Choosing a Field – Specialisms in Archaeology

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The field of archaeology covers the full extent of human existence, through time and across the world. Small wonder it has spawned so many sub-disciplines, theoretical and practical. We look at some of the choices.

There is more to archaeology than scraping away with a trowel or brushing dust from ancient hieroglyphs. The word ‘archaeology’ (derived from the Greek archaiologia) means the study of ancient people through their material remains, or, as Paul Bahn succinctly puts it in his book Archaeology, A Very Short Introduction: ‘nosing around in dead people’s leftovers and trying to guess how they lived their lives’. Since its inception as a newly-named discipline in the late 19thcentury, archaeological methods have developed, evolved and diversified. The increasing sophistication of scientific techniques in the field and in the laboratory means archaeologists are not only discovering more evidence, but are able to interpret it with greater confidence. Yet, it is not all lab coats and flickering computers: archaeologists can still be found up to their knees in mud, or ploughing through ancient texts and excavation data. For the student thinking about studying archaeology, this may all appear daunting: which direction should they take? Indeed, are they even aware of what is available to study, let alone what would most appeal? Universities usually offer a general introduction to archaeology for undergraduates, covering a broad range of topics that includes general theory and practice, and an overview of human history. The second and third years will be the time to investigate areas of interest in more detail, and to consider specialising in a particular discipline. For those wishing to go into field archaeology or pursue a career in commercial archaeology (see p.52) usually no further degree is required; rather, these students should focus on getting as much field experience as possible, through university or volunteer excavations. Graduates who want to concentrate on a chosen speciality can invariably find a suitable post-graduate degree course.

Sugested   Further reading:  

Archaeology;Theories, Methodsand Practice by Colin Renfrew and
Paul Bahn, Thames & Hudson (ISBN: 0500287198) £29.95.

The Oxford Handbook of Archaeology, by Barry Cunliffe, Chris Gosden, and Rosemary Joyce (eds), Oxford University Press, (ISBN: 0199271011) £85.
Practical Archaeology: a step by step guide to uncovering the past by Christopher Catling, Lorenz Books (ISBN: 0754817474 ) £17.99.

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