Archaeologist Job Description

Career Information

Archeological excavation, Yzerfontein, Western Cape Province, South Africa.
••• Homebrew Films Company / Getty Images

An archaeologist uses evidence left behind by earlier civilizations to gather information about human history and pre-history. He or she excavates, recovers and analyzes artifacts including tools, cave paintings, building ruins and pottery. Some archaeologists who work in cultural resource management ensure that construction work done on or near archaeological sites complies with historical preservation laws.

This job title is also spelled "archeologist."

Quick Facts

  • Archaeologists and anthropologists*, in 2014, earned a median annual salary of $59,280 or median hourly wages of $28.50.
  • Fewer than 8,000 people worked in this field in 2014.
  • Top employers include research organizations, consulting firms, the government, museums and cultural resource management firms.
  • Fieldwork is a regular part of an archaeologist's job. You can expect to spend at least several weeks of each year traveling.
  • The job outlook is poor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.

*The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics combines employment data for archaeologists and anthropologists

Roles and Responsibilities

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for openings we found on :

  • "Conduct excavation with shovels, perform bending, kneeling, standing, lifting, and carrying field and personal gear"
  • "Develop and maintain a cultural resource information base for the field"
  • "Perform archival research, archaeological inventories, testing, evaluation, mitigation and data recovery projects"
  • "Make presentations to the public, at workshops and other venues on cultural resource management laws and policies"
  • "Complete field forms, draw sketch maps, prepare profile and plan view field drawings"
  • "Wash, bag, and label artifacts as directed"
  • "Consult with project team about laws and regulations concerning cultural resource issues"

How to Become an Archaeologist

You must major in archaeology, earning a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree to work in this occupation. There are some opportunities for individuals who have a bachelor's degree, but they are typically entry-level jobs. For example, the National Park Service hires bachelor-level archaeologists. In general, a master's degree will help you advance beyond introductory positions. Those who want to teach at the college or university level must earn a Ph.D.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to education and licensing requirements, you must also have certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to succeed in this occupation.

  • Verbal Communication and Writing: Archaeologists must be able to communicate well in writing and orally since they must often present their work to others.
  • Active Listening: In addition to excellent speaking skills, strong listening skills will help facilitate your communication with colleagues.
  • Critical Thinking: You must use reason to solve problems and make decisions.
  • Reading Comprehension: The ability to understand written material will help you with your research.
  • Perseverance: This quality will serve you well since it will take extended periods of time to complete projects.
  • Active Learning: Your desire to learn and incorporate new findings into your work will help further your research.

The Difference Between an Archaeologist and Anthropologist

While there are many similarities between these two occupations—agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics lump them together when discussing employment figures—they differ from one another. According to the , "anthropology is the study of the origin and development of human societies and cultures."  The organization classifies archaeology as a subset of anthropology and defines it as "the study of the human past using material remains.

These remains can be any objects that people created, modified, or used" (National Geographic. ).

What Will Employers Expect From You?

We turned again to to find out what qualities employers are seeking when they hire archaeologists. These are in addition to the technical skills and experience they require:

  • "Have an understanding of consensus-based decision making"
  • "Must be adaptable and resourceful"
  • "General computer skills (Microsoft Office Suite)"
  • "Demonstrated ability to pay close attention to detail"
  • "Requires considerable amount of physical activity while making field site visits"
  • "Work experience in supervising or leading a team to successfully achieve program results"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

  • Holland Code: IRA (Investigative, Realistic, Artistic)
  • MBTI Personality Types: INTP, ISFP (Tieger, Paul D., Barron, Barbara, and Tieger, Kelly. (2014) Do What You Are. NY: Hatchette Book Group.)

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2014)Minimum Required Education/Training
Studies historical documents and sources


Master's or Doctoral Degree in History
GeographerInvestigates a particular area or region of the earth$76,420Master's Degree in Geography
ConservationistProtects natural resources like soil and water$61,860Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science, Forestry, Biology or Agricultural Science
GeoscientistStudies the structure and composition of the earth$89,910 Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Geology

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, , 2016-17 (visited April 14, 2016 ).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  (visited April 14, 2016).