Field Technician - A First Job in Archaeology

Archaeology FieldWork in Basingstoke
Archaeology FieldWork in Basingstoke. Nicole Beale

A Field Technician, or Archaeological Field Technician, is an entry-level paying position in archaeology. A Field Technician performs archaeological survey and excavation, under the supervision of a Principal Investigator, Field Supervisor, or Crew Chief. These jobs are known by a wide variety of names, including Field Hand, Field Archaeologist, Natural Resource Technician I, Archaeologist/Technician, Field Technician, US Government 29023 Archeological Technician I, and Assistant Archaeologist.


An archaeological field technician performs duties associated with pedestrian surveys as well as hand excavation (shovel testing, bucket auger testing, 1x1 meter units, test trenches) of archaeological sites. Field technicians may be asked to take detailed field notes, draw sketch maps, excavate archaeological features, bag artifacts, record provenience of the finds, use a Munsell soil chart, take photographs, use computer software programs (Microsoft® Word, Excel and Access are typical), and at all times maintain client confidentiality.

Some amount of physical labor is generally required, such as manually removing brush or vegetation, and carrying and maintaining tools and equipment. Field technicians may need to navigate with a compass and topographic map, help run a total station to create topographic maps, or learn digital mapping with using GPS/GIS.

Job Type and Availability

Kansas Archeology Training Program Field School
Kansas Archeology Training Program Field School. Mark Reinstein / Corbis via Getty Image

Entry level jobs are usually short-term temporary positions; they don't usually come with insurance or benefits, although there are exceptions. Typically, a field technician is hired by a firm that conducts archaeological work related to cultural resource management (or heritage management) in many different states or countries. Those firms maintain a list of field technicians and send out notices when projects are coming up: projects which can last for a few days or years. The long-term positions are rare; field techs rarely work full time and most are seasonal employees.

Archaeological projects are conducted over the world, mostly led by cultural resource firms (or cultural resource arms of engineering companies), universities, museums, or governmental agencies. The jobs are fairly numerous, but require the technician to travel far from home and stay in the field for extended periods of time.

Education / Experience Level Required

This pile of excavation equipment is waiting for the next field trip.
This pile of excavation equipment is waiting for the next field trip. Kris Hirst (c) 2006

At a minimum, field technicians need a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology, Archaeology or a closely related field, plus six months or a year's experience. Most firms expect employees to have taken at least one professional field school or have had some prior field survey experience. Occasionally firms will take people who are still working on their bachelor's degrees. Experience with ArcMap, ArcPad or other GIS hardware such as a Trimble unit is helpful; a valid driver's license and good driving record is a fairly standard requirement.

Another highly valued asset is familiarity with cultural resource laws, such as Section 106, NEPA, NHPA, FERC as well as relevant state regulations in the United States. There are also specialist positions, such as coastal or marine/maritime projects that may require SCUBA diving experience.

Field schools can be taken at a local university for tuition and living costs; archaeological and historical societies occasionally run projects to train prospective field technicians.

Advantageous Assets

Field technicians need a good work ethic and a cheerful disposition: archaeology is physically demanding and often tedious, and a successful technician should be willing to learn, work hard, and act independently. Verbal and written communication skills are among the most sought-after characteristics for beginning field technicians, particularly the ability to write technical reports. Membership in professional societies, such as the Institute for Archaeologists in the UK or the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) in the US, may be a requirement for employment, and background or knowledge in the cultures being studied (especially for long projects) is a valuable asset. Having many of these characteristics may lead to promotions or full-time positions.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act is in force for archaeological jobs in the US and there are similar laws in other countries, field technician jobs require employees to be in good physical condition, to be able to work outdoors in variable weather conditions and on varied terrain. Some jobs will require longer work weeks when circumstances arise; and survey projects, in particular, require walking long distances (8–16 kilometers or 5–10 miles a day) under adverse conditions, including inclement weather and wildlife encounters, carrying up to 23 kilograms (50 pounds). Drug screening, background checks, and even physical fitness exams conducted by the firm are becoming common.

Common Pay Rates

Based on job listings viewed in January 2019, rates for a Field Technician vary between $US 14–22 per hour and, in the United Kingdom, £10–15 per hour—however, few job listings in 2019 provided explicit wage data. Per diem covering hotels and meals is often provided, depending on the project. In a statistical survey conducted in 2012, Doug Rocks-Macqueen (2014) reported that rates for US-based field technicians ranged between US$10–25, with an average of $14.09.

Pluses and Minuses of the Traveling Life

The life of a field technician is not without rewards, but there are some difficulties involved. If specific projects last six months or more, it may not be practical for many field technicians to maintain a permanent address (apart from a family member or friend as a mail drop). Stowing furniture and other possessions in an empty apartment for six months or a year is expensive and risky.

Field technicians travel quite a bit, which may be the single best reason to spend a couple years as an archaeological assistant. Wages and availability of jobs and housing will vary from company to company, from dig to dig, whether nationally or internationally. In many countries, field technician positions are filled by local experts, and getting hired on those excavations requires enough experience to play a supervisory role.

Where to Find Field Tech Jobs





mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hirst, K. Kris. "Field Technician - A First Job in Archaeology." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 26). Field Technician - A First Job in Archaeology. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Field Technician - A First Job in Archaeology." ThoughtCo. (accessed July 31, 2021).