Are you interested in studying archaeology or working as an archaeologist? The information below can help you get started.
How Do You Become an Archaeologist?
As a first step in your archaeological pursuits, it's important to understand what archaeologists study and do. The sections below contain an overview of fields of study and professions in archaeology. After that, you'll find more details about the academic degrees you'll need and where you can get them.
Understanding the Branches and Fields of Archaeology
There are two main branches of archaeology in the United States (U.S.), Classical Archaeology and Anthropological Archaeology.
Classical Archaeology is usually taught in Art History and Classics departments at universities.
Anthropological Archaeology is taught in Anthropology departments. Anthropological Archaeology mainly deals with prehistoric cultures. In the U.S., it tends to focus on ancient Indians, but can also deal with prehistoric cultures and even human origins elsewhere in the world.
Historical Archaeology is a major sub-field of American archaeology and deals with the time period that coincides with the appearance of written records, beginning with European colonization of the Americas after 1492.
There are a few universities in the U.S. with stand-alone Archaeology Departments, but these schools usually focus on Classical or Historical Archaeology. Classical archaeologists center their research around the Mediterranean Sea, studying Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern cultures. They can also specialize in Biblical Archaeology. Classical archaeologists often need a foreign language skill such as reading proficiency in Greek or Latin.
There are many other archaeological specialties such as Underwater Archaeology , Urban Archaeology , Mesoamerican Archaeology, Asian Archaeology, and even Polynesian Archaeology. Most of these are sub-fields of main archaeological tracks, with people forming specializations in graduate school.
Understanding the Archaeological Profession
Over the last 50 years, archaeology has changed from a profession where most jobs were at universities and museums, to a profession where most jobs are with government agencies or private contracting firms.
This reflects a change from a research focus to a preservation focus, resulting from the passage of environmental laws on both the federal and state levels. Archaeological sites are treated like endangered species. They are a finite and irreplaceable resource.
To become a professional archaeologist, you will need at least a master's degree, which means first getting a bachelor’s degree (four-year degree) plus two additional years of college courses after that for a master’s degree. This would make you qualified for most government agency jobs or as a private contract archaeologist.
Typically, a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) is needed to teach archaeology at the college level or to work at a major museum. A Ph.D. usually means at least another three years of college education beyond a master’s degree.
You can do basic archaeology with only a bachelor's degree, but the work is often seasonal and doesn’t pay as well.
Where to Study Archaeology
In Minnesota, you can get a bachelor's degree in Anthropological Archaeology at the following schools:
- University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- Minnesota State University – Moorhead
- Minnesota State University – Mankato
- St. Cloud State University
- Hamline University
The University of Minnesota, Mankato, and St. Cloud also offer a master’s degree in Anthropological Archaeology. Only the University of Minnesota offers a Ph.D. in Anthropological Archaeology.
The University of Minnesota Art History Department offers several regionally-focused graduate specialties in classical archaeology. The University of Minnesota Classical and Near Eastern Studies Department also offers undergraduate and graduate courses in classical archaeology.
Macalaster College offers an undergraduate major in Classics with a specialty in classical archaeology.
Getting a Jump Start: High School Subjects That Can Prepare You to Be an Archaeologist
The most important skill for professional archaeologists in any sub-field is writing. Learn to be a good writer and you will not only have an easier time in college, but you will be more employable once you finish your college degrees.
Because archaeology in the U.S. is considered to be a science, all science courses are beneficial, as they not only teach the basics of biology, chemistry, and physics, but also teach you to think analytically.
Mathematics is also important, as archaeological fieldwork and analysis can involve statistics and skills in algebra, geometry, or trigonometry.
Foreign language classes are a must for students going into Classical Archaeology. History classes and classes in anthropology and sociology are also essential archaeological preparation.