28 Jul 2023

Letter to A Young Archaeologist July 2023

This month, chairs of University Archaeology UK, Vicki and Andrew, write to our Young Archaeologists about studying Archaeology at University, with additional thoughts from two current archaeology students, Jack and Adam! 

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Letters July.png


Dear Young Archaeologists,

Our letter to you today is about studying Archaeology at University. You might be thinking – but university is ages away! Or perhaps you’ve not even thought about going to university! However, it is never too early to at least think about these things, and our letter to you today is about why archaeology is such a great subject to study should you choose to take this path.

  1. It’s a really diverse subject – a bit of something for everyone!

Archaeology is about the past, but it is also so much more! Archaeology is one of those wonderful subjects which draws on a whole range of other subjects, making it really diverse. It means you can study the things that really fire your imagination. Perhaps you have a love of science and want to do something that takes those scientific skills and applies them to a particular topic? Archaeology incorporates a wide range of different elements from science, from figuring out what people ate from their bones to using remote sensing to work out what still lies beneath the ground waiting to be discovered. Perhaps you love visiting old buildings and museums? Then archaeology is for you too, because it also incorporates studying old buildings and objects. Or perhaps you are just fascinated by ancient societies and want to understand how people have lived in different times and places, and what their lives can teach us for the future.

  1. It offers you something lots of other degrees don’t

Archaeology is such a broad subject that degrees in this area involve a very wide range of skills relevant to many professions. These include practical skills developed in the field or in the lab, where you will also learn teamwork, adaptability and initiative, as well as observational skills from handling objects, and the more traditionally academic writing, presentation and data analysis skills.

  1. It tackles the big important questions for our time

Have you ever wondered what on earth we can do to halt climate change? You probably already know that this isn’t the first time that the planet has been subject to dramatic environmental changes, and humans have adapted to this before. Studying the past can help us plan for the future, indeed learn from our ancestors about how they deal with this. Most of the major challenges of the 21st century, in fact, are better faced with a longer-term perspective on how human societies have dealt with issues like inequality, identity, migration, conflict and co-operation in the past.

  1. It’s a great degree to study even if you don’t want to be an archaeologist

Do you know for sure that you want to become an archaeologist? If so, great, but perhaps you want to keep your options open. The great thing about an archaeology degree is that it opens lots of doors when you graduate. It might surprise you to learn that the majority of archaeology graduates don’t actually go on to be archaeologists. Many go into a wide variety of different professions from teaching to museum work, or pursue careers in the civil service, law, business, or the non-profit sector. Employers find that archaeology graduates have a fantastic range of skills from the diverse range of things you will have done as part of your degree. So, even if you are not sure that you want a career in ruins, doing a degree in archaeology is a brilliant bet for getting a job at the end of your studies.

  1. It won’t make you rich but it might just make you happy

The diversity of archaeology degrees makes them stimulating and engaging to study, and archaeology departments across the UK are well-known for being highly supportive environments – archaeology typically performs very highly in the National Student Survey. Furthermore, archaeological excavation and related activities are increasingly championed as promoting wellbeing – several projects have used archaeology to enhance this both at the individual and community levels. The combination of practical activity, engagement with the past, and thinking about the implications of the past for the future, makes our subject unique.

We very much hope you will consider studying a degree in archaeology.

Vicki Cummings and Andrew Gardner (co-chairs of University Archaeology UK)

Thoughts from our students:

When I was looking to apply to University I was mostly interested in engineering, in particular aerospace engineering. Almost as a second thought I also put in an application to do archaeology as I knew that subject area was interesting. There is good money to be made in engineering but I knew I would be miserable doing that line of work. I really wanted an interesting career that would enable me to do cool stuff, and absolutely no doubt – my archaeology degree has enabled that to happen. Over the last few years I have been able to do prep work on mammoths, supervised a dig in Bozeman and taken 3D photos of rock art sites in California.

Jack Whitfield

I initially wanted to be a doctor and I also had an interest in History. I realised I didn’t want to work in the medical profession and I thought I could combine my love of anatomy and history in the subject of archaeology. I started out studying biomedical science at University and found that it wasn’t interesting enough to hold my attention and it wasn’t making me happy. I then switched onto an archaeology degree after realising I really wanted to do this. I have absolutely loved studying this subject. It is both interesting and intellectually rewarding. I have been working on cutting-edge projects and it gave me the chance to work with professional and eminent archaeologists. I can’t recommend it enough.

Adam McCann