Archaeology Degree: Information You Will Really Dig

Step aside Indiana Jones and Lara Croft because there’s a new wave of archaeology degree holders heading into the field to dig up the past and preserving it for the future! We may not have two guns like Lara or a cool bull whip like Indy, but we’re armed with plenty of information instead!

If you’ve always been interested in ancient civilizations and people, then keep on reading because we’re going to tell you all about earning an archaeology degree today.

Archaeology Degree

archaeologyAn archaeology degree may be just the thing for you if you’ve ever wanted to explore unknown territories with the intent to recover, study and preserve as much of human history as possible. Through archaeology, scientists are able to learn a lot about how we came to be the civilization we are today. Before you can sink your teeth (in this case you’d use a shovel) into the archaeological world, you will first have to earn a degree and we’re going to fill you in on those details now.

Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology Degree

There aren’t any archaeology specific degree programs at an associate’s degree level and the most you could do would be to take any archaeology courses offered, providing there are any. So, with the help of our research, we’ve concluded that it seems that the best place to start is with a 4 year bachelor’s degree.

During the process of earning an archaeology degree, you will study additional areas of cultural anthropology, biological anthropology and linguistics. There is a nice balance of time spent both in the lab and in the classroom for lectures. Some colleges and universities may offer the opportunity to get out into the field and participate in actual excavations, which is an excellent way to utilize the methodology and techniques that are discussed in class.

Graduate Degrees in Archaeology

You’ll have the option to continue on to a master’s and doctoral degree track in archaeology if you’d like to and if you are seeking a job in upper level positions in the government, museums or various archaeology. A master’s degree will probably take around 1 to 2 years to complete and a doctoral degree may have you clocking in an additional 2 to 3 years. So, if you’re doing the math along with us, that will having you burning the midnight oil while you hit the books for about 7 to 8 years.

You’ll more than likely have to complete and submit a thesis project or dissertation in order to graduate. Most colleges require these end game projects to be on a specific research topic that will take you many, many, many hours to complete…but just think about all the cool stuff you’ll get to do and see once you’ve got that diploma handing on your wall!

Archaeology Degree Courses

Now that we know about the different degree levels that are available to those that are interested in pursuing an archaeology degree, we want to tell you about some of the courses you may be able to take. So, let’s get to it!

  • Great Discoveries in Archaeology: This is a lecture heavy course that focuses on some of the most important things discovered in archaeology. There will be discussions of human prehistory in ancient sites such a Olduvai, Lascaux, Stonehenge, Egyptian Pyramids, Machu Picchu and more.
  • Introduction to Archaeology: All of the important methods and theories of prehistoric and historical archaeology both in the past and present are covered in this course This will be one of the first classes taken during an archaeology degree and a great many topics will be covered. You will get a front row seat to learn about collecting archaeological data. Dating techniques, interpretation of finds, relation of archaeology to history and how to examine cultures effectively.
  • The Contested Past: Examining the many different artifacts collected, ancient statues/monuments and various cultural sites will be studied in regards to who they belong to. This course covers some of the controversies that have occurred over the year in terms of materials of the past.
  • Introduction to Greek and Roman Archaeology: Greek and Roman history is rich and full of interesting events, people and places that have impacted civilizations around the world. To pay homage to ancient Greek and Romans citizens, this course will cover their historical development, religious and public places, cultural impact of the affluent, imperial identity and what took place to bring an end to classical antiquity.

What Does an Archaeologists Do?

If you’re going to spend years in school to earn an archaeology degree, then you might also want to know what you are going to do with it! So, here are some of the things that are done by an archaeologist when in the field!


In order to be successful on a trip into the field, an archaeologist will first need to research, research and research some more. It’s super helpful to know what the background is of the area and of the people before you head out on an expedition. The best way to know what supplies you need to bring with you, what type of climate you’re going to encounter and what type of terrain you will have to trek over.


Once you get out to the site you will be excavating, you will want to survey the area and record all if the places that you plan to get to work. This will help you remember the places that you found to be of interest and ensures that you keep a record of important site details.


Archaeological excavations are performed in divided up areas that are about a 1 meter square. Each squared off area is searched and meticulously combed through to ensure that no stone goes un-turned…literally. Some of the materials that you are digging for can be very small and easily missed, so more than just a standard shovel will be needed. To get into those hard to reach places and sift through the dirt, tools like trowels, paint brushes, dental picks and a sieve.

For the larger items that are unearthed, they can hang tight where they are found until a team of archaeologists are able to fully uncover, document and photograph it. The soil surrounding the large artifacts is put through a sieve as well to ensure that all of the tiny momentos of days past are collected for examination. Artifacts are carefully bagged, labeled and packed away for transport after the excavation site has been thoroughly cleared. Each dig site is then assigned a number that pertains to the state’s archaeological number, a county abbreviation and a number that is unique to that specific site only. This is done to keep tabs on places that have already been examined and to prevent the sites environment from being disturbed unnecessarily.

