Archaeologists study the past by examining remains and artifacts, such as skeletons, tools, pottery, cave paintings and ruins of buildings. Some focus on human history, studying the ruins of past civilizations and working closely with anthropologists. Others examine the bones of extinct animals such as dinosaurs to find out what the natural world looked like in the past. A career as an archaeologist usually requires a master's degree, while a leadership position in the field usually requires a Ph.D.
Average National Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the approximately 6,060 archaeologists and anthropologists employed in the United States earned an average annual salary of $60,230 as of 2012. Half of these workers reported annual earnings that ranged from $42,570 to $74,620. The highest-paid 10 percent made $91,140 or more, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned $33,330 or less.
Salary by State
Among states and districts, the District of Columbia paid the highest average salaries to archaeologists thanks to the presence of high-paying jobs with the federal government. The average D.C. salary was $91,180 as of 2012, according to the BLS. Massachusetts ranked second at $75,260 a year, followed by Hawaii at $73,100, Alaska at $71,220 and Arkansas at $69,710. The lowest average salary in the country, $42,570 per year, was reported by archaeologists working in Wisconsin.
Pay by Employer
As of 2012, the highest-paying jobs for archaeologists and anthropologists tended to be with the federal government, where the average annual pay was $74,040. Those working for local governments averaged $62,360 per year, while those who worked for museums averaged $63,180. On the lower end of the pay scale, archaeologists and anthropologists employed by scientific research and development firms earned an average of $55,890 per year, while those working for colleges and universities averaged $50,460 per year.
The BLS reports that employment for archaeologists and anthropologists is expected to grow at a relatively fast rate of 21 percent from 2010 to 2020. That compares to a projected growth rate of 14 percent for all occupations. However, because this is a relatively small discipline, this will only result in the creation of about 1,300 new jobs. As a result, competition for jobs in the field of archaeology is expected to be strong. Candidates who hold a doctoral degree and have had extensive fieldwork experience will have the best job opportunities, meaning that students should plan to pursue internships during the course of their schoolwork.
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