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Be a Volunteer Archaeologist

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 23 May 2016 | 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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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
looking for an opportunity in Turkey. Currently reside in Instanbul and am working as an English teacher. Any digs this summer that I could join? I can illustrate in pen and ink. and do measured drawings
alice - 10-Apr-16 @ 5:06 PM
I am interested but not to go to any other countries at the moment is there anything in the UK
alegro_official - 20-Mar-16 @ 1:21 AM
Hi, I'm looking work experience. I'm a 18 year old student with a huge interest in the subject. I've been lucky enough to visit some amazing places like the Acropolis in Athens and seen the Athena Parthenon, Theatre of Dionysus and all the other brilliant sites which I've researched. I've also visited Rome and seen The Pantheon, Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Also within the year I will be visiting Pompeii, to see the Amphitheatre, Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Jupiter and of course Mount Vesuvius My passion for this subject has taken me around the world but I have never been involved within a dig which would be an amazing experience. Thank you for your consideration.
Chlo - 10-Mar-16 @ 11:32 AM
Hi, I am about to take my A-Levels and haven’t quite decided on what I want to study at university. One of my main interests is Geophysical Archaeology, which combines my interests for History and Geology. I have decided to take a gap year and want to spend at least six months of it as a volunteer on an archaeological site. I am not bound to any country, having been brought up on three continents. My main interest lies with Minoan, Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations as well as the early 20th century, but I’m happy with other periods of history and non-European civilisations as well. Is there anybody offering long-term volunteer work? I only find short-term offers on Internet. Can you help?
NeoArch - 1-Mar-16 @ 3:34 PM
Hi all Looking for voluntary work in the north wales area any comments would be much appreciated Thanks all
smithy - 28-Feb-16 @ 9:54 PM
Peter - Your Question:
I have held an interest in archeology for a long time and recall enjoying digging for "treasure" ever since I was a small boy. More recently as I have just turned 37, I have never really got involved with "a dig" but have always been fascinated by the various discovery channel programs looking at ancient sites across the world. I also love to watch "Time Team" for a more UK based view. I live in Buckinghamshire and was wondering if anyone knows of any local groups I could contact to start the journey. Thanks in advance for any help.Peter

Our Response:
You could try contacting the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society or the Association for Roman Archaeology
ArchaeologyExpert - 22-Feb-16 @ 2:26 PM
I have held an interest in archeology for a long time and recall enjoying digging for "treasure" ever since I was a small boy. More recently as I have just turned 37, I have never really got involved with "a dig" but have always been fascinated by the various discovery channel programs looking at ancient sites across the world... I also love to watch "Time Team" for a more UK based view. I live in Buckinghamshire and was wondering if anyone knows of any local groups I could contact to start the journey... Thanks in advance for any help... Peter
Peter - 19-Feb-16 @ 9:25 PM
I am 21 years old law student and I am currently studying in Malaysia. However, I am going to further my studies in Liverpool University this September. I am particularly interested in the history of ancient Europe, native American, and ancient China. I have obtained some knowledge towards their history through books and history channels. I am quite sporty and I would be useful if you need people to carry heavy equipments. I am really interested in archaelogical works. I really hope that you guys can bring me on in any expeditions or digging sites that is available. I assure that you won't have any regrets by bringing me on your team
AnselmustheGreat - 10-Feb-16 @ 4:00 AM
Looking for digs. Non archaeologist planning to study MSc in Mediterranean Archaeology. Based in London.
Novice - 1-Dec-15 @ 10:27 PM
Hi. Ill love to work with archeologists but I'm in my 3rd year. I'm in nigeria and would love any info on well funded archeology excavation.
anne - 17-Sep-15 @ 10:15 AM
Hello, I am looking for work experience in this field as I am about to apply for uni and would really love to do Archaeology and Art history. I have lots of experience on the art side but I need something in archeology to help me really stand out on my personal statement. I live just outside Bury St Edmunds suffolk, so something in the surrounding area would be amazing. If anyone can help me I would be eternally grateful!
Lucy - 16-Sep-15 @ 5:43 PM
Kez - Your Question:
Look East in Northamptonshire featured a dig at Irchester (?)on 17th August. The Roman site needs volunteers. I mised the detailsof how to get involved. I cannot find any info on the Internet and BbcLook East doesn't reply to e mail enquiries. Can anyone let me know wherethis Roman site is and details of how to get involved?

Our Response:
Information is at the bottom of this page with contacts. Unfortunately you may be a little late as it ran from 17th to 28th August so finishes tomorrow.
ArchaeologyExpert - 27-Aug-15 @ 10:43 AM
Look East in Northamptonshirefeatureda dig at Irchester (?) on 17th August. The Roman site needs volunteers.I mised the details of how to get involved.I cannot find any info on the Internetand Bbc Look East doesn't reply to e mail enquiries. Can anyone let me know where this Roman site is and details of how to get involved?
Kez - 25-Aug-15 @ 8:00 AM
im studying 12th class of mpc stream im intrested in archeological field can any one give me suggestion please....
chinnu - 15-Aug-15 @ 2:23 PM
I currently volunteer at the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre.. And we recently had an archeology dig at the site.. My son came along to volunteer at the dig andlloved it so much.. How can we find more digs to help at in Scotland.. Thank you for your help..
Robbie - 22-Jul-15 @ 1:12 PM
@medic. You could try contacting theEssex Society for Archaeology and History.
Medic - 22-Jun-15 @ 9:26 AM
Hello all.I found this site by accident.like all on site I have great interest in history.I live,Basingstoke Hampshire. I am very interesting in 1st and 2nd world war .I have not done anything like this but would like to give some of my free time Many thanks Antony
the84grey - 19-Jun-15 @ 8:51 PM
I am a retired nurse and would love to volunteer for an archaeological dig. Please advise of any sites in South Essex Manythanks
Medic - 16-Jun-15 @ 3:16 PM
@Jud. try these Archaeology Archaeology UK One World 365
ArchaeologyExpert - 27-Mar-15 @ 10:30 AM
I currently work in Cumbria UK as a manager of catering, but have been always been Fascinated with Ancient structures and texts. I have a keen interest on North American Indian history and Archeology. I've recently been studying in my own time Ancient Celtic history of Greenland and Doggerland dating around the End of the last Ice age. Little is Unknown regarding both of these due to the suppression of discovered artifacts not being openly shared with the public. I would love to Volunteer for any expeditions in North America, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England and Scandinavia. I'm a hard worker a great team player and have a sharpe eye ;) if you find a moment I would be highly grateful if you could send me anything on these subjects. Thankyou for your time. Jordan
Jud - 24-Mar-15 @ 9:01 PM
jojo is my name doing a project for school 6th grade
jojo - 27-Feb-15 @ 6:33 PM
@Sanne. It depends where you would like to go. Search engines are your best option, but here are a few we know of in 2015 (not necessarily in winter as they are not so frequent). There is an exciting dig ongoing in the North Pennines
The Jorvik Centre in York is often seeking volunteers
and The lost city of Trellech dig will be starting again over in Monmouthshire in 2015 - Saturday 18th July to Sunday 16th August
ArchaeologyExpert - 11-Nov-14 @ 12:43 PM
I'm interested in going on a dig. I've never done it before, but I'm up for the experience. As for the location I'm open to that as well. Are there any digs happening in January to March
Sanne - 10-Nov-14 @ 2:33 AM
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