Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Duties

Anthropologists and archeologists typically do the following:

  • Plan cultural research
  • Customize data collection methods according to a particular region, specialty, or project
  • Collect information from observations, interviews, and documents
  • Record and manage records of observations taken in the field
  • Analyze data, laboratory samples, and other sources of information to uncover patterns about human life, culture, and origins
  • Prepare reports and present research findings
  • Advise organizations on the cultural impact of policies, programs, and products

By drawing and building on knowledge from the humanities and the social, physical, and biological sciences, anthropologists and archeologists examine the ways of life, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world. They also examine the customs, values, and social patterns of different cultures.

Although the equipment used by anthropologists and archeologists varies by task and specialty, it often includes excavation and measurement tools, laboratory and recording equipment, statistical and database software, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Archeologists examine, recover, and preserve evidence of human activity from past cultures. They analyze human remains and artifacts, such as tools, pottery, cave paintings, and ruins of buildings. They connect their findings with information about past environments to learn about the history, customs, and living habits of people in earlier eras.

Archeologists also manage and protect archeological sites. Some work in national parks or at historical sites, providing site protection and educating the public. Others assess building sites to ensure that construction plans comply with federal regulations related to site preservation. Archeologists often specialize in a particular geographic area, period, or object of study, such as animal remains or underwater sites.

Anthropology is divided into three primary fields: biological or physical anthropology, cultural or social anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Biological and physical anthropologists study the changing nature of the biology of humans and closely related primates. Cultural anthropologists study the social and cultural consequences of various human-related issues, such as overpopulation, natural disasters, warfare, and poverty. Linguistic anthropology studies the history and development of languages.

A growing number of anthropologists perform market research for businesses, studying the demand for products by a particular culture or social group. Using their anthropological background and a variety of techniques—including interviews, surveys, and observations—they may collect data on how a product is used by specific demographic groups.

Many people with a Ph.D. in anthropology or archeology become professors or museum curators. For more information, see the profiles on postsecondary teachers, and archivists, curators, and museum technicians.

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Work Environment

Anthropologists and archeologists held about 6,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of anthropologists and archeologists were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 26%
Federal government, excluding postal service 23
Research and development in the social sciences and humanities                              21
Engineering services 9
Self-employed workers 2

The work of anthropologists varies according to the specific job. Although most anthropologists work in offices, some analyze samples in laboratories or work in the field.

Archeologists often work for cultural resource management (CRM) firms. These firms identify, assess, and preserve archeological sites and ensure that developers and builders comply with regulations regarding those sites. Archeologists also work in museums, at historical sites, and for government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

Anthropologists and archeologists often do fieldwork, either in the United States or in foreign countries. Fieldwork may involve learning foreign languages, living in remote areas, and examining and excavating archeological sites. Fieldwork usually requires travel for extended periods—about 4 to 8 weeks per year. Those doing fieldwork often will have to return to the field for several years to complete their research.

During fieldwork, anthropologists and archeologists must live with the people they study to learn about their culture. The work can involve rugged living conditions and strenuous physical exertion. While in the field, anthropologists and archeologists often work many hours to meet research deadlines. They also may work with limited funding for their projects.

Work Schedules

Many anthropologists and archeologists work full time during regular business hours. When doing fieldwork, however, anthropologists and archeologists may be required to travel and to work many and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends.

Education and Training

Anthropologists and archeologists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in anthropology or archeology. Experience doing fieldwork in either discipline is also important. Those with a bachelor’s degree may find work as assistants or fieldworkers.

Education

Most anthropologists and archeologists qualify for available positions with a master’s degree in anthropology or archeology. The typical master’s degree program takes 2 years to complete and includes field or laboratory research.

Anthropology and archeology students typically conduct field research during their graduate programs, often working abroad or doing community-based research. Many students also attend archeological field schools, which teach students how to excavate historical and archeological sites and how to record and interpret their findings and data.

Although a master’s degree is enough for many positions, a Ph.D. may be needed for jobs that require leadership skills and advanced technical knowledge. Anthropologists and archeologists typically need a Ph.D. to work internationally in order to comply with the requirements of foreign governments. A Ph.D. takes additional years of study beyond a master’s degree. Also, Ph.D. students must complete a doctoral dissertation, which typically includes between 18 and 30 months of field research and knowledge of a foreign language.

Those with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology or archeology and work experience gained through an internship or field school can work as field or laboratory technicians or research assistants.

Other Experience

Graduates of anthropology and archeology programs usually need experience in their respective fields and training in quantitative and qualitative research methods. Many students gain this experience through field training or internships with museums, historical societies, or nonprofit organizations while still in school.

Personality and Interests

Anthropologists and archeologists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Creating interest which might fit with a career as an anthropologist and archeologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Anthropologists and archeologists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Anthropologists and archeologists need knowledge of scientific methods and data, which are often used in their research.

Critical-thinking skills. Anthropologists and archeologists must be able to draw logical conclusions from observations, laboratory experiments, and other methods of research.

Investigative skills. Anthropologists and archeologists must seek and explore all facts relevant to their research. They must be able to combine pieces of information to try to solve problems and to answer research questions.

Writing skills. Anthropologists and archeologists need strong writing skills because they often write reports detailing their research findings and publish results in scholarly journals and public interest publications.

Pay

The median annual wage for anthropologists and archeologists was $63,670 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,950.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for anthropologists and archeologists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $77,560
Engineering services 68,690
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 61,360
Research and development in the social sciences and humanities                              55,950

Many anthropologists and archeologists work full time during regular business hours. When doing fieldwork, however, anthropologists and archeologists may be required to travel and to work many and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends.

Job Outlook

Employment of anthropologists and archeologists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Corporations will continue to use anthropological research to gain a better understanding of consumer demand within specific cultures or social groups. Anthropologists also will be needed to analyze markets, allowing businesses to serve their clients better or to target new customers or demographic groups.

Archeologists will be needed to monitor construction projects, ensuring that builders comply with federal regulations pertaining to the preservation and handling of archeological and historical artifacts.

Because anthropological and archeological research may depend on research funding, federal budgetary decisions can affect the rate of employment growth in research.

Job Prospects

Overall, prospective anthropologists and archeologists will likely face strong competition for jobs because of the small number of positions relative to applicants. Job prospects will be best for candidates with a Ph.D. or an applied master’s degree, extensive anthropological or archeological fieldwork experience, and experience in quantitative and qualitative research methods.

For More Information

For more information about careers in anthropology and archeology, visit

American Anthropological Association

For more information about careers in archeology, visit

Archaeological Institute of America

Society for American Archaeology

For more information about physical anthropologists, visit

American Association of Physical Anthropologists

 

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