What is an archaeologist?

Right, so I’ve seen a few people posting on this recently and I think it is an interesting question. Who gets to excavate sites and, by extension, what is an “archaeologist”? Don’t worry, this post won’t bring up Indiana Jones… wait, too late.

Firstly, to define the professional archaeologist. Technically, one could argue that anyone with an advanced degree in archaeology is an “archaeologist” since they have the background and training. However, particularly for North American Classicists I don’t think this definition entirely works: after all it is possible, though not common as you reach the higher degrees, to study archaeology without actually spending much time in the field. Again, this seems uncommon, but there is certainly no guarantee that a person with an archaeology degree knows a pick from a shovel. Though they may know how to ask for these items in multiple languages… sorry, off topic.

Is an archaeologist an individual who has spent a lot of time in the field. Until this summer I hadn’t realized quite how many people on site had either no degree or a basic university degree – they learned specialist skills in the field. Are these individuals the true archaeologists? Can we measure it based upon amount of fieldwork – is there a point where you suddenly go “right, that’s my 500 hours and 16 minutes of hands on experience… now I’m a PROFESSIONAL…” Are contracted diggers archaeologists? They may not have the degree but they must understand the practicalities in order to perform their job.

At the end of the day, the term archaeologist tends to be applied to all of the above. To me, though, an archaeologist is somebody who follows a planned methodology (as opposed to just digging for a specific object) and publishes or presents the materials studied. For me, both elements are necessary (excavating and studying) to be classified as an “archaeologist”.


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