Archaeology as a career offers the thrill and excitement of digging into the earth and discovering the secrets of times past; of how our ancestors lived and how we evolved
Archaeologists have to travel extensively within the country from one excavation site to another. They also get the opportunity to work on international excavation projects as required. They also have the scope to take up permanent positions such as lecturers, professors, conservators, museum curators, and so on in foreign countries as per their experience and area of specialization.
The trend of all knowledge at the present is to specialize, but archaeology has in it all the qualities that call for the wide view of the human race, of its growth from the savage to the civilized, which is seen in all stages of social and religious development. – Margaret Murray
Archaeology is an interdisciplinary activity that revolves around the investigation of material development made by earlier human societies. The objective of this discipline is to study past human cultures by identification, survey, and excavation of historical sites. These sites yield remains of earlier cultures in the form of relics (such as pottery, weapons, jewellery, articles of daily use, plant, animal, and human remains and so on) and architecture.
Once artefacts and monuments are unearthed they are properly analysed, documented, and preserved by archaeologists for future reference. Even an insignificant looking article like a piece of broken pottery or a human bone tells a lot of things to a seasoned archaeologist. The finding made during various archaeological investigations often adds new dimensions to already known facts of the past.
Recovery and analysis of remains obtained from excavation sites is the primary duty of all archaeologists irrespective of their field of specialization. Apart from the traditional process of collecting and managing material evidence of the past, archaeologists also employ modern investigative techniques. The state-of-the-art research techniques utilized by modern day archaeologists are, genetic study, radiocarbon dating, thermography, satellite imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and so on.
As a multidisciplinary activity, archaeology greatly draws upon a vast array of subjects such as anthropology, art history, chemistry, classical literature, ethnology, geology, history, information technology, linguistics, palaeontology, physics, statistics, and so on.
All in all a career in archaeology is challenging, stimulating, and fulfilling.
Most of the universities in India that have a department of archaeology offer this subject at the post-graduation level and beyond it. In this regard, the first step towards becoming a successful archaeologist is to obtain a graduate degree. This could be in any discipline. However, it is preferable to have a bachelor’s degree in history, sociology, or anthropology for a better understanding of the concepts of archaeology. Further, it is advisable to check with the concerned university what all bachelor’s degrees are acceptable for taking up a postgraduate course in archaeology.
However, universities like the Maharaj Sayajirao University of Baroda, offers a three years bachelor’s degree in Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. Similarly, the Banaras Hindu University, offers two undergraduate courses in this field: a three years honours program in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology and a three years vocational program in Museology and Archaeology.
The Institute of Archaeology under the aegis of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), New Delhi, conducts a two year Post Graduate Diploma in Archaeology. The eligibility of entry to this program includes a master’s degree in Ancient or Medieval Indian History, Anthropology, or Archaeology form a recognized university. Students holding a master’s degree in classical languages or geology can also apply for this program. This course is divided into four semesters and the curriculum of this course is as follows:
Paper - I Principles and Methods of Archaeology
Paper – II Application of Science in Archaeology
Paper – III Prehistory
Paper – IV Protohistory
Paper - V Historical Archaeology
Paper - VI Art and Iconography
Paper - VII Architecture
Paper - VIII Epigraphy and Numismatics
Paper - IX Museology
Paper - X Structural Conservation of Monuments
Paper - XI Chemical Preservation of Monuments and Antiquities
Paper - XII Antiquarian Laws
The practical test in itself comprises of the following sections: Surveying, Drawing, Photography, Modelling, Exploration & Excavation, Chemical Conservation, Computer Application, Viva-voce, General observations, Tutorials, and a Dissertation.
After completing the post graduation level, candidates can opt for higher studies. They can either go for a doctorate degree or take up lectureship in a university after qualifying the norms laid down by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in this regard. From the master’s level onwards, candidates can look for suitable career opportunities either in the teaching line or as an archaeologist employed with the ASI at the central or at the state level.
To take up a successful profession in archaeology it is not necessary but advisable to start as early as possible. The most important steps in this direction are to imbibe the spirit of cultural and art appreciation in the minds of young ones. This impetus must come both from the school as well as from the home front. As the psyche of a young learner absorbs more and more information about the grandeur of our country’s history, they are automatically attracted towards this exciting profession.
Further, interest towards this occupation can be ignited by frequent visits to museums, cultural centres, historical monuments, and even excavation sites. Gathering information from books and periodicals on topics such as history, art history, and ancient civilizations helps a lot in this regard. Keeping track of developments and new findings in the realm of archaeology is another way of getting a head start for becoming a future archaeologist.
India has a rich cultural heritage that goes back thousands of years. In this regard, there is always a perpetual demand for well qualified archaeologists to work on new archaeological projects. There is also a demand for experienced lecturers, curators, and conservators. Universities and colleges across the country are doing a great job in meeting this demand.
Since ASI, government agencies, and educational establishments are the main job prospects for students of archaeology, there is no paucity of openings.
It does not cost too much to purse your studies in this field. As far as the cost of completing, a bachelor’s or a postgraduate degree goes the cost is similar to other arts and social science subjects.
