Careers in Archaeology

Consulting

The most common career in archaeology is that of a consulting archaeologist. Consulting archaeologists work in the field of Historic Resource Management or Cultural Resource Management (CRM). People in this line of work generally work on Historic Resource Impact Assessments of planned developments before construction is started. The responsibility of consulting archaeologists is to identify historic resources and make recommendations as to how to manage those resources when they might be impacted by proposed developments. Most work conducted by consulting archaeologists is archaeological survey, rather than excavation. This work is typically done between the months of May and November and the winter months are spent writing reports. In some jurisdictions (northeastern British Columbia for example) field work can continue year-round with adaptations made to conduct work during the winter months. Supervisors and project managers typically have a Masters degree level of education. There are often seasonal positions for archaeologists with a Bachelor’s degree.

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Tim Allan digging a shovel test in 2015

Universities

Some archaeologists work in universities as professors who teach classes during the school year. Over the summer and throughout the year they publish articles about their research. This may involve conducting detailed excavations of known archaeological / historic resource sites to learn about the lives of people in the past and to answer research questions. Some academic archaeologists focus on artifact reproduction and other experimental techniques to learn about past lifeways, while others use scientific methods such as isotopic analysis or ancient DNA to learn about specific topics, for example past human migration and diet. Academic archaeologists tend to do less field work, and often because they are restricted in time owing to teaching responsibilities they revisit the same site to excavate for short periods year after year (for example L’Anse aux Meadows was excavated over the course of eight summers). The focus of academic archaeology tends to be more theoretical and analytical work. Archaeologists working in universities generally have a PhD level of education and post-doctorate experience.

Museums

Jobs in museums are less common for archaeologists but do exist. These archaeologists work as curators creating exhibits at the museum for the general public, lead tours of the museum and special collections and conduct research and publish journal articles of their findings. Research projects done by museums tend to be smaller in scale than those done by universities as funding is less available (university research is often funded by grants that are only available to students or academics) and free student labour is harder to come by. Conservators are specialized archaeologists who work to preserve artifacts and maintain optimal storage conditions for those artifacts (appropriate humidity and temperature are examples). Most artifact conservation positions are at museums. Conservators often do a more in depth analysis of artifacts after they are received at the museum than the researcher may do as they need to know the exact chemical make up of the artifact in order to best preserve it. An archaeologist may only need to state in their research that an artifact is metal, but a conservationist needs to know exactly what kind of metal that is to best protect it. Conservators often have a background in archaeology but attain specialized graduate degrees in conservation or museum studies specifically related to conservation of artifacts. These positions are usually held by persons with a Masters degree or PhD.

Government

The provincial government employs archaeologists to oversee the work of the archaeologists within the province. Archaeologists working for the government review permit applications, grant archaeological research permits and they review the work of the consulting and academic archaeologists by means of a review of the reports submitted upon the completion of a project. The folks at the government provide guidance to field archaeologists and manage the Archaeological Site Inventory, where all the site information is submitted and compiled into a searchable database. The federal government also employs a handful of archaeologists to do research projects. These research projects are usually done though Parks Canada or the Canadian Museum of History. A recent example is the underwater archaeological investigation to find the missing ships from the Franklin expedition. These positions are usually held by persons with a Masters degree or PhD.

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Kurtis Blaikie-Birkigt volunteering on an Alberta government research project in 2012.

Fire Drill

Our clients require us to carry fire fighting equipment including shovels, pulaskis, fire extinguishers and full backpack fire pumps, also commonly known as ‘piss packs’. At the end of a shift we decided to do a quick drill to make sure everyone knew how to use the fire pumps, which had the extra bonus of giving us a head start on washing the trucks.

Noxious Weeds

More than archaeology…

In addition to looking for historic resource sites when in the field we are always on the lookout for noxious weeds like these oxeye daisies. When we encounter them we report them to our clients so they can manage them appropriately. In this case the client requested that we pick them out by the roots so they could spray the area with herbicide before they went to seed.

Black Bear

It’s that time of year again! The bears are waking up and the field workers are heading into bear territory. One of our archaeological field crews encountered this little guy in 2013 and found that he was a little less scared of them than the average bear.

Usually bears are skittish and will leave the area as soon as they know humans are around, especially if you have a noisy ATV running but this bear was a bit curious and stuck around long enough for a photo shoot. The crew scared him away and didn’t have another encounter. Remember to review your bear awareness training before heading into the bush for work or play!

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Keep an eye open for fresh bear sign while you are out and keep alert!

What should I do if I find an arrowhead?

It is not uncommon for farmers, gardeners and outdoors-men and women to find artifacts like arrowheads, spear points, stone axes and hammerstones. Farmers often find them in their fields after plowing. In fact many farmers have more impressive artifact collections than a lot of museums do! Click here to read about some of Alberta Culture’s work documenting artifact collections across the province.

One thing people often are not sure about is how to report finding an archaeological site and who to tell when they find an artifact. Reporting artifact finds can help archaeologists to better predict where other historic or archaeological sites are likely to be. The more sites we can identify the better our understanding the past gets. You never know, your find might be totally unique and groundbreaking. Maybe it’s the oldest spear point in Alberta! We can learn about and protect our historic resources better if we work together.

To report a find you can go to the Alberta Culture website link below:

http://culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/programs-and-services/archaeological-survey/archaeological-discoveries/default.aspx

from here you will be asked to provide a digital photo of the artifact, a location (can be a GPS coordinate, a legal land description, a permanent landmark or an image of a map), your phone number (optional) and your organization, institution or corporate affiliation (optional). This is the minimum but if you could add a description of what you found and the circumstances around your find that would be helpful too.

When you click on “Report your Discovery” you will be brought to a blank page with the email address for the Archaeological Information Coordinator in the address line. Simply email the above information to that address.

What Happens Next?

The Archaeological Information Coordinator will confirm that this is a new archaeological site and assign the site a Borden Number. The site will then be entered in to the Archaeological Site Inventory database which will help archaeologists to predict where other sites in the region are. If it is a known site, she will contact the archaeologist that initially recorded it and confirm with them that it is the same site and discuss whether a site form update is required for the site. If you provided a phone number when you reported the find you may get a follow up phone call to let you know the outcome of your report. When you find an artifact please leave it where you found it. Removing artifacts from where they were found means we might lose important information to help determine the age of the find and whether it is associated with other artifacts.

If you’re not sure that your find is an artifact, or are not sure what to do about it, you can contact us, call us toll free at 1-866-873-3846, or email [email protected]. We would love to hear about your find and can help to confirm what it is and help with the next steps. We can even take care of reporting it to Alberta Culture for you.

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Artifacts collected during the 1950s by tobacco pickers near Delhi, Ontario. Photos courtesy of Teresa Tremblay.