What is Archaeology and Who are Archaeologists: Explained

This article is aimed at briefly describing the profession of archaeology, the duties of archaeologists, types of archaeology and the path to become a professional archaeologist.

A lot of the World’s history can be found out by tracing and studying various historic remains, structures and writings. ‘Archaeology’ (comes from ‘archaios’ meaning ancient and ‘logia’ meaning study, in Greek)  to the scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artefacts, inscriptions, monuments, and other such remains, especially those that have been excavated. The science of Archaeology becomes relevant to the present and the future, as it helps us understand the various features of the historic era and gives us an idea of how the world became as it is today. Those following the profession of archaeology are called ‘archaeologists’.


The word ‘Archaeologist’ refers to someone who studies historic remains such as graves, tools, paintings, buildings and caves. The world has seen a lot of eminent archaeologists who have contributed extensively to the discipline. William Matthew Flinders Patrie, a man who played a major role in revolutionizing the science of archaeology and extending the scope of the disciple, by devising a scientific method of study, is known as the ‘Father of Archaeology’. Sir Alexander Cunningham, who established the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1861 and took a keen interest in excavating historical sites and documenting in a systematic way, is called the ‘Father of Indian Archaeology’.


What do archaeologists do?

Archaeologists scientifically analyze and study the answers to the curious questions on the way of lives of the people of the past through various perspectives such as cultural, social and economic. They use a variety of techniques to study the past. Although the job of an archaeologist might seem more or less similar to that of a historian, they differ significantly with respect to the tools and methods that they employ. Archaeology involves a lot of fieldwork. They conduct surface surveys or geographical surveys to find sites suitable for excavation. Before excavating, they prepare a detailed Research Design. While excavating a selected unit, they examine every particle, small or big, from small artefacts to large devices. The unit chosen for excavation might be dug in arbitrary levels or by following the natural soil stratigraphy (the study of soil layers).  The profession of archaeology involves a lot of research. They observe the remains that have been collected from the field, analyze them, and determine their age, research on a similar object, hence trying to answer the different questions associated with the research design of the archaeologist. The remains that are obtained in a similar way are preserved in accordance with ethical and legal obligations. Objects are cleaned, labelled, catalogued, and stored under respective authorities, like museums or other archaeological institutions under the government, for future research and education.

Types of archaeology

Different types of archaeology, on the basis of work carried out, are:

  • Classical Archaeology: examines the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
  • Historical Archaeology: deals with study and documentation of issues, happenings, places and things from the past or present.
  • Ethnoarchaeology: studies the ethnographic features of present-day human settlements, so as to draw conclusions on their past counterparts, by relating the two.
  • Settlement archaeology: studies the settlements of the past through different perspectives and evaluates the interrelationships between urban and rural surroundings. Settlement archaeology also scientifically studies the relationship between human occupation and the environment.
  • Environmental archaeology: It is the interdisciplinary study of the relationship between past human settlements and nature. It is divided into three subfields, namely, Zoo archaeologists (study animal remains to understand the impact of human populations on animal populations), Archaeobotanists (study plant remains) and Geoarchaeologists (study data such as global climate and distribution of resources).
  • Urban Archaeology: specializes in the past of towns and cities with a history of long-term human habitation.
  • Forensic archaeology: involves the application of the science of archaeology in crime investigation, so as to find evidence such as weapons and other personal items.
  • Underwater Archaeology: studies submerged sites and remains associated with them. It is often related to maritime archaeology which studies the relationship between humans and different water bodies such as oceans.

Who can become an archaeologist?

A person, who is passionate about archaeology and has an enthusiasm for research, can take up the job of an archaeologist professionally. A person aiming to be an archaeologist should have a profound knowledge and understanding in history. S/he should also possess research skills, willingness to work methodically, management abilities and analyzing skills. An archaeologist should have good observation skills and problem-solving abilities. They should also be well educated about methods of on-field work and survey equipment, be patient and should be able to present good communication skills.

Although archaeologists are generally expected to have a master’s degree, obtaining an undergraduate degree at university, majoring in archaeology, anthropology and linguistics with practical experience programs in fieldwork and surveying can get you to jobs like a surveyor, technician, field worker etc.

Gaining a postgraduate degree makes students eligible for higher-level positions in archaeological firms, archaeological institutions and related government departments. Archaeologists with postgraduate or doctoral degrees are also recruited in teaching positions. Archaeologists are employed in places such as galleries and museums, Archaeological Survey of India, schools and colleges etc.

Archaeologist Salary in USA $78,023 (USD) and Average Salary $38/hr Average Hourly.

The mean salary of an archaeologist under the government is almost Rs.6, 00,000 per annum( India). The typical salary of an assistant archaeologist lies between Rs.2, 00,000 and Rs.6, 00,000 per annum (India).

Famous Universities in India to pursue a career in archaeology:
(1) Tata Institute of Archaeology, Mumbai
(2) Punjab University,  Patiala
(3) Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
(4) Loyola College, Chennai
(5) Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad
Famous Universities abroad to pursue a career in archaeology:
(1)Stanford University
(2)University of Pennsylvania
(3) Cornell University
(4) Boston University


  • Howard Carter – English archaeologist who discovered the Tutankhamen’s tomb
  • Christine Lee – American archaeologist who identified ancient people of Mongolia and China
  • Mary Leakey – British archaeologist whose works are based on the origins of humankind
  • Robert Ballard – studied the wreck of the Titanic
  •  Hiram Bingham –American Archaeologist, US senator
  • S.R.Rao – Indian Archaeologist
  • F. Raymond Allchin – studied the archaeology of India


1)Three stones make a wall – Eric H Cline
(2)Ships’s Fastenings – Michael McCarthy
(3)Secrets of Ancient Egypt – Archaeology Magazine
(4)Archaeology-A concise introduction – Alice Beck Kehoe
(5)India: An Archaeological History – Dilip K Chakrabarty
(6)A history of the world in 100 objects – Neil MacGregor
(7)Ancient Delhi – Upinder Singh
(8)Magicians of the Gods – Graham Hancock

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Student of Economics in Miranda House, University of Delhi. Interested in writing, reading, music, painting, public speaking, and debating.Aspiring Economist. A dreamer who loves the smiles and colours of the world.