Artifact Processing

All of those carefully packed artifacts will be transferred from the field to a laboratory where they can be cleaned up and cataloged.


Next up on the docket is the delicate and at time tedious work of analyzing the artifacts once they have been cataloged. There will be some artifacts that require more in depth research and testing, so in order to save them from being damaged, a replica is created to study later.


Archaeological digs are a big deal and used for research purposed later on, so writing a detailed report about your findings is important.


Most of the artifacts that are collected from a trip out into the field will be curated or stored. The most common places for these things to occur are in museums, research facilities and state/country archaeology offices.

There are exceptions to the artifact rule, however. Anything that is collected that can be identified as coming from a Native American tribe will be returned to the tribe of origin. Items that are most commonly unearthed in the process of excavating another site are human bones, funerary objects and other items that are sacred to a tribe. We’d also like to point out that the only reason these items would be unearthed is to preserve them and save them from being destroyed.

Interesting Facts About Archaeology

We’re sure that you already know that archaeology is a super interested degree path to follow. Here are 10 more really interesting facts about the field that may make you even more eager to enroll in a degree program pronto.

  • Archaeology is the study of what humans did in the past and of their possessions. Archaeologists spend time all over the world excavating and researching the people of the past.
  • The word archaeology actually originates from archaiologia, which is Greek and means ancient.
  • An excavation is performed in four stages – remote sensing (the use of satellites to to see the larger areas surrounding the intended dig site), field surveying (logging the finer details of the region you will be working in), excavation and analysis.
  • There are a lot of sub-fields in archaeology such as assyriology, phoeniciology, Egyptology, classical archaeology, prehistoric archaeology, proto historic archaeology, taphonomy and many more. We are devoting our next section to some more sub-fields and will take a more in-depth look at them.
  • Otzi the Iceman is probably one of the most famous and well-known archaeological discoveries. The 5,300 year old mummy was found in the Alps and now is hanging out in Bolzano, Italy.
  • Lost cities are found as a result of archaeological excavations. Some of the most famous lost cities ever found are Machu Picchu, Angkor, Petra and Palenque.
  • Archaeologists use a variety of tools to help them get the most out of their digs. It’s totally common to use rectangular grid, shovels, trowels, spoons, small picks, brushes wooden picks and screens.
  • Archaeologists spend a lot of time in what the rest of us would consider piles of ancient dirt. They are indeed ancient piles of dirt, but the stuff that is in the dirt is what draws the archaeologists in. An archaeologist actually finds out a ton of useful information from all the bits of animal bone, shells and old tools that are found as they are indicative of how past societies lived.
  • Archaeologists like to use computers to render 3D technology to create events, environments and scenes in history. Archaeologists use a computer to perform these actions and the results providing another way to look back one the way human lived in the past.
  • There are several movies about archaeology (we will talk about this in more detail later) and some professionals in the field feel that they are less than stellar representations of the real work that is done.

Archaeological Sub-fields to Study

Did you guys (and girls) know that archaeology has quite a few sub-fields? Well, it totally does and they are pretty interesting too. Each of the fields we are going to discuss with you now help to get your thinking about the vast world of archaeology and all of the different way that you can study it. Let’s talk about some of the different sub-fields now!

Battlefield Archaeology

If you guessed that archaeologists study battlefields, then you’d be correct! This sub-field of archaeology examines the different areas that the battlefield is located in, different eras that the battles took places, the cultures of the day and the weapons that were used to do the actual battling.

Biblical Archaeology

Again, we know that the names of some of these fields are going to be total no brainers, so bear with while we tell the readers that don’t know. Biblical anthropology is the study of religion and its history. It’s common to study Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and the Muslim faith. There will be opportunities to study ancient religious artifacts and to learn all about the way that religion impacted life all those years ago.

Classical Archaeology

The study of the ancient Mediterranean, Greece and Rome as well s the cultures that were prominent during those days such as the Minoans and the Mycenaeans – is all part of the classical archaeology sub-field. Ancient history and art departments like to spend a lot of time in this era too.

Cognitive Archaeology

The focus on how cultures express themselves in the ways of thinking, gender roles, class structure, social status and familial relationships is study in the study of cognitive archaeology.

Commercial Archaeology

This area of archaeology approaches artifacts from a perspective of how cultures viewed their materials possessions in terms of commerce and transportation.

Cultural Resource Management

This area of archaeology focuses how cultural resources are managed on a government level. Basically, what this sub-field means is that all parties have the ability to add their two cents to what happens to some sites and artifacts that archaeologists examine.

Economic Archaeology

In the economic sub-field of archaeology, specialists in are interested in learning how different cultures and societies handled their resources. Economic archaeologists focus on food supply, traded goods and the various forms of currency that were used.

