went into it with folks painting a rosy picture and now regret that I listened to them.

At 14, you can get involved volunteering on local digs or the National Park Service runs a program called Passport in Time.  You could try that.  There are some Park Service folks or folks that have more experience with that aspect that can shed more light on it than me.

Finally -- I usually give this advice:  If you aren't willing to accept some of the Cons, I highly recommend pursuing a more lucrative career and get your Archaeology "fix" by volunteering on digs or go on "vacation" digs.  ((Again, remember:  I seem to be this boards "Negative Nancy" so take it for what its worth.)

Post ID#19303 - replied 2/12/2012 5:36 PM


McBain05, your point of view (however negative some people may think it) is very helpful. True, most people see almost any prospective career with rose-tinted glasses and thanks for painting a realistic picture. I am a senior Biological Anthropology student at the U of A and stumbled on this site looking for a field school to attend for the summer after graduation. I have volunteered on one dig before with a private company, here in downtown Tucson, excavating underneath the floorboards of an old house a non-profit had purchased. I suppose it sounds somewhat like the work you do. However, what sparks my interest more is digging fossils and/or graveyards. You know, bones. But the lifestyle does bother me and I have no idea what kind of jobs are out there for someone like me not particularly looking forward to getting a PhD to get a good job. Lab jobs, field jobs, museum jobs, research, scholar positions, forensic jobs?? I guess I'm just looking for more information than the handouts my advisor gives me. Also, the company you work for makes you travel around a lot. Is this typical or are there companies that only work in one city or state region?


Post ID#19304 - replied 2/13/2012 7:44 AM


Paul Bahn, co-author of the oft-used undergraduate textbook Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice, in his equally thumbed-through book A Bluffer's Guide to Archaeology, had this to say about archaeology: "A career in ruins from the start."  While that's from an entirely tongue-in-cheek (but highly revealing) book, it echoes some of McBain05's comments.  Indeed, the Council for British Archaeology used to have a "how to become an archaeologist" page that took a similar tone and, at the end of it, suggested that if you had already finished your degree you should click on the embedded link.  That link took you to the website for Chartered Accountants.  (In the UK, the average wage for even an experienced archaeologist is somewhere in the realm of £10,000-12,000 less per year than a freshly-minted accountant.)

My favourite remains a tweaked version of a poster put out by the Archaeology Society of Virginia.  Whereas their poster was the somewhat noble "Archaeology--Preserving the past for the future," one particularly embittered crew chief turned this to: "Archaeology--Preserving the past at the expense of your future."

So, yes, this level of cynicism about the archaeological career is not unwarranted.  If you're on the circuit in the UK, or a "shovelbum" in the US, then relative to some other careers the pay is awful, you'll spend much of your time moving from place to place, staying in the only digs you can afford (it is not surprising that where the archaeologist in the UK works shares the same term as the slang for where they live) or series of hotel after hotel, and live from pay cheque to pay cheque.  You will laugh in the face of people that talk about "savings," "mortgage," "retirement" (or 401k) or "health benefits."  Eventually you may grimace as years spent kneeling on cold ground or hiking through uneven terrain begins to take its toll and, before your time, you make that groaning/sighing sound as you stand up or sit down.


There is another side to archaeology.  This is the side that has the publication, Nature, describing archaeology as "one of the last great explorations," if I recall correctly, and chalking it up beside things like astrophysics and oceanography.  As they saying goes, "Love what you do and you'll never work another day in your life," and some people really, really love what they do in archaeology.  Few other careers will offer the kind of diversity that you acquire in archaeology, and few other careers can take you over the world (depending on your choices).

There are jobs out there that are stable, and even jobs that are well-paid.  They're rare, of course, and highly sought after, but they do exist (and not just as college professors).

For some personal perspective, my career has taken me from UK, to Ireland, Italy to Borneo, and currently has me lodged on a historic property in the United States.  I have gone from the Bachelor's degree to the Masters degree, and even forced myself through a doctorate (oh the pain!).  At the moment I'm a field director, but also teach at a local university.

