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What Does an Archeologist Do? (2023 Updated)

iAre you looking for a career where you can travel the world making interesting discoveries? 

If you are interested in history and culture, working as an Archeologist could be for you. This role is the scientific study of human history and can be very varied. However, it is essential to be very dedicated to doing this job and have a real thirst for knowledge. You need to be prepared to spend over a decade in formal education and be able to focus on tiny details. 

If you want to know, ‘what does an Archeologist do?’, then it’s time to find out…

Key Duties And Responsibilities


Key Duties And ResponsibilitiesDepending on the field you choose, this job can be very varied. It is important to make sure you understand the duties of the job and are willing to rise to the challenge. Here are some of them you are likely to be charged with during your career. 

Archival Research 

This is usually the first step in any project and involves researching the current records. This helps to determine the information that is already known on the subject and what is missing. Useful sources of information include university libraries, historical societies, and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Conducting Surface Surveys

This task involves conducting a systematic survey of a potential study area. You would do this on foot and look for signs of past human activity, as well as collect artifacts from the surface and photograph evidence that cannot be removed from the site.

Digging Shovel Test Pits

This involves digging a series of narrow holes in potential sites to reveal features and artifacts. It is necessary to carefully sift and test the soil of previously uninvestigated sites before conducting excavation. Small artifacts recovered from close to the surface must be carefully categorized and cataloged.  

Evaluating Site Significance

Once a site survey has been conducted, it is necessary to determine how important it is. This includes taking all of the uncovered information into account and creating a report for the State Historic Preservation Office. If a site is determined to be significant, further excavations will then be planned. 

Research Design

This duty involves how fieldwork will be executed and the different techniques that will be used. This helps to make sure that excavation work goes smoothly when it commences. The research design has to be submitted and approved, and permission must be granted. This is particularly important if excavation work is planned on a site in another country. 

Gridding Sites

It is essential to record the precise location of artifacts that are found on a site. Before removing soil samples and other items, the entire site must be gridded. Each square has to be measured precisely and assigned a number. This helps to gain a better understanding of the position of objects on the site and how they relate to each other. 

Excavating a Unit

Excavating a Unit

Once the site has been properly prepared, it is ready to be excavated. This needs to be done in a very careful manner so that artifacts and the surrounding area are not damaged. All artifacts that are removed from the site have to be correctly bagged and labeled. 


This duty revolves around studying soil layers and samples. This can be done both at excavation sites and in laboratories. Stratigraphy is used to determine the age of each layer of the soil as well as the contents. 

Analyzing Artifacts

This is one of the most important duties, and several different techniques are used to analyze artifacts. It is important to determine the best types of techniques to use for different types of materials. You need to have excellent attention to detail to do this well and be able to draw insightful conclusions. 

Analyzing Features

This area relates to the different features of an excavation site. Understanding them and how they were used can lead to interesting discoveries about civilizations. Features that have to be analyzed include storage pits, communal kitchens, and privies. 

Preserving Collections

In addition to discovering and observing new artifacts, it is important to preserve them. This includes field notes, soil samples, maps, drawings, photographs, and historical documents. It is essential to understand and follow the strict guidelines for cleaning, cataloging, labeling, and storing. 

What Does An Archeologist Do? – The Main Specializations

Once you have gained some experience, it is a good idea to choose a specialization. This allows you to focus on a particular area and make a name for yourself. Here are some of the main areas that you can choose from.

Prehistoric Archaeology

This specialization focuses on pre-urban societies and learning more about how they were established. These are civilizations that did not keep historical records because they had yet to develop a writing system. People in this field look for artifacts that provide insights into the culture of the civilization. 

Historical Archaeology

This specialization blends history and anthropology and focuses on everyday human experiences and cultural processes. This largely involves studying the recordings and writings of past societies. When new historical records are uncovered, these experts spend time decoding and interpreting them. Artifacts of interest include engravings, ancient tomes, manuscripts, drawings, and seals. 



This sub-discipline revolves around understanding past populations and civilizations. The main focus is studying diseases in ancient cultures to determine how they progress. Deepening understanding in this field can help scientists minimize the effects of now modern diseases. 


This specialization is the study of both ancient and current hunter-gatherer groups. In addition to excavating past sites, this role involves spending time with current hunter-gatherer groups. This can involve months of observing the activities of communities in their natural environment.

Environmental Archaeology

This discipline has grown considerably over the last few decades. It now forms an important part of the majority of excavation projects. It mainly focuses on the environmental conditions that have affected societies in the past. This often involves studying animal and plant remains to discover the habitats and conditions. 

Underwater Archaeology

If you love diving and exploring shipwrecks, you could turn your passion into an interesting career. You would have the chance to travel to different dive sites around the world and collect samples from shipwrecks. And even study ancient cities that have been buried by water, such as Alexandria in Egypt.

You would use sophisticated equipment like sonar, remote-controlled cameras, and salvage vehicles to explore underwater habitats. You will need to learn the correct way to collect samples and analyze them. This role also involves spending a lot of time in specially created laboratories around the world. 

Forensic Archaeology

If you have an interest in crime and investigation, this specialization could be for you. You would be charged with using archeological methods to reconstruct and investigate a crime scene. This includes identifying and analyzing human remains to determine when and how a murder took place. 

Forensic Archeologists often work with the United Nations to investigate mass graves. This helps the United Nations to gather incriminating evidence for war crimes. What you collect can serve as an important resource for identifying and charging perpetrators. 

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization is a good way to make connections. If you are about to embark on your career, you can find valuable advice and even find a member. Here are a few of the organizations that you could consider joining. 

The Archaeological Institute of America 

The Archaeological Institute of America 

This is the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to archeology. The official website features a jobs section where you can find details of numerous roles. There are also lesson plans and other materials for people who teach archeology topics at university. 

The Council for British Archaeology 

Joining this council is the perfect way to make international connections. People often travel from all over the world to work on digs and other specialist projects. The Council for British Archaeology hosts the annual Festival of Archeology. This vibrant event lasts for around a week and includes dozens of interesting events.

The Association for Environmental Archeology 

If environmental archeology is your specialization, make sure you join this association. The Association for Environmental Archeology regularly hosts conferences and gives members access to the latest findings. This is the perfect place to meet other people in your field and gain access to valuable resources.

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What Does An Archeologist Do? – Final Thoughts

If you have a love for history, working as an Archeologist could be the perfect career move. However, you need to take the time to become fully qualified before starting work. If you decide to complete a Doctoral degree, it can take up to twelve years to complete your education.

However, gaining advanced qualifications will give you access to more interesting work and will boost your earning potential. Specializing in a niche archeological field is also a good way to secure the big bucks. With time and experience, you could earn up to $100,000 per year as an Archeologist.

Good luck with your career in Archaeology!

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About Robert A. Casey

Robert works with his girlfriend at a busy LA actors agency, where he secures roles for a number of B-list and a few A-list celebrities. His knowledge and connections within the film and TV industry are very impressive, and he loves sharing his experiences with all our readers on the site.

He lives in Studio City with his girlfriend Rachael, and his cat, Gerald.  

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