How to Become an Archaeologist

Media, especially movies and television, have been shown to have an affect on career choices, and many students are originally attacted to the romanticized depictions of archaeology; however, to become an archaeologist, you need an advanced degree in archaeology, a background in science and history, and to be in good physical condition for working on digs. 

Types of Archaeology

There are several different types of archaeology, and you should look for a school that offers a particular program in the area you are interested in, and one that offers study abroad opportunities. Archaeometry uses scientific study, including tools such as radiocarbon dating and microscopes, to investigate a site. Archaeometry is often combined with environmental archaeology, which investigates the effect of environmental change on archeological sites. Classical archaeology is usually focused on Greek and Roman archaeological sites. With the use of scientific tools, such as sonograms, underwater or marine archaeology will investigate water-covered cities and towns, as well as shipwrecks, as a source of their archaeological exploration. Many of these types of archaeology will combine and are cross-disciplinary with anthropology and history, or with sciences such as soil sciences, botany and chemistry.

Archaeology Degree

Most archaeologists have a graduate degree in archaeology or anthropology, though you can and should begin to work or volunteer on archaeological digs while you're an undergraduate. If your school does not offer opportunities to work on archaeological digs in your areas of interest, you can explore opportunities on the Archaeological Institute of America website.


There is a Register of Professional Archaeologists, as well as a directory of National State Archaeologists. To register as a professional archaeologist, you must hold a master's degree or PhD in archaeology, have conducted one archaeological study as part of a dissertation and have agreed to the code of conduct. In addition, you will usually be expected to know the laws of your state in regards to archaeology, so you can consult with academics, corporations and the general public.


While in school, you should look for opportunities to go on archaeological digs and investigations in areas that interest you. If you're planning on becoming a professional archaeologist, you should go on at least one dig with a professor who will be able to write a recommendation letter for graduate school, since most schools will require at least two reference letters from a professor about your suitability for advanced studies.

You should balance your course load with science courses, especially in environmental studies and soil science, with courses in foreign languages for the region where you plan to study. A classical archaeologist who knows no Latin or Greek is not an asset to the team on site.

Working on an archaeological dig is extremely hard work. You labor outside in all types of weather, from blistering hot to rainy and blustery, and you are expected to use shovels and wheelbarrows, as well as crouch in the dirt for several hours, painstakingly investigating a very small area. It's a good idea to spend some time in the gym developing your strength and stamina so you can work all day on a dig. Remember that your professor and your colleagues will be evaluating your willingness to work and your stamina, not just your scientific ability. Slacking off because you are out of shape or not physically able can hurt your chances for a good reference after the season on the dig site is completed.

You should also get some experience camping and orienteering so you know how to set up a camp site and a tent, read a map and follow directions in unfamiliar terrain, so you can survive on a site that may be far away from a comfortable hotel.