Real-world archaeologists bear little resemblance to Indiana Jones, striding through a booby-trapped temple with a whip in one hand and a beautiful woman in the other. Still, even without Hollywood's magic filter, archaeology is a fascinating career. Unfortunately there are a limited number of positions and a large number of qualified candidates, so finding work in the field can be a challenge. For those who find positions, average salaries are adequate but certainly not lavish.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks income across a wide range of careers, including archaeologists and anthropologists, who are classed together because of their close inter-relationship. Figures released by the BLS in May 2011 show the nationwide average salary for archaeologists and anthropologists as $59,040. At the entry level, the bottom 10 percent of earners reported annual income averaging $32,160, while the top 10 percent of earners reported average incomes of $89,840. The median, or midpoint, income was $56,070. This is lower than the average, indicating a relatively large number of earners at the higher levels.
Unsurprisingly, some employers or sectors offer better salaries than others. For archaeologists with ambition, the federal government is the highest-paying employer with an average salary of $72,980. Architectural and engineering firms, who employ archaeologists to supervise excavations of potential building sites, offer salaries averaging $63,480. Local governments also pay reasonably well, at $58,150, and so do consulting services at $57,080. By contrast, the sector employing the most archaeologists is scientific research, where salaries average $52,200. Salaries at museums and colleges average $49,590 and $51,080, respectively.
There are some areas of the country where an archaeologist can expect to earn somewhat higher wages. Given that the federal government is the most generous employer in the field, it's not surprising that the District of Columbia has the highest wages for archaeologists by a considerable margin, averaging $93,620 annually. Massachusetts, Alaska, Hawaii and Arkansas also pay above-average wages, with Massachusetts higher than the rest at an average of $73,140 per annum. Incomes are generally lower in the South and Midwest.
The BLS projects that demand for archaeologists will grow by approximately 21 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is better than average growth compared with most careers, but unfortunately the numbers involved are small. That projected growth equates to just 1,300 new jobs, an average of 130 per year over the decade. Competition will be fierce, with more candidates than positions. Given that most positions require an advanced degree, salaries in the field are not generous. In short, a career in archaeology requires passion and perseverance as well as education.