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Archaeologist: Job description

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Archaeologists examine ancient sites and objects to learn about the past. They may specialise in particular geographical areas, historical periods or types of object, such as pottery, coins or bones.

Many people associate archaeologists with carrying out excavations, commonly called 'digs'. This work and the related recording, analysing and interpreting of archaeological remains, are only part of what some archaeologists do.

They may also work in a range of other settings including:

  • local authorities, advising on the archaeological implications of planning applications;
  • museums or heritage centres, assisting with the preservation, conservation, display and interpretation of artefacts;
  • universities and research organisations, carrying out research and educational work. 

Typical work activities

Depending on the archaeologist's specialist area, common duties may include:

  • surveying sites using a variety of methods, including field walking, geophysical surveys and aerial photography;
  • working on field excavations or digs, usually as part of a team, using a range of digging equipment;
  • project managing an excavation, including managing teams of diggers;
  • recording sites using drawings, detailed notes and photography;
  • analysing finds by grouping, identifying and classifying them;
  • using computer applications, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS) to record and interpret finds, sites and landscapes;
  • using computers to produce simulations of the way a building, site or artefact would have looked;
  • cleaning and preserving finds;
  • conducting laboratory tests, such as radiocarbon dating;
  • conducting research and desk-based assessments of sites;
  • checking planning applications and identifying any possible archaeological impact;
  • providing advice on the conservation or recording of archaeological remains;
  • ensuring important buildings, monuments and sites are protected and preserved;
  • producing and publishing excavation and site reports;
  • producing publicity materials and publishing articles about research, site interpretations or excavations;
  • producing written material aimed at a wider audience;
  • giving educational talks and presentations;
  • assisting in the curating and display of artefacts;
  • teaching in an educational environment.

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Written by AGCAS editors
April 2014

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