Archaeology For Dummies
Archaeology is exciting adventure and discovery, and while you can become a real archaeologist yourself (which requires years of really hard work), you can also get an informal archaeology education, volunteer for digs, and more. If you go on-site for fieldwork, know what supplies and equipment to pack for a proper excavation, and what safety and health items to keep on hand during a dig.
3 Ways to Get Involved in Archaeology
You can get involved with archaeology yourself — whether from your armchair, as a tourist, or as a participant in a dig. After you dive in, you may find even more archaeology out there than you'll be able to absorb.
Lectures and short classes on archaeology
You can hear professional archaeology lectures at museums and universities, local libraries, and even community centers that emphasize lifelong learning. Checking out these institutions and their scheduled programs is as easy as looking around your community or online.
For a lengthier (but still short-term) option, consider week-long workshops or seasonal training programs in archaeology; these offerings usually include lectures in the classroom as well as digging. The following list gives you some examples of these programs:
Week-long archaeology camps for kids or adults may be offered at museums in the summer.
Scouting groups have some archaeology programs, like the Boy Scouts' merit badge in archaeology.
Elderhostel programs for older folks usually include background lectures and field trips to see archaeology.
Universities may have short-course offerings (right in there with piano lessons and conversational Spanish) for anyone who isn't a regular student enrolled for a degree.
Land management agencies or your State Historic Preservation Office may have courses on cultural resources like archaeological and historic sites or short volunteer digs.
Archaeological associations, societies, and clubs are everywhere. Some are national and international, but many are regional or based in a particular state and have smaller local chapters. Members are students, professionals, amateur archaeologists — really, anyone who's interested. Most require only the membership fee, which typically gets you a regular publication like a magazine along with information on new discoveries, activities you can participate in, and opportunities to join digs.
Here are some good archaeology groups you can join:
Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which sends you Archaeology magazine with your membership. You can also join local AIA chapters, which sponsor lecture programs and other events.
World Archaeological Congress, which covers the globe and emphasizes professional and public archaeology and indigenous peoples' rights. It has an online newsletter and discussion forum that often highlights ethical dilemmas.
Society for American Archaeology (SAA), which is for professionals but allows anyone to join, attend meetings, and receive the journal.
National archaeological societies, in many countries and languages.
State societies, which also offer annual meetings, journals, and sometimes booths at the state fair. More amateurs and lay people are usually members of these groups, but also professionals and students.
Local clubs or chapters of the state society, which (like the others) usually have a mix of members, a newsletter, and often monthly meetings and various activities (lectures, digs).
Archaeological digs across the country or abroad
Many organizations sponsor excavations that draw people from everywhere. This is a great way to plan a vacation. Here's a list of some of the best:
The Passport in Time Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USDA FS in federal lingo) takes volunteers for all kinds of archaeological projects.
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) lists fieldwork opportunities, both formal field schools and volunteer projects all over the world that you can sign up for. Costs vary widely.
The Center for American Archaeology in Kampsville, Illinois, offers everything from single-day opportunities to workshops for adults to digs open to kids, adults, and families with children as young as 7. Costs vary from low to high.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in southwestern Colorado offers short and long programs for high-schoolers, adults, families, and teachers. Costs vary.
Earthwatch Institute offers opportunities to join scientific expeditions of all kinds, including archaeology. Participants volunteer their time and pay living expenses and fees (which can be steep if you're traveling to a faraway place).
Supplies for Archaeological Digging and Recording
The archaeology field or project director usually gives you a list of what to bring. Most projects expect you to have a field pack for your own belongings, hand tools, and notebook.
All the stuff you bring on a dig stands a good chance of getting damaged or destroyed, so start with a good, sturdy — but perhaps not new — pack. Used military packs of heavy cotton canvas are great, though you may consider buying a ballistic-nylon bag in a bright color so you can easily locate it.
Ask what hand tools are supplied or whether you need to buy some for yourself. Here are typical excavation tools in an archaeological fieldworker's pack:
Pointed 4-inch Marshalltown trowel (and maybe a square one, too)
3-meter measuring tape (harder to find than inches-and-feet increments) or other small tape
Butter knife, grapefruit or regular spoon, and pocketknife
Artist's spatula and dental pick (ask your dentist for old or broken ones)
Sharpened wooden chopstick or length of bamboo for softer digging
Small, clean (but cheap) paintbrush for brushing away dirt
Roll of plastic flagging in a bright color
Water-resistant field notebook (check dig requirements)
Compass (cheap or expensive)
Pencils (and a sharpener), waterproof markers, waterproof pens, and/or space pen
Line level for measuring depths from a level string
Zipper-lock plastic bags of all sizes for finds
Archaeological Fieldwork Safety and Health
All archaeological fieldwork should have safety rules, a field first-aid kit, and persons skilled in medical assistance. But bring basic supplies like aspirin or bandages. It's rare for an archaeological project not to have one or more of the following: sharp metal tools, bugs, excessive sun, poison ivy, stinging nettles, occasional bad weather, heavy physical work, and lots of dirt.
Here's a list of items relating to health and safety that you may want to have on hand at an archaeological dig:
Refillable canteen or water bottle
Bandages and a small bottle of iodine or tube of antibiotic cream
Prescription medicines, clearly labeled
Aspirin, anti-diarrheal medicine, and sore muscle liniment
Insect repellent and something to relieve any bites/stings
Antibacterial hand cleaner
Emergency food (like a granola bar and a small bag of peanuts)
Tweezers for removing slivers and stings