A further BAJR Guide - A Career in Archaeology is also available to read as a pdf
This short guide is designed to help answer some of the basic questions that are asked about getting started in archaeology, whether as an interested amateur a determined schoolchild or a student getting ready to leave university or college. It can’t be completely comprehensive, without being hundreds of pages long, but hopefully adds enough detail, and links to other resources to satisfy most questions.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius (551-479BC).
Archaeology links with subjects such as geography, social sciences, maths, physics, biology, chemistry, art, technology, and of course history. This is an art and a science, it is one that stretches the mind, and is also pure fun. Often archaeology is seen as a hobby, a career for adventurous individuals, or as a broad based degree that will help with whatever you want to do in another career. It is whatever you want it to be. No matter who you are, how old you are, and what your interests or job is, archaeology is open to you, here is how.
Between the ages of 8 and 16 there are often difficulties in finding a way to get involved.Watching Time Team or Indiana Jones can start up a real interest in the past, but when it comes to actually doing it, just where do you look,what can you do,and what subjects will be useful to study?
YAC branches are a network of local groups where young people up to the age of 17 can get involved in hands-on activities on a regular basis.
The main YAC website can be found here, with loads more information:
Remember to check out the National Organisations - who always have advice:
There are many local History and Archaeology Societies across the UK, and once again, you need to know where to go to ﬁnd them. The best place to go is your Local History Centre, often found in the main Library, where they should have details of the groups in the area.
A full list of these can be found here:
Many of the local societies have excavations and ﬁeldtrips during the summer while the rest of the time they put together lectures and talks, though be aware, that a large proportion of local groups no longer actively engage in ﬁeldwork or research.
The age of members can often be high, but not always, with many groups having active membership in their 20s and 30s and they are always more than welcoming of young members.
Get in touch with your local Archaeology Curator (http://www.bajr.org/WhoseWho/Curator.asp) or look at their website to find opportunities and ask questions about how to get involved in your local area.
Around the country, there are literally thousands of sites, museums, activity centres, and events to visit if you are interested in archaeology. You could make a holiday of it, visiting dozens of sites in an area, for example along Hadrians Wall, where you could visit;
Housesteads Fort with magniﬁcent ruins, a museum and spectacular views. Then on to Vindolanda with fabulous reconstructions of the wall, houses and temples and a ﬁrst class museum, where you can see the Vindolanda tablets. After visiting Corbridge Roman Town take a walk around the village of Corbridge only half a mile away then to Dilston Castle and Chapel and Aydon Castle which are all easily accessible from here. Other highlights would be Birdoswald Fort, the Mithras temple on the windswept moors, Segedunum Roman Fort and reconstructed bath-house, Arbeia and the Great North Museum Project as well as Denton Hall Turret and Wall, Benwell Roman Temple and Newcastle Castle. You could easily spend a week enjoying the archaeology and the great outdoors.
Of course you could do this in any part of Britian, from Shetland and Orkney to Cornwall and Devon. Over a week or a weekend, or even a daytrip. The main thing to do is explore!
One of the hardest questions to answer is what subjects you should study, and what you will need to get into University (if that is what you want to do). You should realise that archaeology is not just about digging in the ground, and so, just about any subject will be of use.
In the ﬁrst section, you saw the vast range of subjects that archaeology covers, so it all depends on what you feel you are good at, however, two essentials would be English and Information & Communication Technology (ICT ) as both these skills will be essential in most aspects of archaeology. However, archaeology is such a broad subject that any combination can work, so the advice is to play to your strengths and follow that path, whether it science or art, digging or writing.
Archaeology is a big subject which can take in a vast range of skills, so don’t just hink that you need history to be an archaeologist.
English is always essential, as you will have to communicate what you ﬁnd, whether you are writing a ﬁeld record, producing a report or creating a specialist document. Mathematics is useful, but don’t worry if you are no good at numbers, as although many tasks such as taking height levels or writing out coordinates, as well as taking careful measurements involve numbers, it is often geometry and arithmetic, and once you have done it a few times for real, you will realise its simple.
Geography is another good core skill, as it helps you to look at the landscape, understand economies and how man affects it, which is rally what archaeology is all about. A site is just one piece of the puzzle, as each farm, each house, each town all ﬁt into a landscape.
Art will help you if you want to be an illustrator, but also, having some idea of how to draw will help in a number of areas, as will topics such as History, that lets you examine the past and research, analyse and come to conclusions based on evidence.
Physics and Chemistry open up the areas of archaeology such as geophysics, geosciences, geology, and the whole range of dating and scientiﬁc examination of materials. Biology would help in Dendrochronolgy and the study of animal and human bones (Osteology).
Today, archaeologists also use a larger and larger range of IT tools, so learning about databases, GIS systems, and spreadsheet will be useful in many ways.
We have to communicate our results as widely as possible, so webdesign is a good skill to get, but think about other ways of expressing archaeology, and being able to involve people – Poetry – Drama – Design and Technology – Religious Education and even Music (a new look at how music played a part in human evolution has recently been put forward)
Archaeology is the study of all human activity in the past so there are few subjects which cannot be linked to archaeology if that is what interests you.
So you see, you have to both think about what you want to do, Field Archaeology? Ceramics Specialist? Osteologist? Land Surveyor? Researcher? And then play to your skills. Choose subjects that will help you the most in the direction that interests you most.
Never stop learning, and remember that only by keeping up with the latest ideas, news and techniques, will you be able to move forward in archaeology.
University degrees will help later in your career, but at the start you may have little chance of getting a job unless you have experience, so consider fieldschools and other training opportunites. ( Fieldschools can be found on Past Horizons )