Want to be an Archaeologist?

You’ve wanted Time Team, Indiana Jones, Digging Up Britain or Tomb Raider and you fancy giving archaeology a go.

You think to yourself … how hard can it be?!

You are clever, practical, have a sense of adventure, and dare I say, a bit of time on your hands. You even have the money to pay for it.

So, how do you get your foot in the door?

Well, if you are anything like me, your next step might be to stalk everyone on the internet who has absolutely anything to do with archaeology.  It’s a plan, but I wouldn’t recommended it.

My advice is this:  before approaching anyone,  think about the kind of things you are interested in (site types or time periods for example), what it is to you want to do (dig, dive or discover via desk-based research), and where you want to do it (at home or abroad and if so, where… this naturally has a cost implication…) before making contact.

Trust me.

Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of thousands of emails from people, who want in, but don’t know what they want to do, why they want do do it, and what they have to offer. Getting these things three things straight in your head will very definitely set you apart from the pack. It also shows respect for your contact, their time, and your potential relationship with them. Social capital is critical.

So, where to start?


1.   Explore


Find out what opportunities exist near you. There are walks, talks, and other events on nearly every week in every corner of the world. There are also hundreds of openings in which to undertake more formal archaeological training and become involved in actual fieldwork, which for most people is the holy grail.

If you live near me, you might be interested in the Balmain Walks, The Classic and Wooden Boat Festival, The Big Dig Archaeology Weekend, or one of the many National Archaeology Week activities being planned for May.

Joining a local or national archaeology organisation, such as the South Australian Archaeology Society, Nautical Archaeology Society, the Australian Archaeological Association or Society for Historical Archaeology is also a good way to go.

Membership not only brings you into contact with professional archaeologists and likeminded individuals, it provides access to information and resources unavailable elsewhere. Society newsletters, blogs, magazines, events, and even library facilities, all help you to meet people, get connected and learn stuff!

And remember, you will always get out of a membership what you put in.  So get amongst it. Where they exist, use society discussion lists (like Sub-Arch, the Underwater Archaeology Discussion List) to full advantage. They will help you on your learning journey, and you just never know who you will meet.

  Indiana Sarah - English and Dutch participants in the Netherlands during the NAS International Exchange Program - a great way to learn about other maritime cultures.


2.   Educate


Whether you are a diver looking to get into archaeology, or an archaeologist looking to get into diving, or someone who is simply interested in exploring the past… skill up! You may have tremendous transferrable skills which can be applied to archaeology, but if you don’t know the basics, you won’t get a look in.

If you are in Australia, and interested in maritime archaeology, the AIMA NAS Training Program is a good option. ArchaeoMar and the University of Sydney also run training courses as do most of the professional bodies.

If outside of Australia, contact the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) for information on where courses are being delivered in your local area. At last count they had partner organisations in over 20 countries. I started my maritime archaeology training (and career) with the NAS and chances are, you can too!

Of course, if you want a career in archaeology, you’ll have to head back to Uni. I went to the University of Southampton; it changed my life. Texas A&M also offers an excellent Nautical Archaeology Program in conjunction with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), as does the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Ulster. If you are looking for a program closer to home, check out UNESCO’s list of underwater archaeology programs. Its lists almost every program globally, so  you will be sure to find something that works for you.


3.   Confer


In order to building a broad knowledge base, conference attendance is critical. Conferences are a great way to network, learn and get exposed to the latest thinking.

The World Archaeology Congress, International Congress on Underwater Archaeology (IKWUA), European Association for Archaeologists Conference, International Conference on Southeast Asian Archaeology, and the Landscape Archaeology Conference are all coming up later in the year. I’ll be at both WAC and IKUWA, so be sure to come say hello.

If these don’t appeal to you, British Archaeology and the Nautical Archaeology Society both maintain an online list of upcoming conferences, so be sure to check them out.


Indiana Sarah - Conferences are a great way to keep up the the latest ideas, here a previous NAS Conference at Action Stations in Portsmouth


4.   Participate


Volunteering is the by far the best way to get your foot in the door. Volunteering also helps you to develop new skills, enhance career prospects, build new relationships, enjoy a sense of achievement, and connect with community, past and present.

If you interested in obtaining field experience, Past Horizons, Projects Abroad, Current Archaeology and Earth Watch all have a searchable database of research projects looking for volunteers.

Wessex Archaeology, one of the UK’s leading heritage practices, offers coastal and marine archaeology experience in a number of forms. Students and/or volunteers may participate on some field projects. Alternatively, workplace internships may be available on a case-by-case basis, so if you want to be the next Tom Harrison, please contact the Community and Education Officer (education@wessexarch.co.uk) to express your interest.

If you are in Australia, interested in maritime archaeology, and are still at school, never fear.  The Australian National Maritime Museum runs a number of Australian national curriculum based educational workshops (from Kindergarten to Year 12) in the areas of maritime archaeology and material science.These programs can be conducted in-house (excursion), at the school (incursion) or over the web (virtual excursion), and include Maritime Archaeology, Senior Maritime Archaeology, Shipwreck Sleuths, Shipwreck Corrorion and Conservation, and Shipwreck Stories. For more information, or to book your place, please contact the museum via email: bookings@anmm.gov.au.

If you are a diver, Southern Ocean Exploration (SOE) also offers volunteer opportunities to anyone interested in shipwrecks and maritime archaeology. SOE is a not-for-profit organisation that has been operating since 2003.  Comprised of technical divers, maritime archaeologists, and shipwreck researchers, SOE works closely both Heritage Victoria and the Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria. SOE has located over 12 sites in south/eastern Australian and is currently working on projects in Port Phillip Bay, Bass Straight, King Island and Tasmania.  For more information, or to find out how you may get involved, contact Mark Ryan at SOE via email mark@southernoceanexploration.com.

Last, but certainly not least, if you are already and archaeologist, or are a graduating student interested in professional opportunities, check out British Archaeological Jobs Resource and Underwater Archaeology Jobs. You just never know what you might find …


Indiana Sarah - Diving on Texel Roads, Netherlands during the NAS International Exchange Program


5.   Persist


Most of all be persistent. When I was knee-deep in my dissertation, a wise man told me that the most difficult things are only one’s worth doing; and although I didn’t believe him at the time, you know what, he was right?! So stick with it! It took me three months to get accepted onto my first volunteer dig and it changed my life. The people I met in that soggy field in Scotland are still some of the best friends and mentors a girl could ever have.

If you want to give archaeology a go, remember that opportunities are there for the taking, its up to you to  take them. So, put your thinking caps, your walking shoes on, get out there and go for it!

So, what’s your top tip for getting in involved in archaeology? I would love to know.

Lets start a conversation in the comments section below and as usual, if comments aren’t your thing, you can find us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

Until next week,


About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, an archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 15 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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(c) Indiana Sarah 2016