Essential Skills for Would-be Archaeologists

A career in archaeology is fascinating and challenging.  Read on to find out what skills and abilities you’ll need to succeed in this field and what you can do to give yourself a head start.

Choose the Right Degree Course

Before signing up to a degree course, think carefully about what aspect of archaeology you want to work in.  If you’re interested in studying ancient civilizations, consider a degree course in history, art, languages, theology, or architecture.  You could then follow this up with a master’s degree and doctorate in an aspect of archaeology you find particularly interesting.

A degree in the sciences like physics, chemistry, or geology can also be adapted to archaeological research.

Ancient and Modern Languages

As a good archaeologist, you should have strong scholarly ability, and this should include at least three years’ university study in those languages that are relevant to your field of research.  These languages might encompass Latin, ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, Sanskrit, Persian, classical Chinese, and classical Arabic.  Think about which region you are going to be studying and learn the principal modern language for that area.

You’ll also need good knowledge of four major modern languages including English, French, Spanish, and German.  Many of the first archaeological texts were initially published in the 19th century in Europe, so you’ll need a good working knowledge of the most commonly used languages at that time.

Communication Skills

An often overlooked and important skill for the archaeologist is communication.  From time to time, you’ll be called on to present to the public in a variety of different scenarios - in the media, at public meetings, through lectures and academic publications, and more.  If an archaeological dig is taking place, you might have to explain to the local public what the inconvenience is all about.

Museum exhibits also require clear descriptions in catalogues and on displays.

Voluntary Work

Gather as much experience on-site at an excavation as you can.  Some summer excavation programs are offered to students both in the UK and the US providing great opportunities to learn the techniques you’ll need.  You could be digging up anything from pottery and ancient coins to human remains, so be prepared for anything.


Even the ancient world has succumbed to the march of technology and you’ll need to have an understanding of this.  All the written and numerical data gathered has been stored in databases including audio files, maps and images, and you’ll need to demonstrate a grasp of software systems like GIS, or Geographic Information System, and CAD, or Computer Aided Design.

These systems can be used to create computer generated reconstructions of artifacts, whole cities and even impressions of how people looked and dressed at a given point in time.

In Conclusion

These skills and abilities will better equip you for a career as an archaeologist.  The more preparation you do now, the more you’ll get out of your university coursework, and the more impressive your CV will look to future employers.


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Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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