Getting involved in Archaeology while you’re studying
By Rebekah Hawkins and Carly Monks – AAA student representatives
There’s many great opportunities out there to get involved in the field of archaeology during your studies. It’s a great idea to get experience, skills and form networks while you’re still at university. Here’s some advice from current students:
- Join your local archaeology society and get involved
Most universities with archaeology departments have a student run archaeology society. They all aim to provide a way in which archaeology students, as well as those who are interested in archaeology, can get together outside of the classroom. Archaeology societies organise social and educational events such as talks, information nights, pub crawls, public archaeology events, and workshops. They also pass on information about opportunities such as talks, workshops, volunteering, excavating, and working. Archaeology societies also often act as an advocate for archaeology students, working with staff members to organise events that benefit students, the department, and the community.
As student run organisations, archaeology societies also offer the chance to get ‘behind the scenes’ administrative experience, and many students benefit from joining the society’s executive or committee. These opportunities to take on these responsibilities are a great way to get involved, learn new skills, meet new people, and improve your CV.
To learn more about how to join a society or their upcoming events check out the list of archaeology societies available to find the one closest to you.
The best way to get started in archaeology is to volunteer: from helping catalogue artefacts at the university museum, to volunteering on an excavation half way across the world, volunteering can help you learn valuable skills that will be sought after when applying for jobs once you’ve graduated. Volunteering can be highly rewarding, not just the skills you learn but also the people you meet.
There are many opportunities to volunteer and below are a few recommendations:
- Ask your lecturers and tutors:
One of the first places to look is at the university you’re enrolled at. Ask your lecturers if they have any ideas or projects of their own that need a few hours a week. Most lecturers and tutors will have active research projects, and may need help to do things like sort excavated material, measure artefacts, or catalogue finds. This is a particularly great place to start if you’re thinking of continuing into Honours or Masters!
Next stop is the university museum which may be in need of people to help out on the front desk. Many also have collections of artefacts that past archaeological excavations produced and there may be cataloguing, sorting or cleaning to do. They often have students helping out at events such as talks and exhibition openings, this is a great way to attend these events for free while also getting your face out there. Other museums outside the university also take in volunteers and there are many ways in which you could help out such as administration, sorting, cataloguing, cleaning and dealing with visitors. If you’re interested in the museum aspect of archaeology then volunteering at a museum would be a great way to get a feel for the industry, network and gain valuable experience that will be highly regarded after graduating.
- Local archaeology consulting companies:
Later year students might consider contacting archaeological consultancies for work placements or internships. Many consultancies find it difficult to take on casual volunteers due to insurance or logistical concerns, but structured work experience organised through your university can give you a great opportunity to see what archaeology is like outside of an academic research environment. If you have a bit of experience behind you they may even offer for you to help out on an excavation and remember that if this excavation takes place on a construction site you will need your White Card (general construction induction card). These are easy to acquire and generally only involves a short day course. It does differ state to state so do some research as to what is required in your state and be wary of online courses as they are sometimes not recognised nationally.
AAA have a page listing the companies willing to host work experience students: https://www.australianarchaeologicalassociation.com.au/professional-placements/
- Excavations and field schools
Universities and research institutions regularly run research excavations and field schools which involve students. Since these are run either for research or teaching purposes, students may be asked to pay their way on these excavations. Costs can vary, especially if you add overseas flights on top of the costs to attend. This money from students and other volunteers often covers the cost of accommodation, food, insurance, and in some cases, funds the excavations. Make sure you read what’s included in the price you’re paying so you can budget accordingly. It’s also a great idea to ask if you are able to get credit for the field schools as there may be a similar subject offered by your university. Excavations, especially field schools, are a great place to gain field work experience and will teach you useful and transferable techniques. Some field schools focus on specific skills such as geophysics or osteoarchaeology, so if there’s a certain area you are interested in have a look to see if there are any field schools available.
