There is more to archaeology than meets the eye - it's not just people in dirty boots scratching delicately around some muddy hole and unearthing trinkets and bits of buildings from a bygone age.  That's not to say that such activity isn't worthwhile in itself.  Many people get great pleasure from archaeological digs, to say nothing of their historical value, whether they do it for recreational or professional reasons or simply watch it on television.  Finding out more about our past is important work.  Archaeological posts exist in all types of authority and are sometimes called by other names such as Heritage Officer.

The primary aim of the job at local government level is to protect the archaeological resources in the area in accordance with the council's development policy.  It entails protecting our heritage, which is made up of physical remains that represent the traces of past lives, from natural processes such as erosion and developers who may not appreciate their responsibilities and who might be at best thoughtless and at worst rapacious.

Work Environment
This encompasses both the office and outdoors especially on redevelopment sites. Travel is necessary at local and regional levels.  Work usually goes on no matter what the weather and there is a great deal of standing, kneeling and walking about required.  Protective clothing, hard hats and strong boots are provided.  The standard working week is 37 hours but there are no anti-social shifts required.

Daily Activities
These are fairly constant and involve advising planners and archaeological consultants, setting up projects, monitoring works funded by private developers and assessment and field evaluations.  The overall aim is to determine which sites require archaeological investigation.  This entails preparing briefs and specifications for the work and supervising the outcome.  Typically, the archaeologist will spend a lot of time studying planning applications and negotiating with developers and consultants: making sure about any potential risks to archaeological remains and deciding whether or not fieldwork assessment is necessary.  They will then advise the planners accordingly.

The long term objective is to preserve the material remains of the past - castles, medieval houses, caves, Roman forts or even prehistoric flint scatters, for example - either undisturbed (in situ) or by careful recording during excavation.  These records are lodged in a database maintained by the authority called the Sites and Monuments Record.  People can then either read about them or visit sites when they are made accessible.  The archaeologist's work will also often require information management, through the maintenance and updating of the council Sites and Monument Record, and may also involve contributing to the direct management of archaeological sites.  Archaeologists use trowels and even pick-axes for excavation but that is normally done by archaeological contractors whose work the local government archaeologist monitors.  For a large part of the time they will be using a computer, having lots of discussion and negotiation with planners, architects, developers, archaeological contractors and consultants, demolition contractors, inspectors from the national heritage agency (Cadw - Welsh Historic Monuments) and the general public.  They work on their own initiative guided by the standards laid down by the Institute for Archaeologists and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers.

Skills & Interests
To be good at this job you would need to have:

  • patience; 
  • drawing, photographic and computer skills;
  • good observation;
  • knowledge of British archaeological remains and fieldwork practices;
  • knowledge of the planning process;
  • practical ability;
  • attention to detail;
  • caring nature;
  • interest in the environment;
  • project management ability;
  • a head for figures;
  • the ability to get on with people from different backgrounds;
  • negotiating skills.

Entry Requirements
A first degree, usually in archaeology, is essential.  Practical experience of archaeological fieldwork (excavations and survey) and project supervision is usually required.  It is expected that you will pursue continuing professional development through membership of the Institute for Archaeologists.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
This is a fairly narrow and competitive field of work.  There are better promotion prospects for archaeological contractors.  You can progress by moving between departments or councils or seek opportunities outside local authorities such as universities or in the national heritage agencies, for example.
After Chief Archaeologist the next post up in local government is County Archaeologist.

Further Information & Services
Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers
Council for British Archaeology
Creative & Cultural Skills
Institute for Archaeologists
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales ( or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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