Archaeology as a Career

Earlier this month both Kris and Martin wrote about archaeology as a career.  While I’m not a professional archaeologist any longer, I did respond to a survey that an elementary school girl sent to our department for her school’s career day last March:

1. When you started going to school did you always intend on becoming an archaeologist?  What made you choose this career?

I did not intend to become an archaeologist.  I was an art student, then became interested in anthropology.  I went on my first excavation in 2002 and decided to become an archaeologist because I enjoyed excavating and wanted to learn more about people in the past.

2. What kind of different research or volunteering did you do with this career before you decided that this was your chosen career?

I worked on the Thomas and Nora Cole project in Dallas, Texas.  We excavated the house, gathered oral histories about the neighborhood, and made a digital archive of the historical materials that we gathered for the project.

3. Do you feel that the field you work in is very rewarding?  How so?

I find the work to be incredibly rewarding because I have been able to work with interesting, intelligent people.  I also enjoy solving puzzles and thinking about the past in new ways.  In archaeology we are able to work with our hands and our minds at the same time, and that can be rare in a profession.

4. Have you traveled to different sites for your job and if so, where and why?  If you have not, do you hope to?

I have traveled to many states in the U.S. and I have worked in Turkey and will work in Jordan this summer.  I hope to gain a broad knowledge of excavation methodology and experience in a variety of time periods and geographic areas.

5. Have you ever had to work in a lab analyzing artifacts?  If not, do you hope to?

Yes, I have worked in a lab analyzing artifacts, and while I do not find it as gratifying as some other aspects of our research, it is the inevitable outcome of excavation.  I worked in the Texas Archaeological Lab working with prehistoric and historic materials which included shell, nails, glass, ceramics, and lithics.  I worked in a lab professionally and cleaned, sorted, and analyzed a variety of lithics.  Right now I primarily work with digital artifacts such as photographs and video of excavation, but I sometimes go to the museum on campus to look at various collections. Right now I am working with an assemblage from Bahrain that includes ceramics, skeletal materials, copper, glass, and some animal bone.

6. What effect do you think archaeology has on the future?

I think that archaeology provides a way for people to understand the enormous variety of ways that humans have lived and gives us hope that we will be able to find ways to creatively deal with even the most extreme situations.

7. What training do you think would be useful to prepare someone for a career in the archaeology field?

A good archaeologist should be trained in the scientific method, but should also have an appreciation for the humanities and the social sciences.  Classes in geology and biology are very important, as well as an ability to draw and measure accurately.  A good understanding of geometry is essential.  If the archaeologist plans on working outside of the United States, they should pursue language training in at least two other languages.  The archaeologist should be able to easily work in groups, explain complicated concepts in ways that everybody can understand, and appreciate the different ways that people interact socially.

8. What fields of science do you believe are related to archaeology?

Geology, Biology, Anthropology, Geography, Sociology, Architecture.

9. What tasks do you need to perform on a daily basis in your career?

It depends on if I am in the field, the lab, or writing.  Right now I am writing, and so I need to read every day, correspond with my fellow archaeologists, and write about my research.

10. How many people do you estimate are interested in a career in your field?  What are your thoughts on this?

It is hard to estimate how many people are interested in a career in archaeology, but there are many more than who actually get a job working as an archaeologist. While many people hope to become a professor who does research and teaches archaeology, in reality most people work in the private sector, excavating sites in anticipation of road or building construction.

* Somewhere in there I probably should have mentioned that I make less per year now than I did as a part-time grocery store clerk in high school.  True story.