Environmental Archaeology

This is a less common field of archaeology, but an important one nonetheless. The impact that different cultures and societies had on the environment are studied in this archaeological domain.


Ethnoarchaeology studies cultures and societies that are currently living as well as their living environments.

Experimental Archaeology

When artifacts and processes are replicated the study of experimental archaeology is taking place. Th acts of recreating objects and how they are used can tell archaeologists a lot about the people of the past and how they lived their lives.

Fictional Archaeologists That Didn’t Have Clue

There have been several pop culture references to the archaeological field in movies, on TV and in video games. Some of the characters are great and really nail the job down…There are others, however, that are pretty lame and don’t do the field any justice whatsoever. You may be a little shocked by some of our choices here, but hear us out first because there is a rhyme to our reason.

Dr. Indiana Jones

We know that you are likely posed to throw something at us through your computer screen, but we had to add Indy, we just had too. Now, don’t get us wrong, we love the movies and the character…but as an archaeologist he kind of sucks. He’s not the least bit careful in ancient ruins, he destroys temples and he pretty much acts like a bull in a china shop whenever he should not. He could be far worse, but he’s certainly not the best representation of the archaeological field.

Benjamin Gates – National Treasure

We are prone to dislike the character simply because Nick Cage is the “actor” playing him, but we will put our disdain for him aside for now. Gates is as much an archaeologist as we are Victoria Secret models. He’s a character that was developed to cash in on the success experienced by the Dan Brown books with a Indiana Jones twist. We have to laugh when watching Gates bumble through finding artifacts that are hidden in plain sight and trample over the archaeological world looking for the next far fetched conspiracy. If Benjamin Gates were a real archaeologist, we can imagine that he would have a hard time figuring out how to operate an automatic door let alone going on an archaeological expedition.

Nathan Drake – Drake’s Fortune

Yes, it’s just a video game, but we are sticklers for details and Nathan Drake just doesn’t measure up to a real archaeologist. He’s like a crackpot Indiana Jones / Benjamin Gates hybrid that stumbles around killing dudes and picking up artifacts like it’s just a normal day on the job. Don’t even get us started on the veiled (not so veiled) references to Sir Francis Drake and his penchant for importing slaves. We give Nathan Drakes representation of an archaeologist a big fat thumbs down.

Sydney Fox – Relic Hunter 

We have to wonder what the point of Relic Hunter was…It seems like the writer slapped some words together that sounded archaeological-esque and grabbed the pretty girl from Wayne’s World to play the lead. There’s not much archaeology going on in Relic Hunter, but there is plenty of skin shown, bad acting and pretty much no mention of anything remotely relating to the field. It’s kind of like Tomb Raider for Dummies.

Every Character in the Mummy Series

We prefer our Brendan Fraser as Encino Man and less like the goober that he plays in these movies. He’s nothing like a real archaeologists except for his desert boots. His counterpart and brains of the operation are sadly just as poor of a representation as he is. The only thing that Rachel Weiss’s character has in common with an archaeologists is the fact that they can both read. She kind of even screws that up and unleashes a few plagues and a PO’d mummy all because she couldn’t read quietly to herself. We’re certain that a real archaeologist wouldn’t have this issue.

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider

You didn’t really think we would talk about horrible fictional archaeologists without mentioned the point bosomed, booty short wearing Lara Croft, did you? There is nothing about this character that has anything to do with archaeology…unless you count turning supposed artifacts into enemies as archaeology. We are equal opportunity offenders here and also think that the movie version of Croft is equally as terrible and the only thing she has going for her is a better bra.

Real Deal Archaeologists

archaeology-international_fig3_webWe now know about the fictional archaeologists that are worthy of an eye roll or two, so how about we talk about some that knew what they were doing. It was actually kind of difficult to narrow down our list of real deal archaeologists, but we managed to do so after much debate. Let’s get right to it now!

Gertrude Bell (1868 to 1926)

Gertrude Bell was one of the first women to ever attend Oxford University and earn an archaeology degree. Gertrude loved to travel and was an avid explorer. She ventured far and wide in her travels, spending a lot of time in Jerusalem where she learned Arabic and solidified her love of archaeology. Gertrude was a brave lady who was known as a fearless pioneer in the field and nothing could keep her from pursuing her archaeological passion, no matter how dangerous or far away the land was.

Kathleen Kenyon (1906 to 1978)

Another lady of archaeology was the great Kathleen Kenyon. She was responsible for all of the great work that was done in the ancient city of Jericho. Kathleen was one of the most meticulous archaeologists of her time with her impeccable record keeping and research skills.

The Leakey Family

Mary, Louis and Richard Leakey are the archaeological family to know. With experience in both the fields of anthropology and archaeology, they utilized their super skills to work in Kenya in politics, public service and of course archaeological work.

Sources and Recommended Reading

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