Ask the Archaeologist: What subjects should I study at school if I want to be an archaeologist?
Hi Phil, I really want to study archaeology and I am choosing my subjects to study at high school. Do you have any suggestions? From Brad, (age 13)
Dear Phil, my daughter Hannah in Year 9 is considering archaeology as a career. Besides history, which other GCSEs does she need to choose? From Joanna, Hannah's mum
Hello Brad and Hannah (and Joanna),
You have both asked the same question so I'll address my answer to both of you if that's OK.
I realised that it's actually quite a tricky question to answer once I started thinking about it!
You'd think that History would be an obvious choice, but an in-depth understanding of 20th century European politics is not going to help you on a Bronze Age settlement site for example. That said, I think it's an interest in history that drives most people who take up archaeology, and obviously we often dig sites that fall within the historical period, so all-in-all History is probably a good place to start.
Now, a lot of what an archaeologist does is all about communication and the main way we do this is through the written word. I think that you'd be surprised to learn just how much an archaeologist, even one who's just starting in the profession, has to write things down. We start out by writing Context Sheets and Site Registers to record what we dig and these constitute the written record or archive. It is vital that these records are accurate, clear and concise so that a written report of the excavation can be produced. Also, as you advance through the profession, it may be you that has to write the site report and maybe even write up the site for publication in an appropriate archaeological journal. I would, therefore, suggest that English be a subject you take.
Now, as I'm sure you know, archaeology is very much a multi-disciplinary subject drawing on many scientific strands. I would, therefore, suggest that if you wish to pursue a specialism in your career (archaeo-osteology, archaeo-metallurgy, archaeo-environmental, archaeo-dating etc) it would be a good idea to study the sciences.
Finally, it may be an idea to study physical geography. This can help as it is often important to understand the physical geological process by which a site becomes incorporated in to the archaeological record and, therefore, determine the best way the site should be excavated.
For myself I studied Archaeology (I was very lucky that it was offered as a subject where I was educated), English, Maths, Ecology and Human Biology.
Hope this helps you both.
I would like to add that choosing your subjects is a obviously an important step in your education and you are undertaking a commitment to study them for several years. To that end, I would say make sure that you pick subjects that you enjoy!
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