How to Become an Archaeological Lab Technician (Unearthing Your Future)

how to become an archaeological lab technician

If you’ve ever been intrigued by the mysteries of the past or contemplated a career in archaeological lab work, you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the SPECIFIC steps you need to take to begin your journey as an Archaeological Lab Technician. We’ll discuss:

  • The skills you need.
  • The education that will set you on the right path.
  • How to secure your first job in an archaeological lab.

So, whether you’re a novice to archaeology or a history enthusiast aiming to specialize, stay tuned.

We’re about to unearth the process of becoming an Archaeological Lab Technician.

Let’s dig in!

Contents show

Steps to Become an Archaeological Lab Technician


Step 1: Gain an Understanding of the Field of Archaeology

Before starting your journey to become an Archaeological Lab Technician, you must first gain a comprehensive understanding of the field of archaeology.

This encompasses knowing the history of human civilization and the various techniques used to extract and analyze artifacts and other historical remains.

You can start this exploration by reading books, attending seminars, joining workshops, and even visiting archaeological sites.

This initial exposure will not only ignite your interest but also provide a basic foundation of knowledge in archaeology.

It is also beneficial to seek mentorship from professionals in the field or join archaeological societies to gain more insights.

This understanding is crucial because an Archaeological Lab Technician is expected to have sound knowledge about various periods in history, geographical significance of artifacts, and the science behind carbon dating and other lab techniques.

The more you know about the field, the better you will be able to assist in the cataloging, analysis, and preservation of archaeological collections in the lab.


Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Archaeology or a Related Field

To become an Archaeological Lab Technician, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in archaeology or a closely related field.

Some relevant disciplines could include anthropology, history, or classical studies.

These programs typically cover a broad range of topics such as ancient civilizations, cultural heritage, field methods, and archaeological theory.

During your degree, look for courses that provide hands-on experience with lab techniques and archaeological materials.

You will be required to identify, clean, catalog, and analyze artifacts and other archaeological materials, so it would be beneficial to have courses that cover these areas.

Consider completing an internship or fieldwork to gain practical experience.

Not only does this provide you with valuable hands-on experience, but it also allows you to establish connections in the field and improve your chances of finding a job after graduation.

Your undergraduate studies should also include developing skills in research methodology, data analysis, and report writing, as these are crucial competencies that employers look for when hiring Archaeological Lab Technicians.

Finally, a significant part of being an Archaeological Lab Technician involves working with advanced laboratory tools and software programs.

Therefore, taking courses that provide training in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), computer imaging, and statistical analysis software will give you a competitive edge in the job market.


Step 3: Develop Practical Laboratory Skills

Gaining practical laboratory skills is a crucial step towards becoming an Archaeological Lab Technician.

This involves getting hands-on experience with a variety of lab equipment and techniques often used in the field of archaeology.

This may include microscopy, typology and other analysis methods for artifacts, environmental sampling techniques, and understanding the processes for artifact cleaning, labeling, and cataloging.

In addition to getting comfortable with equipment, you should also learn about various laboratory safety procedures and protocols.

This may involve handling chemicals, working with sharp objects, and maintaining a clean and organized work environment.

You can develop these skills through internships, volunteering at local museums or historical sites, or even through coursework in your undergraduate studies.

Some institutions offer specific lab-based classes where you can gain practical experience.

Remember, proficiency in these skills can make you a more desirable candidate when applying for Archaeological Lab Technician positions.

Moreover, these skills will be invaluable when you start working in a professional setting, enabling you to carry out your duties efficiently and effectively.


Step 4: Get Hands-On Experience in Archaeology Labs

Gaining hands-on experience is a crucial step in becoming an Archaeological Lab Technician.

This experience can be obtained through internships, volunteer positions, or job placements in museums, universities, or research institutions with archaeology labs.

You can also look for opportunities in excavation projects that offer lab components.

This practical experience will provide you with a first-hand understanding of how archaeological materials are processed, cataloged, and analyzed.

You’ll learn to handle artifacts, carry out lab procedures, use specialized equipment, and understand the process of archaeological research from excavation to lab.

During your time in the lab, you may learn techniques such as artifact cleaning, restoration, classification, and basic analysis.

Furthermore, you will gain experience in archaeological record keeping, which is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the archaeological data.

To make the most out of your hands-on experience, seek feedback and mentorship from more experienced technicians or archaeologists.

This will not only help you refine your skills but also build professional relationships that could be beneficial for your career advancement.

Remember that the more practical experience you have, the better prepared you’ll be for a role as an Archaeological Lab Technician.

It can also potentially make you a more desirable candidate when applying for jobs, as employers often seek individuals with practical lab experience.


Step 5: Master Record Keeping and Cataloging Techniques

As an Archaeological Lab Technician, one of your primary responsibilities will be maintaining detailed records and cataloging artifacts accurately.

This is crucial for the overall management and understanding of the collections you will handle.

Mastering record keeping involves learning how to precisely document your observations and findings.

You’ll need to learn how to write detailed descriptions, take measurements, and note any other relevant details about the artifacts.

Your records should be able to help anyone who reads them understand exactly what the artifact is and its significance in the broader archaeological context.

Cataloging artifacts involves organizing and classifying them.

You’ll need to learn various categorization systems used in archaeology, as well as how to label artifacts correctly.

This skill is crucial for ensuring that artifacts are easy to locate and study in the future.

