What do archaeologists do and where do they work?

Archaeology is a diverse profession and archaeologists engage in a wide variety of work, from finding archaeological sites and excavating them, to scientific laboratory analysis of finds and writing papers and books about their findings. Australian archaeologists tend to specialise in one of three major subfields – Indigenous, historical or maritime archaeology. Most archaeologists in Australia work for public and private organisations to find, excavate and record archaeological sites and other aspects of cultural heritage affected by development projects, such as mining and construction. The organisations include:

  • Federal, State and Local level government departments (eg. Forestry, Environmental Protection, Mining and Energy, National Parks, Heritage Planning & Development);
  • Archaeological consulting firms;
  • Large corporations (eg. mining and resources companies);
  • Engineering/environmental consultants;
  • Aboriginal Land Councils;
  • Museums;
  • Universities.

Archaeological jobs and positions relying heavily on archaeological skills are advertised every week in major Australian newspapers. As well as obvious job titles like “Archaeologist” also look for “Consultant”, “Field Assistant”, “Cultural Heritage Officer” and “Heritage Consultant”. As well as working in Australia, Australian-based archaeologists work globally on all manner of projects.

What do archaeologists earn?

Like all professions, archaeology has a variety of pay scales, depending on the employer and sector. A 2005 survey of professional archaeologists working in Australia showed that over 87% of professional archaeologists earned more than $40,000 per year with 23.5% earning more than $80,000 per year.

How do I become a professional archaeologist?

Practicing archaeologists require the appropriate professional qualifications, gained through university degrees, combined with practical experience, gained through participation in archaeological field projects (surveys, excavation etc). To become a professional archaeologist you generally must have at least an Honours degree in archaeology. This normally takes 4 years of full-time study, with a 3-year Bachelor of Arts/Science degree and an additional 1-year Archaeology Honours programme. All universities, many of the State’s Museums, public bodies and private organisations offer laboratory and field experience through ongoing excavation and research programmes. The Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc.(http://www.aacai.com.au/) provides guidelines for archaeological practice and ethics.