McBain05 really covers the basic gist of how to become an archaeologist. Get a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology or a related discipline (e.g., Historic Preservation), take an accredited field school and that will get your foot in the door.  You can do some basic Googling to find out more information, with sites such as having some good, basic information.  Indeed, a little Google turned up this interesting site/FAQ:

Once you've got some experience under your belt, to progress any further you're going to need an advanced degree, a Masters at the very least.  Be warned that this can be expensive, and your student loans can get... substantial, rather quickly.  Doctorates are an even thornier issue, but that's another topic altogether.

You have a bit of time until you're faced with the choice of which college to go to and what degree to get, so one of the best things to do is inform yourself about archaeology.  If you can, join a local archaeology society to meet like-minded people and explore the events and volunteer opportunities that they might offer.  You could also take an introduction course offered through a community college or university if you find yourself really geared-up for archaeology, and it could even help out your High School career as well.  In fact, don't be afraid to use an resources that your High School offers in terms of career counseling, nor to talk to your parents about your interests.

Experience, though, is critical for getting that first job out of archaeology as well as, to be blunt, determining whether archaeology really is for you.  More importantly it can help you determine which type of archaeology you're interested in.  Some people just aren't cut out to become field archaeologists, while others have laser-precise goals and a track to become a college professor.  If you like field archaeology, though, than get as much experience as you can.  Explore opportunities through your local archaeology society and, once you're in college, see about internship positions that go beyond the field school.  As a freshly-minted BA/BS in Anthropology (etc.) you're going to be up against stiff competition, some of whom are going to have their MA/MS or even Ph.D, and clear indications of experience and interesting in the discipline can be extremely useful in pushing you from "not enough experience" to "possible candidate."

Finally, good luck!  Drop by and let people know how you're progressing.  If nothing else your experiences might help inform another young archaeologist in the decisions and approaches that they take to realise a career in archaeology.

Post ID#19305 - replied 2/13/2012 8:12 AM


Unfortunately one of the problems with getting involved in the study of human remains is that positions are very hard to come by.  The comments about requiring a Masters degree to progress in archaeology are especially true in this case.  Indeed, forensic anthropology (etc.) are sometimes referred to as "thrombotic careers," with people already in the discipline clogging up the system until they die or retire, in which case there's a struggle as everyone struggles for the promotion.

Archaeology laboratory positions don't seem to come up too often on Shovelbums or this board, but they do exist.  Museum positions are the same, but they can be even more difficult to get into and a Masters degree is oft considered to be an entry requirement.  (My wife often laments on this.  Currently an Archaeological Laboratory Director, she's finishing up her MA in Museum Science in the hopes of making a shift into the museum world.)

For bones, though, in general you're looking at an MS to get a foot in since the experience base offered at the BA/BS level usually aren't sufficient enough (which is why there are MS degrees focusing on them).

Indeed, most of the positions that you mention are either rare (lab, stable field positions), are usually accessible principally through an advanced degree (museum, research, scholar), or have a slightly different career track (e.g., forensic science, though there is forensic archaeology).  

With that said, internships can open up new avenues so they shouldn't be sniffed at.  There are also a number of biological anthropology field schools out there at the moment, but I would also recommend taking a "traditional" archaeological field school as well (the focus is likely to be different between the two).

Post ID#19306 - replied 2/13/2012 11:00 AM


It's great that you are already thinking about your career path as a high school freshman. If I were you, I would look into whether there are any archaeological socieites in your area that you could join. These may provide opportunities to learn about field methods, get your hands dirty, and initiate the process of networking. Also, consider signing up for a summer dig at a place such as Crow Canyon Archaeological Center . True, you'll never get rich doing this for a living, but it can be exciting work.

Post ID#19320 - replied 2/17/2012 8:55 PM


I'm rather in the same boat, though I've got my degrees. I'm just having a hard time figuring out where to go from here. Away from home right now isn't the best, though it's part and parcel for the job. Also gaining more education is being difficult due to what I'm planning to specialize in and since my husband and I just relocated our 4yr old son and 8 pets and bought a house due to him getting a better job....well...I'm stuck. My main concern right now is finding a field tech job to boost experience that has housing attached since we aren't in a position to pay for housing and me being away. Any help?

I will also say that the job is worth it if you love it. Part of the reason I'm going batty right now is that I'm NOT out in the field doing what I love, even knowing the draw backs. I've got severe arthritis in both knees and field work kills me, but I'll take the heat, bugs, itchy plants, SPIDERS, and homesickness over what I'm currently doing to make ends meet. Do what you love.


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