Public archaeology: the bad and the ugly

Most days, public archaeology is enriching, with its engagement of people who care about history and colleagues who are guided by a strong sense of purpose. But let’s be honest, public archaeology is also really frustrating. The same thing that makes it great makes it hard: people with a variety of personalities, agendas, and levels of commitment working on something together. Not  to mention everyone within the discipline has a slightly different sense of what really “counts” as public archaeology. This led me, today, to ranting about what Public Archaeology is and isn’t, and what skills/qualities you should expect to use when you embark upon such a project.

With that, I give you this somewhat humorous but actually realistic job description.


(US) Public Archaeologist Job Description:

Rate: Slightly less than what you need to pay your rent. Definitely not enough to buy health insurance. You can ask after you get a job offer.

Hours: 15 hours per week paid, several more responding to crisis emails and volunteering for tasks not covered by our funding.


Skills required:

– Bachelor’s degree in something like archaeology, public history, art history, or anything that instills in you the value of teaching the public things that are good for them but they don’t  realize they care about

– Unlikely to move away any time soon and leave us without a committed steward of our program in spite of anything that might discourage them



– Someone who knows how to talk to people who have “theories” about world history based in a belief in aliens and conspiracy

– Love for hanging out and hearing stories from people ages 2-102

– Unwavering personal commitment to one’s mission to teach even if it means not sleeping, forgetting to eat, neglecting personal life

– Ability to have fun and encourage others to do same regardless of how awkward and nonsensical the conversation may become

– Knowing backwards and forwards the regulations of the local government, section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and whatever is relevant to current controversies arising in your community

– You’re a babyfaced young lady (I know this is discriminatory but whatever, it’s totally true)

– You have high levels of patience for massive amounts of emails and feedback and you are able to translate this into usable steps for improving your public outreach


Please contact us and fret over our requirements if you expect your application to be taken seriously, but don’t expect any response because that’s how job searches work now.


More on this thought-provoking day later, I’m sure. I have complimentary soup from one of my favorite barista men to try first. Oh, and PLEASE comment with any clever qualifications you’d like to add!


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