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Be a Volunteer Archaeologist

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 19 Mar 2019 | comments*Discuss
Volunteer Archaeologist Excavation

Work alongside historians and professional archaeologists on projects including archaeological site excavation rock art exploration and restoration, ground survey, archival research, or historic structure and architectural restoration. Archaeological volunteers have helped stabilize early cliff dwellings in New Mexico; excavated Solomon’s palace on the tel at Megiddo, Israel; and uncovered the lost world under the Coliseum at Rome.

An archaeological vocation generally involves many years of in-depth study and countless days digging in excavation pits, often under severe, harsh, and hot conditions. However, many people are opting for an archaeological ‘vacation’ as a short-term volunteer. This can be a great way to experience genuine archaeology, share your budding skills, see and stay in a foreign country with like-minded enthusiasts, and more importantly, interact with professional archaeological experts.

Simply turning up and jumping into an excavation pit is not the best way to start your volunteer stint as an archaeologist. There are a number of matters to consider if you are thinking about joining a dig as a volunteer archaeologist.

General Health and Fitness

As most archaeological volunteer programmes are located in dry, barren places, the work conditions are often quite demanding. To minimise exposure to stifling mid-day heat the digging day can begin as early as 4am. Prolonged exposure to heat and direct sun can be debilitating and exhausting. The volunteer may be required to push loaded wheelbarrows of soil or repetitively carry full buckets of dirt over long distances. Such work is demanding and necessitates a good level of general health. See your doctor before going if you are at all unsure.

What Will You Do?

Naturally, as a novice, you will not be leading the excavation as the site supervisor. Instead, the work of the volunteer is usually labour orientated and always in conjunction with others, usually archaeology students from the host university operating the dig.

If you arrived at the beginning of the digging season you will be involved in site preparation, which includes restringing the squares and baulks, clearing out any debris deposited since the last season, and erecting shade covers over the digging pits.

Once the preliminaries are attended to, you will be assigned to a site supervisor who will place you with a small team. Regular digging tasks can include using all of the archaeological tools from hefty picks to tiny trowels as you are coached through the day by a senior student in your group.

Most university-hosted excavations will provide lectures in the evening from their academic staff. They are usually free to sit in on and listen to, but there will be a fee if you wish to receive academic credit for them.

Will I Find Gold and Treasure?

No one can predict what artefacts an archaeological site will yield. The most common items recovered from a dig are potsherds (pieces of broken pottery). They may range in size from a fragment as small as a fingernail to a chunk the size of your hand. No matter how great or small the find there is always a heart-thumping thrill as the trowel ‘tinks’ on the ceramic sherd and the accompanying excitement of its slow and careful disclosure.

All artefacts are cleaned and examined by specialists in the field, often on the same day and usually in the late afternoon when conditions are cooler. It is at these briefing seminars that you will be told the history and background to your finds. Should your artefact prove to be a valuable addition to the expeditions work, it might even be named after you. Less important pieces will be catalogued and archived. The dig supervisor may permit volunteers to keep very common items such as some potsherds or flint artefacts as a souvenir of their participation.

How to Join a Dig

There are many opportunities to volunteer on an archaeological dig. Almost every university-hosted site throughout the world permits novice enthusiasts to join their digging programmes.

Not all universities have an archaeology department and even fewer actually run regular excavations but any large university will be able to provide the names of those that do. Speak to the archaeology or anthropology department to enquire about volunteer placements.

What Experience is Needed?

Lack of experience is not as important as you might think. Much of the volunteer’s input is just ‘being there’ in a practical way to help complete or continue a project where funding is limited. You may think that lifting up and removing an ancient mosaic from a Roman bath-house in Greece and cleaning then restoring the surface, chipped by falling columns and roof tiles, might be the job only for restoration specialists and in part you are right. It certainly takes a specialist to set out the strategy for the restoration programme but once the project is underway, a great deal of non-experts become involved. Indeed, semi-skilled labour is paramount to success.

It doesn’t cost anything to participate in most archaeological volunteer projects but you do have to get yourself to the excavation site and more often than not you have to pay for your own food and accommodation while there. These are normally provided at a reasonable rate to volunteers.

