Anthropologist or Archaeologist

Study the origin, development, and behavior of humans.

Interest Area: 
Average Yearly Pay: 
Education Needed: 
Graduate Degree
Growing Faster Than Average
Job Growth: 
Job Prospects: 

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Job Duties: 

Anthropologists and archeologists typically do the following:

  • Plan research projects to answer questions and test hypotheses about humans
  • Develop data collection methods tailored to a particular specialty, project, or culture
  • Collect information from observations, interviews, and documents
  • Record and manage records of observations taken in the field
  • Analyze data, laboratory samples, and other sources to uncover patterns about human life, culture, and origins
  • Write reports and give presentations on research findings
  • Advise organizations on the cultural impact of proposed plans, policies, and programs
  • Career Overview

    The major social science occupations covered in this statement are anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers, and historians.

    Social scientists study all aspects of society—from past events and achievements to human behavior and relationships among groups. Their research provides insights into the different ways individuals, groups, and institutions make decisions, exercise power, and respond to change. They look at data in detail, such as studying the data they've collected, reanalyzing already existing data, analyzing historical records and documents, and interpreting the effect of location on culture and other aspects of society. Through their studies and analyses, social scientists offer insight into the physical, social, and cultural development of humans, as well as the links between human activity and the environment.

    Anthropologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the ways of life, languages, archaeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world. They also examine the customs, values, and social patterns of different cultures, often through comparative analyses. Some anthropologists study current human concerns, such as overpopulation, warfare, and poverty, while others study the prehistory of Homo sapiens, including the evolution of the human brain. Anthropologists usually concentrate on one of four subfields: sociocultural, linguistics, biological, and physical anthropology. Sociocultural anthropologists study the customs, cultures, and social lives of groups in settings that range from unindustrialized societies to modern urban centers. They often do this through observation or face-to-face interviews with a particular group, comparing findings of one particular group with that of another. For example, they may seek to learn the reasons behind face painting or scarification of individuals within a society to better understand the overall culture of that society. Such an analysis usually takes form of a specific focus—for example, economics, politics, religion, or art. Linguistic anthropologists investigate the history of, role of, and changes to, language over time in various cultures. Biological anthropologists research the evolution of the human body, look for the earliest evidences of human life, and analyze how culture and biology influence one another. Physical anthropologists examine human remains found at archaeological sites in order to understand population demographics and factors, such as nutrition and disease, that affected these populations.

    Archaeologists examine and recover material evidence, including tools, pottery, cave paintings, the ruins of buildings, and other objects remaining from past human cultures in order to learn about the history, customs, and living habits of earlier civilizations. With continued technological advances making it increasingly possible to detect the presence of underground anomalies without digging, archaeologists can now target excavation sites better than they previously could.

    Most archaeologists work at consulting and research firms—specifically, at cultural resource management (CRM) firms whose services often are contracted by developers, construction companies, and, sometimes, the Federal Government. CRM workers are responsible mainly for identifying, assessing, and preserving archaeological and historical sites on private and public land, such as National parks, to ensure that the builder is complying with legislation pertaining to preservation. Archaeologists in museums and historic sites often handle the locale’s artifacts collection, educate the public through interactive programs and presentations, or become administrators who supervise programs related to research, collections, and exhibitions. Another large employer of archaeologists is the government. Many archaeologists in the Federal Government conduct research for the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service. Some also work as administrators.

    Work environment. Most social scientists have regular hours. Although they work most often as an integral part of a research team, they sometimes work alone, writing reports of their findings. Travel may be necessary to collect information or attend meetings, and those on foreign assignment must adjust to unfamiliar cultures, climates, and languages.

    Some social scientists do fieldwork. Anthropologists and archaeologists may travel to remote areas, live among the people they study, learn their languages, and stay for long periods at the site of their investigations. They may work under rugged conditions, and their work may involve strenuous physical exertion.

    Social scientists employed by colleges and universities usually have flexible work schedules, often dividing their time among teaching, research, writing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities. Those who teach in these settings are classified as postsecondary teachers.