Students who succeed to get admission into the two year Post Graduate Diploma program in Archaeology run by the ASI get a stipend of Rs.1,500 each.
Post graduate students of archaeology who get through the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the Junior Research Fellow (JRF)-Lectureship examination conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) are eligible to take doctorate studies in the capacity of a junior research fellow. The monthly remuneration of JRFs is Rs.8,000 per month.
Apart from the aforementioned, universities generally extend merit scholarships and stipends to students on the basis of their performance at pre as well as post graduate levels. Some educational institutions also have government and privately funded fellowships for their students, the eligibility for which varies from institute to institute.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the main recruiter of archaeologists in our country both at the centre and the state levels. Qualified students can apply for appropriate positions in the ASI by clearing examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) or by the State Public Service Commissions (SPSC).
Students who have earned a post graduate degree in archaeology can apply for lectureship in various universities across the country. In this regard, they have to appear for the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the Junior Research Fellow (JRF)-Lectureship examination conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
Candidates who succeed to qualify the JRF examination have the option to pursue a doctorate degree in the capacity of a paid research fellowship. For taking up a lectureship position within a particular state, candidates need to clear the State Level Eligibility Test (SLET) of that state.
Archaeologists also have the option to take up a job in government or privately owned museums for the safe upkeep and management of museum artefacts.
Since most of the job openings are in government or government run agencies, therefore the career of an archaeologist is secure. Archaeologists draw all the benefits of a normal government employee as per their experience and official designation.
Archaeology is the perfect career for people who derive self-satisfaction in discovering a part of history and culture long lost in the dust of time. It is a profile that is very demanding since archaeologists have to spend umpteen hours and days camping and undertaking field work at excavation sites and in laboratories. An archaeologist therefore must have the patience to work on a project that may take months and even years to compete.
Abundant knowledge of history, an avid reading habit, excellent penmanship, and an analytical and focussed mind are some essential skills that make a good archaeologist. In this occupation fame and recognition often weighs more than monetary benefits.
• This is an ideal profession for people who want to make a career in unravelling mysteries of the past.
• A famous discovery often catapults the status and reputation of an archaeologist to iconic proportions.
• There is an insatiable quest to find and bring to light hitherto undiscovered historical sites.
• This is one way of enriching the society as people come to know about the rich heritage of our country.
• Inclement weather and tough and hazardous working conditions are a perpetual challenge to professionals engaged in field work.
• Other perils include chance encounters with wild animals, dacoits and robbers, local land mafia, disgruntled villagers, and anti-social elements.
• Arduously long working hours in the field and constant travelling can be punishing on the mind and the body.
Archaeology in itself is a vast field and different roles are based on the area of specialization. The major branches of study in archaeology include:
• Archaeobotany – Study of plant remains to ascertain agricultural practices of that time, food habits of the people, and climatic conditions thereof.
• Archaeometry – Is the application of analytical engineering principles and processes to archaeology.
• Archaeozoology – Branch of archaeology that looks into the remains of animals and related aspects such as their health, domestication, hunting practices, and so on.
• Battlefield Archaeology – Intensive archaeological exploration of well known battlefields.
• Environmental Archaeology – Studies the impact of environment on past societies and vice versa.
• Ethno Archaeology – Application of modern day ethnological or anthropological data on past societies to gain an insight into them.
• Experimental Archaeology – Replication of obsolete objects and processes in order to get a better understanding of their working.
• Geoarchaeology – The focus of this field is towards the inspection of soil and rock samples to determine changes in geological and environmental conditions.
• Marine Archaeology – Also known as underwater archaeology. Study dedicated to probe the remains of ships along with the study of cultures that developed along the coastline.
• Palaeontology – This branch deals with the study of life forms that existed on earth before the advent of the modern man.
• Prehistoric Archaeology – Archaeologists whose main interest is to examine human traditions that belong to the pre-recorded or prehistoric era.
• Urban Archaeology – Branch that is specifically dedicated to the study of urban centres or cities.
Other than, the aforementioned branches of study an archaeologist can specialise in the study of a specific historic period (Biblical, Classical, Medieval archaeology, and so on) or geographical location such as Egyptology (study of Egyptian civilizations), Sinology (study of Chinese history), and so on. They can also gain expertise in a particular area of research such as battlefields, underwater archaeology, geology, culture, flora, and fauna.
Archaeology students start earning as soon as they qualify the JRF examination and fulfil all the eligibility criteria thereof. A JRF gets an assistance of Rs. 8,000 per month for a period of two years. Emoluments are increased once their position is elevated to that of a Senior Research Fellow (SRF). The pay packet of lecturers is around Rs. 20,000 per month whereas professors earn even higher than this.
After joining the ASI, the basic pay package of an assistant archaeologist is in a range between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 15,000 per month approximately. Archaeologists who have a doctorate degree tend to get better positions in the job hierarchy. The monthly salary of the director general of ASI is in somewhere around Rs. 30,000 per month.
1. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)
2. Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR)
3. National Museum
4. Universities and colleges
5. Government and private museums and cultural galleries
1. One needs to have a hardy body and mind especially to bag this profile.
2. Good communication skills here also come handy to edge past one’s fellow competitors.