On the AAA website there is a list of field schools and excavations all across the world from Romania to Australia:
It is a balance though between studying and volunteering as it can take up large amounts of time so make sure that you don’t over commit yourself and choose the opportunities wisely. Work out how many spare hours you have a week, making sure you factor in classes, study, paid work and some time off too. Remember that you’re not just gaining skills and experience, you’re also building your reputation within a small field, so reliability is important. Volunteers play an important role in archaeology, but should never be regarded as “free labour”. Be wary of any ‘volunteer’ roles that require a large amount of experience or offer little in the way of training; as a student volunteer, you should be gaining skills and experience in return for your work.
Join societies/associations/congresses outside of university
There are both National and International societies, associations and congresses that offer memberships to students at a reduced price. These memberships often include copies of their journals and keep you up to date with meetings, conferences, workshops and excavations that they might run, support or be part of. Many of these groups have student representatives and if you are wondering what the organisation offers to students, contacting the student representatives is a great place to start. You can also get involved and become a student representative when positions become available. This will open up a new network of contacts and will enable you to ensure student interests are being voiced within the organisation. These organisations will give you a broader view of the discipline of archaeology and can be particularly useful if you are interested in a specific field (such as environmental archaeology, isotope analysis, computer applications in archaeology, or archaeological theory, for example).
Here is a list of some societies, associations and congresses
Australian Archaeological Association (AAA)
Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc (AACAI)
Australia International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
Australian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA)
World Archaeology Congress (WAC)
Conferences come in all shapes and sizes and are a great place to meet people, attend a variety of presentations, learn new things, and present your research to a wider audience. Just like organisations, there are conferences that have a wider view of archaeology and those that focus on one type of archaeology. Both types offer students the opportunity to learn more about the discipline and connect with new people. They can be quite expensive (especially if you have to travel), so look out for student and ‘early-bird’ prices, and if you are presenting you may be eligible for a grant from the conference organisers or your university. Another way to save some money is to volunteer at the conference as this could get you a free ticket and allows you to meet other students from across the world. The annual AAA conference is a great opportunity to learn more about current research being undertaken around the country, and provides a range of student-focused workshops and seminars. Keep up to date with dates, location, and registration here: https://www.australianarchaeologicalassociation.com.au/conference/
The National Archaeology Student Conference Australia is a conference run by students, for students. It provides a supportive forum for students to discuss their research and meet other students from across Australia, for more information visit the website or their Facebook page:
Conferences can be daunting events so here are some tips on how to make the most of your experience:
Go to workshops
Universities, organisations and individuals hold workshops specialising in skills such as GIS and archaeology drawing. They offer an opportunity to add to the skills that you learn in class and can be extremely valuable in getting volunteering work, paid work or acceptance onto excavations as they give you an edge over other applicants. Make sure you sign up to email lists, join societies and organisations and follow/join groups on social media to hear about these opportunities.
Ozarch is an email list for people who are involved in archaeology from practicing archaeologists to archaeology students. Members can post excavation call outs, information on workshops and topics for debate so it is a great forum to keep up to date with what’s happening in archaeology around Australia that might not make it to the greater sphere of social media or the internet.
University Archaeology Societies across Australia
Below is a list of archaeology societies associated with universities across Australia. If you have any updates on these societies please email the AAA student representatives Carly Monks or Rebekah Hawkins so they can update the document.
Please note that there are no current details for the Northern Territory, Queensland, or Tasmania.
Australian National University
Name: Archaeology Biological Anthropology and Cultural Heritage Society
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/174881682636801/
New South Wales
The University of Sydney
Name: Sydney University Archaeology Society
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/archsocusyd/
Name: Archaeology Society of Macquarie University
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ArchaeologySocietyMacquarieUniversity/
University of New England
Name: UNE archaeology society
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/UNEarchaeologysociety/
Name: Flinders Archaeological Society
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FlindersARCHSOC/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
La Trobe University
Name: La Trobe University Archaeology Society
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/191789537860157/
University of Melbourne
Name: Classics and Archaeology Students Society