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How to Become an Archaeologist

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Modern archaeology is a far cry from what you see in Indiana Jones movies. An archaeologist might work for a firm that assesses historical sites, as a museum curator, as a teacher or for the federal government. You need a minimum of a master’s degree and should obtain as much experience in field work as possible. Archeology is a competitive field, however, and you may have more employment options with a Ph.D.

Earn A Bachelor's Degree

Begin your education by earning a bachelor's degree. You'll have many choices -- some archaeologists major in archeology, while others earn degrees in anthropology, history, ancient history or the classics, according to the Society for American Archeology. With a bachelor's degree, you may be able to get an entry-level job on an archaeological crew as a field or laboratory technician or assistant. Use this period to acquire valuable skills related to excavation and writing. You may also learn how to work with collections and conduct public interpretations.

Earn a Master's Degree

Spend an additional two years to get a master's degree, which will get you past an entry-level job and into a supervisory position in a government agency, museum or consulting firm, or into a teaching position. In addition to classroom courses, your master’s degree should include field research. The Archeological Institute of America notes that each program has a different approach and the actual title of the degree may vary. For example, at John F. Kennedy University in California, your M.A. will be in museum studies. The University of Colorado at Boulder offers an M.A. in classical/Mediterranean archaeology and an M.A. in classical/ancient art. Texas A&M offers a master’s degree in nautical archaeology. Should you choose that last option, you'll study the history of seafaring, wooden ship construction, the remains of boats and ships, and the culture from which they originated. Your field work might include raising an ancient wooden vessel for study and preservation.

Finish with a Ph.D.

Complete your education with a Ph.D. Expect to spend several years in study. You must then spend an additional 12 to 30 months completing your doctoral dissertation, part of which will be spent in field studies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may also need to complete an internship or attend an archaeological field school to gain experience that will make you more attractive to employers. Your Ph.D. will qualify you to direct archaeological expeditions outside of the United States or obtain a position as a museum curator. You might also become an expert in Native American archaeology and work with tribal organizations to save or record ancient sites.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The BLS notes that job prospects for archaeologists should be good from 2012 to 2022, with a projected growth rate of 19 percent -- slightly faster than average. Archaeology is a small occupation, however, so the faster growth will still mean only about 1,400 jobs. Your Ph.D. and extensive archaeological fieldwork experience will improve your employment prospects, but you should still expect to face stiff job competition. The average annual salary for archaeologists in 2020 was $66,130, with a salary range from $40,800 to $102,770 a year, according to the BLS.

Anthropologists and Archeologists salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $102,770 ($49.41/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $66,130 ($31.79/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $40,800 ($19.62/hour)

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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