The Do’s And Don’ts of Talking To An Archaeologist:

I would like to forward this by saying that, like everyone else and their careers, not all archaeologists are alike, nor are we all alike in what we do and do not like to talk about, what we think is funny, and what we think is offensive. So this isn’t a definitive list, but rather, a list of do’s and don’ts I’ve noticed over the years, from my own experience and that of friends and colleagues.

DO NOT, when talking to a friend or loved one who is in school for archaeology with the intention of becoming an archaeologist as a career (Because some people do just take it up as a side interest.), refer to archaeology as their ‘hobby’.

DO ask things such as ‘So, what got you into the subject/career?’

DO NOT ask someone when they’re going to go to school for a ‘real job’. This is our real job.

DO joke around with us. We don’t bite. The Indiana Jones joke gets old, but we’d rather you make that joke than do the no-no above. (Or at least I personally would. Yeah sure, Indiana Jones, hahaha. What’s that? When am I training for a real job? *walks away*)

DO NOT ask us where non-public sites are. They are non-public for a reason. Here’s the thing, we can get in a whole lot of trouble for telling someone where a non-public site is. We’re under confidentiality agreements most of the time and if we spill the details on those sites we’re breaking that agreement. We could get sued. We already don’t make a lot of money, that would destroy our bank balances. It would also destroy our reputations. The archaeology community is a small one, people talk. Word gets out that we told someone about a private site, and, especially if something happens to that site as a result, career suicide.

There are other multiple reasons why we cannot tell you about that site and where to find it, including but not limited to how difficult it could be to get to it and health issues. We know what we’re getting ourselves into when we go to a new spot, the possibility of injuries and contracting things like Valley Fever. Stuff happens. We can’t be responsible for you going into an area and falling from a hill or mountain or cliff, or getting Valley Fever.

DO ask about public sites. We might not know much, if at all, about the site, but at least if we talk about it (To an extent, about things that are already public knowledge.) we won’t get sued and our careers won’t be destroyed. (Also, chances are that public site will be presented in such a way that you won’t fall off a cliff, hill, mountain, or contract Valley Fever.)

And, quick interjection here, while we’re at it…


We get it, we do. If you don’t know you don’t know. But dear lord, archaeologists = humans, paleontologists= dinosaurs (And the like.) (Remember Ross from Friends? He was a paleontologist.) However, if you do in fact know, and come up to one of us and say it as a joke, you’ll get a restrained laugh and a ‘Yes, no, we don’t dig up dinosaurs.’. We tolerate it but deep down we’re dying .

DO NOT automatically assume the following things about all archaeologists:

  • That we’re all only in the career because of Indiana Jones. You want to know when I learned about him being an archaeologist? AFTER I started my AA in archaeology. I had no idea before, I just thought he was some explorer.
  • Assume that we’re all in love with Egypt/Ancient Egypt. (Ancient Egypt is cool , and can certainly be considered a gateway drug of sorts for archaeologists, but a lot of us don’t obsess over it. We love other cultures as well.)
  • That we are all crazy grave diggers who carelessly go into grave sites and, with evil laughs and imaginary mustache twitches, go “Yes, yesss this is good. We shall take it all!” Most archaeologists aren’t digging up burial sites, we dig at village sites or even ritual sites.
  • We don’t care about the people who once occupied the area we are digging in and used the artifacts we are finding.  That’s the furthest thing from the truth. While it is true that not every archaeologist has a stellar set of morals and are only in it for the find, trying to make a bunch of money, that can be said for every career out there. The people I know, work with, converse with, they are very respectful. We want to learn about the people we’re studying. We want to see into the past, and through the things they left behind, understand how their every day lives were. We do this because we love it, and we have respect for the people who came before us. I’m all for legal acts and laws that prevent the disrespect/full destruction of burial sites and their inhabitants. I’m a firm believer in going into a site or on a survey with a healthy dose of respect of the people who came before, and how to honor them and their descendents (Should they have them.). Don’t move what does not need to be moved, don’t destroy what doesn’t need to be destroyed. If you must dig, document everything. Data is key. Pictures, photos, sketches, intricate data sets should be a no brainer at digs. If destruction is needed…Document. Everything.
  • We’re all elitist snobs. This is a hold over from the days of old that has gotten…really old.
  • We’re in it for the money. Seriously, what the…? We are archaeologists because we love archaeology, because we can’t imagine doing anything else. We have a passion for the subject that has fueled us through countless research papers, student digs, surveys, thesis defences, interviews, and endless nights of studying. If you come across an archaeologist who is super rich, they either got really really lucky, have money from something else, or are married to someone wealthy. We’re in this for the passion and the love we feel for the job, we know going in that we’re not going to be millionaires, and we’re fine with that.
  • That we’re not open to other explanations for historical events, sites, or happenings of any kind. We love to debate, to talk about things. If you have a theory or thought about something just tell us.

DO , please, geek out with us over archaeology and history and cultures. One of the joys I’ve gotten from being in school to become an archaeologist and being one, is when I tell people, I’ve gotten such a wonderful response. I’ve discovered secret history/archaeology nerds among the people of my county and other areas. I love talking about all those things with people, it’s a great joy of my life. We don’t bite. Talk to us.

While I’ve had mostly positive reactions from people when I tell them what I do (Or what I am in school for.), I’ve also had my fair share of negative/snobby reactions. And on some level I kind of get why people react like that, but here’s the thing; I’m following my dreams, doing something I love. I’m in a career that will allow me to travel, spend plenty of time outside, explore areas unknown and known. Archaeologists, as I said, are archaeologists because we love archaeology. There’s a lack of information about archaeology and archaeologists that has led to a lack of knowledge, and in some cases, a stigma, of what we are like and what we do. We want to tell the world the stories we’ve pieced together from the things that we have learned. We want to bring cultures back and bring back the histories of people living today, back to them. We want to create an interest in the subject, and an understanding of the world, it’s cultures and how we got to where we are now. We are dedicated to the job, and just want to pursue the study that has captured our interest.


If you know of a dig in your area that is open to the public in your area, go check it out. If you have an archaeological center, go check it out. Find archaeological societies and sites, go forth and learn more about the profession that has charmed so many.


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