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Always wanted to go on a dig.. ever since I was young and heard of the king tut find I was hooked on ancient sites and what those sites could tell you about the people that lived there and called it their homes.. I'm not shy when it comes to working hard with a shovel and pick but I'm also adapt at lite and fragile work too...S.f. S.Wales
Foxy - 19-Mar-19 @ 8:04 AM
Hi I am currently studying for A levels and am looking for a dig I can join in the summer break in the UK. Are you able to advise how best to apply please. Thanks
Charlotte - 3-Feb-19 @ 1:47 PM
Hello, I'm a man, 63 years long and looking for some digging in the UK. I'v some experiences in this, did some digging at my village and Surinam as well. Can I join somewhere?
The Stratman - 31-Jan-19 @ 11:34 AM
Hi there, I am 17 years old and a junior in high school in the UK.I am interested in volunteering at a dig in July 2019 and looking for help to locate opportunities.Could you please guide me and suggest some places, especially anything involving Roman history. THank you Armaan
Armaan - 22-Jan-19 @ 5:10 PM
We dying to dig. We want the honour.. MOHAMED kadir Danielle revill 65 Cedar Grove L80sn Liverpool Uk
Mo - 6-Sep-18 @ 7:17 AM
I have always love an adventurous life,I have always wished to travel to Egypt and every other ancient places to find out about this and learn new things.Am not an archeologist and I didn’t study that but I won’t mind to volunteer.I need something that will keep me at peace and it has to be something that I love doing something I can’t do over here.I really want to
Moe - 10-Aug-18 @ 6:58 PM
I am about to take my degree in archaeology and I already have attended two excavations.I want to find one inEngland, can you give me some information about where and how to apply?
Ion - 16-Apr-18 @ 4:59 PM
I'm an older woman not in the best of health, I'm 62 but I have been finding things since I was a small child Indian artifacts it was then. Have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong time or you should be doing something that you're not? But I guess with you you're not worrying about that my dream is always been this to find the Discover to research the history of wise where is and when who held something last it's been a passion of mine ever since a child... be for my years run out I want so desperately to discover or to be involved in a dig and Scotland or England that would be a dream for me it's a bucket list I guess it's 62 is that possible, how could I do this if I have health problems that are mild I saw your information about it I'm not real big on heat maybe it's because my lineage is from the northern countries I prefer cold with a blanket or quilt but I'm just curious what my chances would be I'm not even expecting a reply on my email I guess I'm just putting out into the universe my dream
dee - 13-Dec-17 @ 4:23 AM
Hello my name is Rebecca Cuevas, I was born in Mississippi and since I can remember I have been digging things up whether it be the gravel in the drive way looking for fossils or the field behind the house looking for arrowheads. I chose a career in Histotechnology searching for a cure for cancer. I still dream of finding a lost civilization like Indiana Jones I believe this field needs fresh ideas along with experienced veterans just like cancer research pls contact me and let me know it's not just a dream
Becky - 19-Nov-17 @ 5:58 AM
I'm completed masters in archaeology. And I 'm already participate in one excavation. I really intrested to work as a volunteer in field work at Egypt . Can you give some suggestions and also information about field work in Egypt.
Timothy - 5-Nov-17 @ 5:36 PM
Jw if any digs near NMB South Carolina? N if not How can i find out more on Other Digs w all expensive paid?
Kel - 6-Mar-17 @ 6:12 AM
Iam not an expert but in my country many people are stolen ancients tombs searching for gold and trasure i beleive theres a whole history is barried here my dream is to descover it wish someone can help me
bd - 31-Dec-16 @ 1:45 AM
hi i have searched so many old buildings in saharanpur ranimahal area..paintings are still in good shape.i asked them about the history of these havelies.two of them areat my home town.i have 4 silver coin too which are heavy .passed on to me by my grandfather. would like join as avoulntier. any suggestion
ashish - 20-Dec-16 @ 9:34 AM
Jade - Your Question:
Hi! I'm in 11th grade and I'll be 18 yrs old soon. I really like Archaeology, Art and I love History. I would love to travel to historical sites because It would be a very good experience to see how the people lived and how everything was made and what not. How can you volunteer?

Our Response:
Do some internet searches for "archaeological digs" in your area (or the areas where you would like to volunteer)
ArchaeologyExpert - 8-Dec-16 @ 12:47 PM
I am 13 and I quite like history and archaeology. It's my dads 54th birthday on January 10th and I was wondering if there was anyway that I could do a dig with him anywhere between January - April. He has a bad back but he loves history more to care. For this to work the way I want it to, no contact with my dad can be made in order to keep it a surprise on the day. I would love to actually dig with him even though I am young. The price would have to be less than £100 total. Please reply - Abby
Abby - 7-Dec-16 @ 8:11 AM
Hi! I'm in 11th grade and I'll be 18 yrs old soon. I really like Archaeology, Art and I love History. I would love to travel to historical sites because It would be a very good experienceto see how the people lived and how everything was made and what not. How can you volunteer?
Jade - 5-Dec-16 @ 8:49 PM
Aries - Your Question:
Hello, I am currently working as a trainee in an Environmental Consultancy company for over a year now, I graduated as BA Humanities student having done Archaeology and Environmental sciences. Please advice on any Archaeological project I can engage in, more specially in Egypt. I currently leave in BotswanaThank you.

