There are many different types of job roles in archaeology, so where you work will depend on what area of archaeology you are interested in. Below are the main areas, however there are many sub-disciplines and specialisms, too numerous to list here.
The four main public archaeological organisations in the UK are:
Their main role is to bring about the long term conservation and widespread understanding and enjoyment of the historic environment. These organisations employ Inspectors of Ancient Monuments who deal with the preservation and protection of sites and monuments, monitor fieldwork projects and recommend grant aid. Inspectors usually work within a large region, and this generally involves much travelling.
Much of the work is taken up with writing reports and giving advice. Historic Buildings Inspectors have a similar role in relation to buildings and have detailed knowledge of art history or architecture. Part of Historic England's role is to advise on the archaeological activities they fund so they employ a mobile field team for surveys, evaluations, watching briefs and excavations.
Historic England also has sections concerned with the conservation of finds, illustration and publication, and specialised scientific services. Most of the national agencies have education services which provide information about educational opportunities at national monuments, educational resources and advice.
Since splitting from Historic England, English Heritage still employ archaeological experts, but they tend to work more in a curatorial capacity, researching and preserving the sites for which they are responsible, and using the information they find to further promote those sites.
The main aim of the Royal Commissions on the Ancient & Historical Monuments is to compile and make available surveys of ancient monuments, buildings and other field remains of all periods, details of which are collated into national databases for each country. An important aspect of their work is aerial archaeology, and the curation of major collections of aerial photographs.
Originally there were three Royal Commissions representing each of the kingdoms within mainland UK. The one remaining body is the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic Monuments of Wales. England and Scotland's Royal Commissions have both been incorporated into their respective national herhitage bodies: Historic England and Historic Environment Scotland.
Other National Bodies
The National Trust, founded in 1895, exists to promote the permanent preservation for the nation of land with outstanding natural features and animal and plant life, and buildings of beauty or historic interest. There are estimated to be more than 40,000 sites of archaeological interest in the ownership of the National Trust, about 6 per cent of the national total. The NT employs a number of Archaeological Field Officers who record, survey and occasionally excavate sites in its care. The equivalent body in Scotland is the National Trust for Scotland.
Numerous other national bodies also employ archaeologist including the National Parks, The Environment Agency, The Highways Agency, The Forestry Commission, etc as do a growing number of civil engineering, architectural and planning practices.
These organisations employ archaeologists to look after archaeological sites in their area. Such posts include recording, surveying and sometimes excavating sites.
Several other organisations, such as the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and Archaeology Scotland, employ small staffs. These bodies provide a bridge between amateur and professional archaeology, acting to promote the subject with emphasis on information, education, conservation and publication.
Archaeological field units and trusts: ‘the contractors’
Most archaeological fieldwork occasioned by development is carried out by independent units. These vary a good deal in size and organisation, some being attached to museums or local authorities, others to universities, or existing as independent commercial companies, trusts or charities.
Archaeological Field Units and trusts provide the bulk of jobs in the practical side of archaeology – such as surveying, excavation, photography, finds processing – together with the special expertise needed to bring field projects to publication (eg the study of animal bones, human remains, artefacts, finds conservation, editorial and drawing skills).
Local authorities: ‘the curators’
A majority of county councils in England and many Scottish districts, and a growing number of district and city authorities in England, employ archaeologists.
An important role for many of these posts is to provide advice on the conservation or recording of archaeological remains when applications for planning permission are being determined, and to ensure that fieldwork is carried out to sufficient standard.
Some county councils operate their own field units to carry out survey and excavation throughout the county. Such curatorial work relies upon the Historic Environment Record or Sites and Monuments Record: a database of the historic environment, usually kept at county or regional level. An HER/SMR should have its own team to keep it updated, and to assist the local authority in monitoring planning applications.
Developers who hire their own archaeological contractors may turn to a consultant for advice. Consultants may also be called upon to advise local authorities on particular issues, and are sometimes engaged by national agencies or the private sector to undertake specialised research. Most consultants are based in engineering companies and also provide environmental impact assessments, impact mitigation as well as design services in which archaeology may take a contributory role.
In the last few years an increasing number of archaeological positions have become available with consultancies as developers request the consultancies to undertake the archaeological and heritage aspect of the development. Some of theses companies are international organizations, whilst others may be UK based, most have several offices throughout the UK.
Museums offer a range of opportunities. Keepers of Archaeology may be involved in fieldwork, but are more often responsible for the curation of artefacts and related tasks of interpretation and research. An important part of the job of the museum archaeologist is to deal with inquiries from the public, often identifying finds that they have brought in.
Many museums also offer opportunities for conservators working with artefacts and finds. Some museums also operate on Outreach service involving the public with education and archaeology.
Heritage interpretation centres are becoming more common with emphasis on reconstruction and presentation to the public, and therefore creating opportunities for archaeological consultants especially those with experience in the fields of marketing and design.
Archaeology in Education
Over 50 universities and colleges of higher education offer careers as lecturers or technicians. Competition for lecturers’ posts is fierce, and is not usually to be considered without a doctorate, or an equivalent level of achievement.
Universities are centres of archaeological research; some of the most interesting and progressive projects are based within them. A number of universities also foster specialised aspects of the discipline: for example maritime archaeology, archaeological science, aerial or industrial archaeology.
By its very nature, archaeological investigation requires a sharp investigative sense and identifying the degraded remains of human activity in the past after very long periods of time is a highly skilled discipline. So the benefits of applying these skills to investigating crime (which also searches for small and sometimes difficult to discern clues) was recognised in the 1990s in several Universities (for example Rob Janaway and John Hunter at Bradford University; Prof Hunter is now at Birmingham). Forensic archaeology is a demanding area of the profession requiring the both highest levels of field expertise and a in depth knowledge of anatomy, anthropology, taphonomy, geology etc as well as having long experience of field work. A forensic archaeologist needs this depth of experience and knowledge as their work and results can be questioned as a witness in court and must withstand scrutiny under cross examination.
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