Archeologists and Anthropologists

Archeologists and anthropologists study earth's past and present human cultures and languages, along with their remains and artifacts. Through such study, they are often able to reconstruct even the physical appearance of ancient humans. Their discoveries help them examine the origins and behaviors of past societies and cultures from around the world.

Using the knowledge they've developed in the field of physical, biological, and social sciences, professionals in the fields of archeology and anthropology uncover details about ancient peoples, such as their societal customs, development, and living standards. A number of anthropologists also study the cultural and social effects of the current issues of human life, such as overcrowded cities, economic disadvantage, and political unrest. Others focus on the evolution and prehistoric life of Homo sapiens.

Professionals in these fields have an array of instruments and technological advances at their disposal to help them in their work. Though their tasks may be specialized into different areas, the tools they use may include excavation tools, geographic information systems (or GIS), software for databases and statistical analysis, and lab equipment.

Archeologists are charged with recovering, examining, and preserving artifacts from past cultures. This may include the analysis of both skeletal remains and items such as pottery, cave paintings, tools, and architectural ruins. Archeologists use these artifacts in conjunction with what they've learned about past cultures and environments to discover the conditions, habitats, history, and customs of civilizations.

Apart from their studies, archeologists must also work to preserve ancient sites. Some may manage established archeological or historical sites in national parks, where they also help educate visitors. Others might inspect and assess new building projects to make sure the new construction is in compliance with federal preservation regulations. Archeologists often specialize in a designated time period, geographic location, or subject (such as aquatic sites or the remains of animals).


Typically, anthropologists specialize in one specific area of study. Biological or physical anthropology consists of the study of evolution in humans and human relatives, like primates. Biological anthropologists look for the earliest evidence of human existence, then analyze their genetics and biological differences, and how their biology and culture might have influenced each other. Other physical or biological anthropologists study the remains of humans found at archeological sites, to learn what effects disease, nutrition, and other demographical factors may have had on the population. Others choose to pursue opportunities in the field of forensic anthropology in legal or medical applications, where they aid in the analysis and identification of DNA and skeletal remains.

Cultural anthropology is defined as the study of the lives, cultures, and customs of groups and societies. Cultural anthropologists examine all types of societies, from large modern cities to primitive villages. They strive to understand their internal logic, often living in the society they wish to study. This allows them to make observations, collect data, and conduct interviews and surveys of the population.

Linguistic anthropologists study human communications, specifically how language affects and defines different societies. Linguistic anthropologists examine the role language plays in each culture, how it might effect an individual's experience, and how it may be influenced by cultural and social factors. Linguistic anthropologists typically employ native speakers for their studies, examining languages that are non-European in origin.

Working Environment

Archeologists and anthropologists employed in the United States number about 6,100. They are usually employed by museums, private companies, consulting or research firms, or higher education institutions. They can also be found working in government in many different levels and capacities.

The table below shows which industries tend to employ the majority of archaeologists and anthropologists:

  • Scientific research and development services – 29%
  • Federal government, excluding postal service – 25%
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services – 11%
  • Educational services; state, local, and private – 7%

Anthropologists may perform a wide variety of tasks, depending on their individual job. Though many of them might work in a corporate office environment, some work in labs analyzing artifacts and samples, or out in the field in many parts of the world.

Archeologists often work in the cultural resource management (CRM) industry. CRM is the business of identifying, evaluating, and preserving historic sites – protecting them from developers and builders. They work to ensure that firms comply with regulations designed to protect archeological finds. Archeologists may also be employed by museums, at archeological sites, or by government agencies like the U.S. Park Service, under direction of the Department of the Interior.

People who work in anthropology or archeology may be required to do field work, either domestically or abroad. By nature, their work may involve learning other languages, living in small, isolated villages, or excavating sites for archeological study.

Archeologists or anthropologists who conduct field work are usually required to travel for long periods. They may be required to stay in remote, rugged areas, and live within the societies they are studying to observe the culture first-hand. The conditions can be rough, demanding and physically exhausting.

Becoming an Archeologist or Anthropologist

Career positions in archeology or anthropology typically require a master's degree. Master's programs take about 2 years to complete, and include mandatory field research.

For many positions, a master's degree will is sufficient, however, technical, educational research or leadership positions may require a Ph.D. Earning a Ph.D. requires several more years of study beyond the 2 years required for a master's degree. Students must also complete doctoral dissertation – which may require 12 to 30 months of field research.

To comply with foreign government regulations and become a director of projects working outside the U.S., archeologists and anthropologists are usually required to have a Ph.D.

There are a limited number of jobs available to those who hold bachelor's degree in anthropology and most students who earn a bachelor's degree obtain jobs in other fields. However, those with a bachelor's degree may find work as assistants in the field, in laboratories, or in research.

Those with a bachelor's degree in archeology, with some experience as an intern, can often find work as field archeologists or basic laboratory analysts. However, to move beyond entry-level career positions, archeologists need to earn a master's degree.

For those who obtain their Ph.D. in archeology or anthropology, professorships, museum curator and research positions are common career choices.

To launch a successful career in archeology or anthropology, college graduates will need to have quite a bit of work experience under their belt. Many graduates gain the required experience by working in the field or completing internships with historical societies, non-profit institutions, or museums.

Most aspiring archeologists and anthropologists will dedicate a large portion of their graduate work conducting research in the field. Students also attend field schools, where they learn to excavate sites, then record and interpret their findings.

Pay Rates and Earning Information

The median yearly way for an archeologist or anthropologist is just over $55,000. This means that half of these workers are paid more than $55,000, and half are paid less. The lowest-earning 10 percent of archeologists and anthropologists make less than $31,300 a year, and the highest-paid 10 percent make over $89,400.

The median yearly wage in industries which employ the majority of archeologists and anthropologists is as follows:

  • Federal executive branch – $70,800
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services – $46,280
  • Scientific research and development services – $45,370
  • Educational services; state, local, and private – $44,280

Archeological and anthropological professionals who work in research, consulting, museum, corporate, and government jobs have regular, full-time schedules during daytime hours. Those who do field work are often required to work longer hours and travel extensively.

Employment Outlook

It is predicted that the field of archeology and anthropology will grow by 21% over the next decade. That rate is faster than the average growth for all other occupations. However, because the field of archeology and anthropology is smaller than most, growth will only produce approximately 1,300 new jobs over the next 10 years. In the future, there will likely be a greater need for anthropologists to study human life, culture, and history, so that new discoveries can be applied to the issues we face today.

Along with the traditional areas of research, more and more corporations are beginning to employ anthropological research in to better understand diverse markets and workforces. This research enables them to find new clients and engage old clients in new ways.

Since anthropological research relies heavily on funding, federal financial contributions to research will have an effect on the rates of employment and growth in the industry.

Aside from research, archeology jobs will also be affected by the rates of new construction and development. As more development occurs, more archeological professionals will be employed in the protection of historical sites and artifacts, ensuring that developers comply with government regulations intended to preserve artifacts.

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