Our Response:
Hi we don't have any details of specific projects especially global ones. It would be better to use the Internet for this.
ArchaeologyExpert - 4-Nov-16 @ 10:46 AM
Hello, I am currently working as a trainee in an Environmental Consultancy company for over a year now, I graduated as BA Humanities student having done Archaeology and Environmental sciences. Please advice on any Archaeological project i can engage in, more specially in Egypt. I currently leave in Botswana Thank you.
Aries - 3-Nov-16 @ 1:10 PM
I'm 17 and I live in Perth, Scotland. I am hoping to study archaeology and ancient history at university next year, I would be greatly appreciative of any information about upcoming digs, many thanks!
Imogen - 20-Oct-16 @ 2:54 PM
Hi, I live in krakow, poland and am fascinated by archaeology, can you recommend anywhere here I can volunteer for a dig?
Mark - 27-Sep-16 @ 12:42 PM
Greetings! I'm a 19 year old student currently studying Philosophy and Classical Studies at the University of Liverpool. My passion is Archaeology, ever since I can remember I've always loved the aspect of 'digging for treasure', the value of excavating artefacts was much greater to me than the majority of desires e.g. money. Truthfully, the desire sprung from the 1993 classic Jurassic park during the scene where Sam Neil is excavating fossils, after that movie I would constantly dig in my back garden in hopes of finding something (Rather amusing :D) I'm familiar with the history behind the Roman Empire and their occupation within Britain, as I've spent my last 2 years in A-levels heavily polishing my knowledge on the subject. I would love to build more practical experience to help me progress in this career path, I'm physically fit so carrying heavy equipment would be as much of a delight as digging. Ultimately, I was wondering if anyone can point me in the right direction of whom to contact to start this journey. Many Thanks! Emiljan.
Remixxed - 10-Sep-16 @ 7:12 PM
Hello dear, I need a job in an archaeological team to find the ancient eengineering evidences in different ancient civilizations.And the root map of hidden treasures.
Aarviii erector - 31-May-16 @ 8:43 PM
arch - Your Question:
I live in London, but I'm prepared to travel a bit outside if it's not too far! :)

Our Response:
Try this site Where you'll find a list of digs
ArchaeologyExpert - 26-May-16 @ 1:57 PM
I live in London, but I'm prepared to travel a bit outside if it's not too far! :)
arch - 23-May-16 @ 7:31 PM
Hi! I'm currently in year 11 and will be sixteen this summer, and I'd like to study in the field of archaeology at university. I am looking for work experience during the summer and think I would find archaeological volunteer work extremely fascinating and useful. I am very excited to visit Naples this summer where I plan to look around at some incredible sites, however I'd love to gain the experience of a dig to pursue my passion and gain experience for my personal statement. Thank you for any advice!! :)
arch - 23-May-16 @ 7:11 PM
I will be in year 11 this September and I am looking for a work experience placement from the 26th of September for one week in London, can you help at all? Megan
Megan - 26-Apr-16 @ 5:14 PM
Hi,I'm 19 years old from Papua New Guinea and I'm interested to be a volunteer. It will be a dream come true to see some amazing archaeological findings. Thank you all and look forward to hear from you.
Magali - 25-Apr-16 @ 3:16 PM
Hello! I'm studying archaeology in the university of Athens and I would like to participate an excavation here for summer. Any suggestions?
joanna - 21-Apr-16 @ 2:24 PM
Hi, I'm looking for a job in archeology field. I have an archeology bachelor's degree and four years experience in paleolithic excavations settlments during my college. I'm living in Hatfield, Hertfordshire and I would like to accumulate experience as an employee or as a volunteer. Wait any suggestion or tip for the Hertfordshire. Thank you for your work.
nicholas - 18-Apr-16 @ 10:09 PM
Hello, I am 18 yrs old, and live in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. I'm currently studying old English literature, and have a love for Anglo Saxon/ Viking art and jewellery.I'd love to volunteer at a dig, does anyone know if there is any opportunities in Peterborough?
Sapphire - 11-Apr-16 @ 9:42 PM
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