The Catholic University of America

Careers in Classical Archaeology

What an archaeologist does

If you enjoy studying ancient objects, if you are interested in (or already know that you enjoy) excavation, or if ancient life and ancient history hold a special fascination for you, you may want to consider a career in classical archaeology. For scholars based in the United States, this most often means holding a university position, spending the academic year teaching and doing research, and then spending the summers on excavation work, traveling, and consultation. You may eventually supervise and run a "dig" of your own, or you may collaborate with colleagues from other institutions on a major, long-term project. You may even serve as a temporary consultant to several different excavations which need your specialized expertise on (for example) pottery, stone tools, sculpture, or botanical remains.

The professional organization for archaeologists in the US is the Archaeological Institute of America. You might also like to be aware of the Society for Classical Studies, which is the affiliated organization for literary classicists and ancient historians.  The "AIA" and the "SCS" hold their annual conferences in the same place at the same time, and the SCS Placement Service is likely also to be of interest to job-seekers in archaeology looking for positions in classics departments.

The educational path

Going to graduate school

Because the career of a classical archaeologist is such a diverse one, you will need especially strong training and several years of student experience during your education. As a first and primary concern, however, you will need to attain the PhD degree.

Intensive study of ancient and modern languages

As a future archaeologist, you will probably want your PhD to be in "classical archaeology," "classical studies," "ancient art," or a similar area focusing on the material culture of the ancient world. This does not, however, mean that you can spend less time on languages. Scholar-level skills in both Latin and ancient Greek are required for classical archaeologists, and in addition to the reading comprehension of German, French, and Italian needed for academic research, many archaeologists also have spoken command of Italian (for Romanists) or modern Greek (for Hellenists) so that they can operate comfortably and effectively on excavations in the Mediterranean.

Recommendations for undergraduate preparations

Strong preparation for an undergraduate student interested in a career in classical archaeology should include at least three years of one ancient language and two years of the other, as well as introductory or reading-comprehension study of one or two modern languages (the CUA Department of Modern Languages offers reading-comprehension courses during the summers). As a master's degree student (whether at CUA or elsewhere), you will further polish your skills in Latin and Greek, take a competency exam in one modern language, and ideally begin (or complete) study of a second modern language as well. All four languages will typically be examined one final time once you begin your PhD program.

The BA in Classics, because of its linguistic focus, provides the best CUA preparation for a career in archaeology. The BA in Classical Humanities or the BA in Classical Civilization may also suffice under some circumstances, but only provided that you elect as many language courses as possible and consult throughout with the undergraduate adviser to tailor your choices to your goals (you may, for example, wish to complete a minor in a cognate field to further strengthen your program). The department also offers summer intensive courses in both Latin and Greek. These courses can be ideal ways to jump-start or refresh your preparation in the ancient languages, particularly if your schedule during the full academic year has not had room for them.

Summer options

You may want to attend your first excavation while you are still an undergraduate, or at least while you are pursuing your master's degree. Another useful way for a future archaeologist to spend the summers is on the intensive site-study programs offered by the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.