How Do I Become a Historical Archaeologist?

Lainie Petersen

To become a historical archaeologist, you will typically need to complete a postgraduate degree in archaeology and possibly an additional degree in the historical period in which you are interested. You will also need hands-on experience working on archaeological sites. As you move forward in your career, you should make every effort to get your work published in recognized academic journals and other publications. Depending on your career goals, you may be able to work as a contractor or may choose to take an academic position at a college or university.

Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.
Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.

Archaeologists specialize in studying physical artifacts left behind by previous peoples and cultures. Some archaeologists focus their attention on time periods in which there was no historical record. A historical archaeologist, on the other hand, seeks to recover and analyze relics from time periods for which there exist written records and history. The pathway to become an historical archaeologist is not necessarily much different than that required to become any other type of archaeologist.

Historical archaeologists study artifacts like the Aztec calendar.
Historical archaeologists study artifacts like the Aztec calendar.

If you are in high school or have not yet begun higher education, you should carefully select your college major and coursework in order to become a historical archaeologist. Archaeology is a sub-specialty of anthropology, and many schools offer anthropology or archaeology majors. Try and find a school that supports an archaeological research center, as this can provide you with opportunities to participate in various types of fieldwork. You may also want to consider a double major or a minor in history. Tell your academic adviser that you wish to become a historical archaeologist so that he can advise you on what courses to take. While completing your undergraduate work, you should take advantage of any opportunities to work on archaeological sites.

Historical archaeologists might work with artifacts in laboratories.
Historical archaeologists might work with artifacts in laboratories.

After you complete your undergraduate education, you may wish to start applying to postgraduate programs in archaeology. In some cases, however, you may decide to work for a few years as an archaeology tech to get additional hands-on experience. As you evaluate schools, have a look at their faculty listings. If you find faculty who share your historical interests, you may want to consider applying to th,at school as you will have access to a faculty mentor who can assist you with your work.

Mesoamerican archaeological sites, such as the ruins of Machu Picchu, are often studied by American archaeology programs.
Mesoamerican archaeological sites, such as the ruins of Machu Picchu, are often studied by American archaeology programs.

Earning a PhD in archaeology maximizes your career opportunities, as you may be able to get a faculty appointment or reach high levels of administration in a consulting firm or research center. It is, however, possible to become a historical archaeologist with a master's degree. In both cases, you should participate in academic and professional conferences in order to network and expand your work and publishing opportunities.

Historical archaeologists may conduct excavations at sites where artifacts have been previously discovered.
Historical archaeologists may conduct excavations at sites where artifacts have been previously discovered.

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