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Become an Archaeologist

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Have you always dreamed of being an archaeologist, but don't know how to become one? Becoming an archaeologist takes education, reading, training, and persistence. Here's how you can get started exploring that dream job.

An archaeologist is a scientist who locates ancient human settlements, studies the artifacts left behind, and draws conclusions about the former inhabitants' daily lives, culture, economy, and social and political organization. Their work follows a sequence and starts with identifying potential new dig sites; organizing excavation work; recording facts about surface features, finding the exact location of unearthed artifacts; identifying and dating artifacts; comparing discoveries at a new site with those from existing sites; analyzing data to develop new hypotheses or contribute to existing theories; and writing papers documenting their research findings. Archaeologists may also assess and offer preservation advice at sites undergoing development or resource extraction.

There are many good popular archaeology magazines now available, often from high-street newsagents rather than specialist vendors. Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology are a good starting point, a quick and enjoyable way to find out more about archaeology.There are also many excellent introductory books on the basics, origins and practice of archaeology — mostly published in paperback, cheap to buy and easily purchased online. Some recommendations for these magazines and books are listed in the appendix of the book.

Here are several steps that will guide you to achieve your goal.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree qualifies you for entry-level research assistant positions. Bachelor's degree programs provide an introduction to what is currently known about prehistoric human society around the world and teaches you field research methods. Course topics may examine hunter-gatherer societies, urbanism, and the emergence of civilization in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. Many programs aim for a multidisciplinary synthesis of anthropology, geography and history.

Step 2: Participate in an Internship

Through an internship, you can gain experience in the field and develop relationships that will help your career long term. Some bachelor's degree programs include an internship in their curriculum. You could also arrange to join whatever projects a local museum, historical society or your archaeology professors are planning or have underway.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

You will have access to better research or curatorial positions with a master's degree. Some programs are designed to prepare you for doctoral-level studies, while others help you pursue careers that don't require a PhD. Master's degree programs develop your technical skills in field research and deepen your theoretical knowledge in a specialized area of your choosing. Historical archaeology, osteology, Eastern studies, meso-American studies and geoarcheology are possible specializations. Most programs require you to write a thesis on an original topic.

Step 4: Advance Your Career

Consider earning a doctorate. Holding a PhD in Archaeology qualifies you to lead the highest level of field research projects or become a professor at a college or university. Although PhD programs emphasize original research, the first two years are typically devoted to classroom study and the remaining three to researching, writing and defending a dissertation. Required courses might include statistics, quantitative analysis and anthropology.