With the advancement of technology, it is becoming increasingly easy to discover new information about our past, which makes archaeology an ever-changing (and fast-moving) industry to be a part of.
What A-Levels do you need?
It depends on whether you’re hoping to study a BA or a BSc. The University of Winchester don’t have specific A-level requirements for their Archaeology BA, for instance, whereas you’ll need at least a B grade in the likes of Geography, History or Chemistry to study a BSc at Bournemouth. In general, a Bachelor’s in Science will have more strict requirements than a Bachelor’s in Art.
What are your study options?
There are many different study options available for those looking to develop their understanding of archaeology. While it is possible to study a history or Earth science-related qualification at uni and still find work later within the archaeology sector after graduation, many students choose to learn more about the subject by studying either a BA or BSc in archaeology. These tend to be the standard three years in length (although some unis will offer four-year courses that include a sandwich year).
All archaeology courses should teach you the key skills required to analyse and preserve data, as well as providing you with a general knowledge of history. However, as well as attending lectures, you will also be expected to visit museums, heritage sites and excavation sites on a regular basis. In this instance courses will vary between universities, as the nature of the field trips you go on will depend on the location of the uni and its proximity to key sites of historical important (Bournemouth is close to both Corfe Castle and Stonehenge, for example). This is something you should bear in mind when making your choice.
If you’re stuck deciding between two different subjects, archaeology may also be offered as a combined/joint honours programme with subjects such as history or classics.
Why study Archaeology?
If you’ve a naturally inquisitive nature, a passion for history and you enjoy working outdoors, then archaeology may be the ideal course for you.
A degree in archaeology should provide you with an in-depth knowledge of archaeological practice as well as an insight in to past societies and cultures – in short, your degree will be a combination of detective work, discovery and analysis. Depending upon where you study, you will also be able to specialise in specific areas that appeal to your personal interests – from Ancient Egypt to the history of Mesopotamia.
After your degree...
There are a number of career options available to students with a degree in this archaeology. Many students go on and pursue careers that use the core knowledge taught on the course working on archaeological excavations, at cultural heritage sites or within museums and archives as curators.
However, there are a number of different sectors where archaeology graduates can find employment. Using the writing and analytical skills acquired throughout the course, many students find work within the arts sector as journalists and writers or within the business sector, working within PR and marketing departments.
Of course, just because you have a degree doesn’t mean that you should give up on studying. Postgraduate studies can have a fantastic impact on your career, so furthering your knowledge of archaeology by studying for a Master’s degree – or even, eventually, a PhD – may be worthwhile. Similarly, you can use postgraduate study as a means of diversifying your career by taking more vocational courses such as the GDL (law) or a PGCE (teaching), should these areas be of interest to you.
Q & A with an Archaeology graduate
Julian Thorley studied a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Manchester and is now a commercial archaeologist...
Why did you choose to study archaeology at university?
I pretty much stumbled into archaeology; I was out for a walk one day between school terms and found a team of archaeologists from my local museum excavating under a recently demolished school. The site was Hulton Abbey, a Cistercian Monastery, and between my A-level terms I subsequently volunteered to help out. The team were really interesting and after helping to excavate some skeletons and unearthing the remains of an old abbey window I thought ‘I'd like to know more about this!’ I was lucky enough to get into the University of Manchester — it all seemed to come together perfectly.
What was the most enjoyable aspect?
I got an education that changed my life. I was learning skills that opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the world and I also met people from all walks of life. It revolutionised the way I saw everything; I was a green young man from the Midlands thrust into metropolitan Manchester, meeting people in my halls of residence from all over the world – Malaysia, Corfu, Egypt. I felt like I was studying the core of human society – we studied the origins of farming and the rise of civilisation; learning how humans developed from hunter gatherers to large city states was astonishing, especially the Near Eastern archaeology which was my favourite because the nature of the archaeological information was so rich. Greek history and philosophy was mind expanding too – it ought to be taught in schools more. To dig into the earth and uncover these societies is to dig into the roots of who we are. I was introduced to a world of ideas that had been sort of secret in a way – you were taught to think about the way you thought, to introduce critical faculties to everything. That's a pretty precious gift.
What was the least enjoyable aspect?
The library was not always well stocked — it was often quite a struggle getting the necessary textbooks or articles, especially if you left it late. I'm a great believer in certain textbooks being reference only; it makes it a level playing field.
How do you think an archaeology degree might help graduates seeking employment?
Aside from the transferable skills employers may look for in graduates, there is commercial archaeology which takes place not just in the UK but in Europe as well – I have a friend working in Copenhagen at the moment. An archaeology degree broadens the mind I think — you can't look at the landscape in the same way without noticing the marks of history on it, or thinking what might be beneath the ground. If employers want innovative, interesting people who look at the world differently they should definitely employ archaeology graduates. There are also career paths in heritage and environmental agencies.
How did the course prepare you for your job?
My course was quite theoretical, so most of my excavation skills were picked up on the job, but there are degrees in practical archaeology that can better prepare students for the physical side of things.
What would you like to go on to do in your career in the future?
There are lots of things I'd like to do — probably go into teaching, or perhaps do an MA. I've written a few books as well which I'm trying to get published, but that is a particularly tough industry to break into. I still dream though, and that’s the important thing!