Colleges

Can You Dig It? The Advantages of Majoring in Archaeology

Do you obsessively scan the beach or fields with a metal detector, hoping to find hidden treasure? Do you love reading about ancient cultures in faraway lands? Have you watched the Indiana Jones series more times than you care to admit? You may have a calling for archaeology, and a major in this field promises a career that will almost never leave you bored as you excavate, explore, and restore antiquities of times gone by.

What do archaeology majors study?

Besides general-education courses, archaeology majors typically take electives heavy in anthropology, the study of humans in past and present cultures. That may include classes in ancient civilizations, cultural and biological anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, sociology, statistics, anatomy, evolution, and analytical techniques, all studied and applied in traditional classrooms, labs, and out in the field.

To become a full-on archaeologist or other related high-level role, with its commensurate paycheck, you often need to continue on to grad school, obtaining either a master’s degree or Ph.D. But you don’t have to go that route: With just a bachelor’s degree, you can become an assistant or fieldworker, gaining valuable experience whether or not you continue on with your higher education.

So where can you expect an archaeology major to lead you?

Career options may vary.

There are several paths you can take with an archaeology major, in addition to the straightforward archaeologist or anthropologist choice. You could manage a heritage group, serve as a museum curator, or become an inspector for historical buildings or other venues. Other options include tourism manager, archivist or records manager, or mapmaker. If you want to venture into a different type of field that still puts your archaeology knowledge to good use, consider becoming a college archaeology or anthropology professor, a research librarian, or a cultural resources attorney, though you may need additional training and/or education for those roles.

You won’t be spending much time in a cubicle.

Before you’re out of school, you may get the chance as an undergrad to travel across the country or overseas for one or two semesters for an internship or if your college offers study-abroad programs. But even if you’re not really into heading to far-flung locales, whether while you’re in school or once you’re working, you can still likely find assignments at interesting venues close to home, whether it’s at a museum, government agency, university, or nearby dig site as a contractor. Chances are there are still an ample number of local and regional historical sites ready for you to plumb.

You’ll master many skills and gain a full store of knowledge.

This is especially true if you choose to go abroad. In that case, you’ll likely need to pick up a foreign language or two. You’ll also have to learn how to sensitively and effectively communicate with people in other countries and cultures, nail down writing and your knowledge of best practices in scientific methods, and boost your adaptability to work in often challenging environments (you’ll probably want to invest in an Indy hat to keep the sun off your face). Many of these skills are completely transferable in case you piggyback another career on top of this one or switch altogether down the road.

You’ll also probably get the chance to show off your gray matter when playing friends in Trivial Pursuit: Many archaeology majors often double up for dual degrees, combining their main major with another major or minor in anthropology, ancient history, or classic languages, for instance.

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