    Training, Qualifications, and Advancement

    The educational attainment of social scientists is among the highest of all occupations, with most positions requiring a master's or Ph.D. degree. Some entry-level positions are available to those with a bachelor's degree. All social scientists need good analytical skills.

    Education and training. Graduates with master's degrees in applied specialties usually are qualified for positions outside of colleges and universities, although requirements vary by field. A Ph.D. degree may be required for higher level teaching positions. Bachelor's degree holders have limited opportunities; however, a bachelor's degree does provide a suitable background for many different kinds of entry-level jobs in related occupations, such as research assistant, writer, management trainee, and market analyst.

    Training in statistics and mathematics is essential for many social scientists, most of whom increasingly are using mathematical and quantitative research methods. The ability to use computers for research purposes is mandatory in most disciplines. Social scientists also must keep up to date on the latest technological advances that affect their discipline and research. For example, a growing number of archaeologists are beginning to incorporate the technology into their work.

    Many social science students also benefit from internships or field experience. Numerous local museums, historical societies, government agencies, and nonprofit and other organizations offer internships or volunteer research opportunities. Archaeological field schools instruct future anthropologists and archaeologists in how to excavate, record, and interpret historical sites.

    Other qualifications. Social scientists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. The ability to think logically and methodically also is essential in analyzing complicated issues. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of social science research. Perseverance, too, often is necessary, as when an anthropologist spends years studying artifacts from an ancient civilization before making a final analysis and interpretation.

    Certification and advancement. Some social scientists advance to top-level research and administrative positions. Advancement often depends on the number and quality of reports that social scientists publish or their ability to design studies.


    Anthropologists and archaeologists held about 5,800 jobs in 2008. Professional, scientific, and technical services employed 37 percent of all social scientists. A small amount—about 2 percent—was self-employed.

    Job Outlook

    Overall employment is projected to grow much faster than average for anthropologists and archaeologists and opportunities will be best with management, scientific, and technical consulting services companies.

    Employment change. Overall employment of anthropologists and archaeologists is expected to grow by 28 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, driven by growth in the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry. Anthropologists who work as consultants will be needed to apply their analytical skills and knowledge to problems ranging from economic development to forensics. A growing number of anthropologists also will be needed in specific segments of the Federal Government, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, to assess the regional customs and values—or “cultural terrain”—of a particular society in specific parts of the world. Employment growth of archaeologists will be driven by higher levels of overall construction, including large-scale transportation projects and upgrades to the Nation’s infrastructure. As construction projects increase, more archaeologists will be needed to ensure that Federal laws related to the preservation of archaeological and historical sites and artifacts are met.

    Job prospects. In addition to opportunities arising from employment growth, some job openings for social scientists will come from the need to replace those who retire or who leave the occupation for other reasons. Some social scientists leave the occupation to become professors, but competition for tenured teaching positions will be keen.

    Overall, people seeking social science positions are likely to face competition for jobs. Candidates who have a master's or Ph.D. degree in a social science, who are skilled in quantitative research methods, and who also have good written and communications skills are likely to have the best job opportunities. In addition, many jobs in policy, research, or marketing, for which social scientists qualify, are not advertised exclusively as social scientist positions.

    Anthropologists and archaeologists will experience the best job prospects at management, scientific, and technical consulting firms. Those with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology usually qualify to be a field technician.


    Median annual wages for anthropologists and archaeologists were $53,910 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $39,200 and $70,980. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,490.

    In March 2009, the Federal Government’s average annual salary for anthropologists was $88,302 and for archaeologists, $70,606. Beginning salaries were higher in selected areas of the country where the prevailing local pay level was higher.

    For More Information

    For information about careers in anthropology, contact:

    • American Anthropological Association, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet:

    For information about careers in archaeology, contact:

    • Archaeological Institute of America, 656 Beacon St., 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02215. Internet:
    • Society for American Archaeology, 900 2nd St. NE., Suite 12, Washington, DC 20002. Internet:

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