Who Are Archaeologists?

By Holly Floyd

Who are archaeologists? One might think this is a simple question, especially since we have the great example of Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr. to give us an exciting view of archaeologists’ lives. From his adventures, it would be easy to believe that archaeologists’ studies include combat skills, specialized training for getting out of traps, and that they always find the desired (rare and valuable) relics in pristine condition.  Indiana Jones described reason to choose the archeology field when he said, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.”


However, in reality archaeology is far from an Indiana Jones plot. In the many archaeology programs throughout the United States, none include combat or physical training, but they do include years of schooling. To better analyze artifacts and understand the culture they are studying, an archaeologist needs to be proficient in anthropology, history, and other sciences. Hands-on field work and internships are also recommended before entering the field full-time. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is usually needed to become a field archaeologist. To manage a project or engage in your own field research, a master’s degree or PhD is required.


Once in the field, there are also many types of archaeology. Some archaeologists study prehistory (which include cultures before the written record), while historic archaeologists have written documents to work from in addition to artifacts.  Archaeologists can also specialize even further by focusing on bioarchaeology (the study of human remains), primitive technology (recreation and use of ancient tools), or underwater archaeology (archaeology done in a body of water) to name a few.


Jobs in archaeology are usually found at large organizations such as universities or museums, or through cultural resource management (CRM) companies. Typically, archaeologists associated with universities or museums conduct research based on their own interests or field of study.  CRM companies do salvage archaeology and excavate sites ahead of federal construction projects. Archaeology is also more than digging. There are weeks in labs analyzing artifacts and data recovered from the sites.  Archaeologists use these pieces of evidence like puzzle pieces to reconstruct people or cultures of the past.


Although archaeologists do not live quite as an exciting of a life as the famous Indiana Jones, the job does have its perks: travel (sometimes worldwide), working outside, and handling objects that were made hundreds or thousands of years ago.


In summary, archaeologists are average people, have a great deal of knowledge, are generally covered in dirt, and derive excitement from discovering a fragment of an object that could may been used to eat dinner thousands of years ago.