10 Reasons Not to Become an Archaeologist (and Why to Ignore Them)

Want to be an archaeologist? Think again.. before the snake gets you! Image credit - Alan.I think it is important to note that having an interest in archaeology and then working in it are two polar opposed situations. With an interest or a hobby you can choose an area of interest, lets say 2010 is going to be ‘Egypt’. You can read till your heart’s content on these areas of fascination and in the summer take the family on a holiday to look at the sites and breathe in the history. Bish Bash Boom, the Egypt box is ticked. Pompeii will be 2012.

For the commercial archaeologist in Britain, these dreams die shortly after graduation. You will never get paid to dig in Egypt or Pompeii and you will never come face to face with Nazi scientists in a climactic search for the holy grail.

This is a brief outline of ten reasons why NOT to become an archaeologist and if you are, then 10 reasons why you should consider getting out quick!

1. The Pay

Not only are archaeologists the lowest paid of all graduates, we are also second to only doctors for problems with alcoholism. Subsequently we are low paid alcoholics. We are, however, a very happy bunch with a very healthy outdoor digging lifestyle. We dont tend to want for much, so we get by and make do with a smile and a skip in our step.

2. The Physical Deformities

It’s not fun being in your 20’s and having arthritis in the hands, knees and wrists. After the working week has finished and you’ve returned back to the normality of friends and family you look in the mirrow and can’t help but notice the continued growth of ‘trowel muscle’, the fingernails of a creepy victorian pickpocket, and a very obvious ‘farmers tan’. This makes courting with a non-ologist near enough impossible, thus keeping the ologist gene pool very small and slightly odd.

The hours roll on and the days merge together, but who cares when you're seeking treasure?! Image Credit - Robbert van der Steeg.

3. The Hours (and hours, and hours…)

You finish work at 4pm on a Friday in Scotland and arrive back at 10pm in Bristol. You start Monday in Bristol at 4am and end up in Norfolk at 8am ready to start work. Where did my weekend go? Do I care? Its another fun week of digging again!

4. Dull Ditches

There is only so much of digging in the winter on a huge site with context galore of “narrow, shallow ditch, no finds, unknown age”, “oval, tapered pit, no finds, unknown age”, “sub circular shallow pit, no finds, unknown age” that one can take. However you do every now and again get put on sites which really get the detective juices flowing with deep stratigraphy and multiple contexts to salvate over.

5. Being Sent Indoors

Promotion comes slowly to archaeologists, and when it does come, nobody actually wants it. As an archaeologist you make a conscious decision that you want to work outdoors, just as a swimmer wants to swim and an astronaut wants to work in space. Higher promotion means more paper work and ultimately less time outdoors working in the field. This, however, is fantastic if like me you favour seasonal archaeology. A warm office in December can be a real treat!

Want a career where you spend a lot of time on your knees? Think Archaeology! Image credit - Dan.

6. Digger’s Bum

One considerable downside is having to see a certain ‘fearless leader’s’ perennially hairy crevice peeking at you from the back of his trousers – ALL day long. No matter where you look, it’s there, even sneaking into your dreams/nightmares.

7. Nomadic Lifestyle

Archaeologists have to move house countless times a year and live in places where no humans dwell. Consequently you are often living with many different people in many different uninhabited spaces over a long period of time. As a result you tend to drink what you earn, making the working day a write off and leaving you with negative equity at the end of each and every month.

8. Meeting Wierdos

By this I do not mean the nice hippy types or the slightly cute introverts. I mean the wrong ones, who bite their own and others’ toenails in the site hut and who drink their body weight in the evening. These are rare, however, and on the plus side you do get to meet many brilliant people all with the same interests as yourself.It’s like one big history club, which gives you an added advantage in the history rounds at the pub quiz.

What's not to love about digging up our heritage and learning more about who we are, what we've done and how history happened? Image credit - Wessex Archaeology.

9. The Classic Questions

The following are kindly provided to me by the ‘general public’:

  • “Have you found any gold yet?”
  • “When are time team coming then?”
  • “Keep going and you’ll get to Australia”
  • “Have you found anything interesting yet?”
  • “What are you doing?”
  • “Will you come and dig my garden?”
  • “What did you do to deserve this?”
  • “Found any bodies yet?”
  • “Indie!”

And my friend Susan’s particular favourite whilst digging up Peterborough city centre: “If you find my grandad, let me know.”

10. None of The Above

I can’t do it – I can’t pretend that being an archaeologist isn’t great. Yes, all these points are a little irritating, but, when it comes down to it, you can’t beat the thrill of the dig. The main point of being an archaeologist is that you are working in a subject area that you are passionate about and which you want to continually learn more about. You have to be a little ‘different’.

It is a detective game that brings colour to human actions and relationships that had been forgotten. The evidence is the artefact and the detective is you. It is a brilliant hobby, vocation, interest, passion, and one which will lead you to meet lots of interesting people of all shapes, sizes and beard lengths.

If you are a little odd, like real ale, love scraping around in mud, and have no real desire to make millions, then this is the route for you! It is fantastic fun and it amazes me each and every day to imagine the landscape and life through different eyes.