Career Profile: Archaeologist
When you go to museums, you learn a lot about the past. Some museums have information about the relatively recent past, but others give information about people who lived many centuries ago in countries around the world. How do people in the twenty-first century know about the ancient Romans or even the settlers who came to North America two hundred years ago? Much of what people know about the past comes through the work of archaeologists who try to understand other cultures and people through what they left behind.
Suppose that you wanted to find out about your great-grandmother’s life. You might ask your parents and grandparents for information, and you might also look at old diaries and maybe some of the things she owned. Archaeology is a lot like that kind of search. The main difference is that archaeologists are usually searching for information on whole communities and cultures instead of just one person. They often work far away from home, trying to learn about ancient people and to understand how they lived.
Part of what archaeologists do is to look for objects that show what life was like in the era they are studying. Some objects might be made of gold or silver, but archaeologists can still learn a lot from even the tiniest beads or other things that the people used. Archaeologists also look for whatever written records they can find, whether they are written on paper, stone, or anything else. Digging for ancient objects, or artifacts, can be slow and difficult work, but it can be very rewarding.
Before archaeologists get to the point of digging for artifacts, they need to study and learn about what other archaeologists have discovered. They need to learn about ancient civilizations and practice the skills they need for recognizing and preserving artifacts. This process usually involves getting at least a Master’s degree and sometimes a Ph.D. in archaeology at a university. Through this type of program, students learn about fossils, ancient art, museums, and many other topics. They might learn to read Latin and other ancient languages like Egyptian hieroglyphics and find out what people in the past used for medicine and what they ate. A wide range of knowledge can help archaeologists know how to look for artifacts.
Being able to analyze and interpret what they find is also important for archaeologists. Only a part of their work is digging for artifacts. They also have to analyze and organize what they find, research the history and the objects, and then write about what they discover. For all of this work, they might receive between $55,000 and $60,000 per year, working for a private company, a university, or possibly the government. Working hours can be long when they are out digging, but otherwise, archaeologists usually keep regular office hours. Jobs in the area are limited, but flexibility and a wide range of knowledge can help.
Do you love history and learning about the past? Why not consider working as an archaeologist?