Archaeologist career

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Simon Turner is an archaeological development officer for a trust. His job is to encourage involvement and interest in nearby sites and digs from the local community, as well as tourists and academics. He is also involved in excavation projects and spends time each summer working on the site of an old fort.

How do you create interest?

I work with children at school and young people as well as adults. For instance, I helped one school to recreate part of an Iron Age stone tower to illustrate how our ancestors built a huge stone structure without modern cranes and power tools. Also, I am setting up an archaeologists club. I take young people out at weekends to work on archaeological projects as well.

What about adults?

I try to interest and educate adults by giving talks on the sites in their area and what they reveal about people who lived there hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. I then encourage people to form community groups to look after the sites.

Although there are always fully-trained professional archaeologists on a dig, local people do a lot of the work and they are very enthusiastic.

What do you do on a dig?

The first thing to do is remove the turf, which can take several days. Next, everything on the surface is recorded – that means making an accurate plan of the position of every stone. Then we start removing layers of soil – every layer represents a period of history, with the most recent near the surface.

What do you do with all these layers?

Soil samples are taken from every layer. They contain grain and other plant material, charcoal and fragments of bone. This can tell us what people ate and what their economy was like. Using technology, the samples also tell us the date the site was inhabited.

What equipment do you use?

We use an electronic device which measures distances and angles, and special computer software to make a threedimensional model of everything from the site. You must record the position of everything you find before you can remove it.

What makes a good archaeologist?

You must be prepared to work hard in outdoor conditions. Getting cold, wet and muddy is unavoidable. You need sharp eyes to spot the finds. Pottery can look just like stone when it's wet and muddy, and prehistoric stone tools look like beach pebbles.

When you are on a dig you spend several weeks working and living with a group of strangers. That means it's important to get on well with all kinds of people. Keeping records up to date is vital, and many archaeologists spend some of the evening recording the day's work.

What do you find challenging?

Recording can sometimes be complex so the work needs a lot of thought.

Simon's route to his career as an archaeologist

  • MA in archaeology.
  • One year working at the National Museums of Scotland.
  • PhD in archaeology, while continuing to work part time at the museum.

Simon's archaeologist tips

  • Get involved in an archaeology club. Check the websites of the Council for British Archaeology and the Council for Scottish Archaeology (see Further Information) for details of clubs and open days in your area.
  • Contact the archaeology department of your local university or museum to see if volunteers are needed to help out at digs.

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Salary of an archaeologist

  • Income will vary according to your job and employer.
  • Typical starting salary for excavators and site assistants is about £10,000.
  • A trained archaeologist will earn around £19,000 with site inspectors receiving up to £27,000.

Getting a job as an archaeologist

  • The majority of archaeologists have a degree or professional qualification. There are over 50 universities offering relevant degrees. It is possible to study for a general archaeology degree, or specialise in areas like conservation, environmental archaeology, human evolution, nautical archaeology or archaeological science.
  • A range of postgraduate qualifications is also available.
  • Higher National Diplomas in Archaeology are offered by a small number of universities and further education colleges.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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