Archaeology Clubs for Amateurs - Getting Your Hands Dirty

How Can Non-Archaeologists Explore Their Passion for Archaeology?

Archeological Society of Maryland Helping Out at Lafayette Square
Archeological Society of Maryland Helping Out at Lafayette Square. Baltimore Square

Archaeology clubs and societies are one of the best ways for aspiring amateur archaeologists to get started in their passion: find a group of people who also want to learn about archaeology or work as volunteers on archaeological digs.

Even if you're not in school, or ever plan to be a professional archaeologist, you too can explore your passion for the field and even get trained and go on excavations.

For that, you need an amateur archaeology club.

There are numerous local and regional clubs throughout the world, with activities that range from Saturday morning reading groups to full-fledged societies with publications and conferences and opportunities to work on archaeological excavations. Some amateurs write their own reports and give presentations. If you live in a fairly good sized city, chances are there are local amateur archaeology clubs right near you. The trouble is, how do you find them, and how do you pick the right one for you?

Artifact Collector Groups

There are, at heart, two kinds of amateur archaeology clubs. The first kind is an artifact collector club. These clubs are primarily interested in artifacts of the past, looking at artifacts, buying and selling artifacts, telling stories about how they found this artifact or another. Some collector groups have publications and regular swap meets.

But most of these groups are not really interested in archaeology as a science. This is not to say that collectors are bad people or not enthusiastic in what they do. In fact, many amateur collectors register their collections and work with professional archaeologists to identify unknown or endangered archaeological sites.

But their primary interest is not in the events or people of the past, it is in the objects.

Art versus Science

I have to insert my own bias here: personally, I don't think that's where the fun is at. To professional archaeologists (and many amateurs), an artifact is far more interesting within its context, as a part of an ancient culture, as part of the entire collection (assemblage) of artifacts and studies from an archaeological site. That includes intensive artifact studies, like where an artifact came from (called the provenience), what kind of material it was made from (sourcing) when it was used (dating), and what it might have meant to people of the past (interpretation).

Bottom line, by and large, collector groups are more interested in the artistic aspects of archaeological artifacts: nothing wrong with that, but it's just not what I like, which is learning about the cultures of the past. 

Avocational Archaeology Groups

The other type of archaeology club is the avocational club. The largest of these in the United States is the professional/amateur run Archaeological Institute of America. This type of club also has newsletters, and local and regional meetings. But in addition, they have strong ties to the professional community, and sometimes full-fledged publications with reports on archaeological sites.

Some sponsor group tours of archaeological sites, have regular talks aby professional archaeologists, certification programs so you can get trained to volunteer at excavations, and even special sessions for children.

Some even sponsor and help conduct archaeological surveys or even excavations, in conjunction with universities, that amateur members can take part in. They don't sell artifacts, and if they talk about artifacts, it is within context, what the society who made it was like, where it came from, what it was used for.

Finding a Local Group

So, how do you find an avocational society to join? In every American state, Canadian province, Australian territory, and British county (not to mention almost every other country in the world), you can find a professional archaeological society. Most of them keep strong ties with the avocational societies in their region, and they will know who to contact.

For example, in the Americas, the Society for American Archaeology has a special Council of Affiliated Societies, in which it maintains close contact with avocational groups that support professional archaeological ethics. The Archaeological Institute of America has a list of collaborating organizations; and in the UK, try the Council for British Archaeology's website for CBA Groups

For links to other countries and regions not mentioned here, see Smoke Pfeiffer's Directory of National and International Archaeological Societies, a comprehensive listing of amateur and professional archaeological associations.

We Need You!

And to be perfectly honest, the archaeological profession needs you, needs your support and your passion for archaeology, to grow, to increase our numbers, to help protect the archaeological sites and cultural heritage of the world. Join an amateur society soon. You'll never regret it.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaeology Clubs for Amateurs - Getting Your Hands Dirty." ThoughtCo, Nov. 23, 2015, thoughtco.com/archaeology-clubs-for-amateurs-169474. Hirst, K. Kris. (2015, November 23). Archaeology Clubs for Amateurs - Getting Your Hands Dirty. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/archaeology-clubs-for-amateurs-169474 Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaeology Clubs for Amateurs - Getting Your Hands Dirty." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/archaeology-clubs-for-amateurs-169474 (accessed September 23, 2017).