Archaeologists study how people lived in the past by studying the buildings, settlements and objects they left behind. They may specialise in particular geographical areas, historical periods or types of objects, such as pottery or coins. They may also carry out work relating to local authority planning.
You could be:
identifying potential sites using a wide range of methods, including field walking, documentary research, satellite imagery, aerial photography and surveying
working on field excavations (or 'digs'), tracing evidence of previous human land use, such as buildings, objects, bones, coins, seeds and animal remains
cleaning and preserving any artefacts found
analysing, interpreting and dating excavated materials, using methods such as laboratory testing
using specialist computer software, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) to record and interpret data
protecting archaeological sites and managing fieldwork projects
giving developers and planners advice on the implications of planning applications and work on sensitive sites
writing and publishing reports, articles or publicity materials
lecturing in universities, giving educational talks and presentations.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Archaeologists are not highly paid. Starting salaries for site assistants is around £18,000 a year. Experienced archaeologists earn between £28,000 and £32,000. Senior archaeologists can earn higher salaries, but there are comparatively few posts.
The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), the professional body for archaeology, recommends starting and minimum salary levels for professionals. These vary depending on the level of qualifications and responsibility needed for the job and are based on the grade of CIfA membership held by the archaeologist. There are three grades of membership - Practitioner, Associate and Member. From April 2019, the CIfA recommends the following starting and minimum annual salary levels:
Practitioner (PCIfA) members - £19,853 - £20,926 (minimum £19,200)
Associate (ACIfA) members - £29,123 - £31,561 (minimum £22,400)
Member (MCIfA) - £36,552 - £40,276 (minimum £28,850).
You may work in an office for part of the time.
On excavations, you would work in all weathers, sometimes in cramped, cold and wet conditions.
Your accommodation may also be basic, for example a tent, while working on excavations.
You may work irregular hours.
As much of the work is project-based, you will have to travel or move to different parts of the country.
In a university post, you mainly work in lecture theatres and laboratories but you also lead field excursions for students.
The most common route is to take a degree followed by a postgraduate qualification in archaeology. There are many specialist areas of study in archaeology and a wide range of courses are available across the UK.
The Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow offer degree and postgraduate courses in Archaeology, which you can combine with another subject. You need 4-5 relevant Highers at good grades for entry, and for BSc courses you need to have Maths or science subjects.
The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) offers degrees in Archaeology, which you can combine with other subjects. Entry is 3 relevant Highers.
At St Andrews University, you can study archaeology with a selection of degree courses, such as ancient history or mediaeval history. See the institution website for entry requirements.
Alternatively you could take a first degree in an archaeology-related subject, such as anthropology, classics, geography or history, and study for a postgraduate qualification in archaeology.
Postgraduate courses in archaeology are available at the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
Gaining voluntary work experience in museums or on excavation sites is usually essential. More information is available from organisations such as the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and Archaeology Scotland.
Joining archaeological societies may also help. For young people between the ages 8 to 16 years old the CBA runs the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC); there are seven branches of the club in Scotland.
Entry into courses and jobs is very competitive.
You could work for a range of organisations including: Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, local authorities, museums, universities, National Parks, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the Highways Agency. Others work for small, independent units or are self-employed as consultants.
The Training Online Resource Centre for Archaeology (TORC) is an information service for anyone interested in courses and training in archaeology. It also provides information on careers and a searchable database of organisations and groups involved in archaeology in the UK.
You will find useful information on archaeology as a career in Creative Choices, the careers information website of Creative and Cultural Skills. Look under the careers in heritage sector.