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* earn a median annual salary of $62,280 (2017).
  • Fewer than 7,600 people work in this field (2016).
  • 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 between 2016 and 2026.

*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

Go to graduate school to earn master's degree or doctorate in archaeology. You will need a master's degree for most jobs, but for some—particularly those that involve teaching at a college or university or require advanced technical or leadership skills—it is necessary to earn a doctorate.

Can you get a job with a bachelor's degree in archaeology? Yes, but the options are few. You might be able to find a job as a field or laboratory technician or research assistant, but only if you have work experience gained through an internship.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

Your education will only take you so far. Archaeologist also need specific soft skills. These are personal qualities with which you were born or acquired through life experience.

  • 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 reasoning 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—which is why agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics lump them together when discussing employment figures—there are differences between the two. According to the National Geographic Society, "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. Anthropology).

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?

Your chosen occupation must be a good match for your interests, personality type, and work-related values. Consider becoming an industrial designer only if you have the following traits:

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
HistorianStudies historical documents and sources


Master's Degree or Doctorate in History
GeographerInvestigates a particular area or region of the earth$76,860Master's Degree in Geography
ConservationistProtects natural resources like soil and water$61,480Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science, Forestry, Biology or Agricultural Science
GeoscientistStudies the structure and composition of the earth$89,850Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Geology

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited August 7, 2018).