You can learn these skills through a combination of coursework and hands-on experience.

Many archaeology programs include classes on museum studies or collections management, which cover these techniques.

Additionally, internships or work-study opportunities in museums, labs, or field sites can provide valuable practical experience.

Remember, accurate record keeping and cataloging are the backbone of archaeological research.

Your ability to master these skills can greatly affect your success as an Archaeological Lab Technician.


Step 6: Learn to Use Laboratory Equipment and Software

As an Archaeological Lab Technician, proficiency in using various laboratory equipment and relevant software is crucial.

This equipment could include microscopes for detailed examination, scales for precise weighing, and other specialized tools for cleaning, sorting, and cataloguing artifacts.

Additionally, you may be required to use photographic equipment to document your findings.

Software literacy is also a key requirement in this role.

You will likely need to know how to use databases to record and manage information about artifacts.

You may also need to learn specific software for mapping and spatial analysis, such as GIS (Geographic Information System) applications.

In most cases, you will receive some form of training on the job, but having prior knowledge or experience can make you stand out during the hiring process.

You may consider taking courses, workshops, or self-study to familiarize yourself with this equipment and software.

Proficiency in these areas will not only make you more efficient in your work but also enhance your problem-solving skills, making you an invaluable member of the archaeological team.


Step 7: Understand Cultural Resource Management (CRM) and Legislation

As an Archaeological Lab Technician, a significant part of your work may revolve around Cultural Resource Management (CRM) and various legislations pertaining to archaeology.

CRM involves the identification, evaluation, and preservation of cultural heritage, including archaeological sites, artifacts, and structures.

In many cases, this work is mandated by legislation, so it’s essential to understand the legal context of your work.

You should familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations that protect cultural resources, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in the United States.

These laws govern how archaeological investigations are conducted and how the discovered resources are managed.

Comprehension of these laws is critical because they set the standards for archaeological work and influence the decisions made by CRM professionals.

This knowledge will help you ensure that your work is conducted ethically and legally, and that it contributes to the preservation and understanding of cultural heritage.

You should also stay updated on any changes to these laws, as this could affect the way you conduct your work.

In addition, understanding CRM and legislation can also open up opportunities for advancement in your career, as many organizations look for individuals who can navigate the complexities of CRM and relevant laws.

You can gain this understanding through continuous learning, attending seminars, taking courses, or earning certifications in CRM.


Step 8: Look for Internship Opportunities

Gaining practical experience in the field of archaeology is crucial for developing your skills and making you more attractive to potential employers.

As an aspiring Archaeological Lab Technician, you should actively seek out internship opportunities within this field.

These internships can be found at various institutions such as museums, historical societies, archaeological sites, or even universities with active archaeological research departments.

You might be involved in tasks such as cataloguing artifacts, cleaning and preserving findings, conducting laboratory tests, and assisting with fieldwork.

The hands-on experience you gain from these internships is invaluable, as it provides you with the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned.

It also allows you to familiarize yourself with the workings of an archaeological lab, which can be a significant advantage when it comes to seeking full-time employment.

Remember, internships are not only about gaining work experience; they’re also great opportunities for networking.

Make sure to build relationships with your colleagues and supervisors, as they could potentially provide job leads or recommendations in the future.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find paid opportunities initially.

Many internships in this field are unpaid, but the experience and connections you’ll gain can be incredibly valuable for your career progression.


Step 9: Stay Abreast of New Archaeological Discoveries and Techniques

As an Archaeological Lab Technician, it is crucial to stay updated with the latest discoveries and techniques in the field of archaeology.

This can be achieved by regularly reading reputable scientific and archaeological journals, attending conferences, webinars, and workshops on archaeology.

You can also participate in archaeological digs, expeditions and other field work to gain hands-on experience and understanding of new tools, methodologies, and processes.

By staying up-to-date, you can bring fresh insights and perspectives to your work, improve your skills, and boost your chances of advancement in your career.

This continuous learning may also involve understanding and getting trained in the latest software and tools used in archaeological research and data analysis.

Furthermore, networking with other professionals in the field can provide opportunities for collaborative work, knowledge exchange, and can help you remain aware of any significant industry developments.

You might consider joining professional organizations, such as the Society for American Archaeology or the Archaeological Institute of America, which offer resources and opportunities for professional development.

Remember, archaeology is a field that constantly evolves with new discoveries and interpretations, and as an Archaeological Lab Technician, your ability to adapt and grow with the field can be a key factor in your success.


Step 10: Apply for Archaeological Lab Technician Positions

After you have received the necessary education and hands-on training, you can start applying for archaeological lab technician positions.

Look for job postings in museums, universities, historical societies, or even private archaeological firms.

These organizations often require lab technicians to assist in sorting, cataloging, and preserving artifacts.

When applying, tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your academic achievements, field experiences, and any specialized skills such as proficiency in archaeological lab techniques or specific software.

Don’t forget to mention any internships or volunteer work that you have done in the field of archaeology.

If possible, provide specific examples of projects you have worked on in the past and the skills you used in these projects.

This will demonstrate to potential employers that you have practical experience and a solid understanding of the archaeology lab processes.

Keep in mind that many employers value soft skills such as attention to detail, organizational skills, and the ability to work as part of a team.

Lastly, prepare for interviews by researching common interview questions for archaeology lab technicians.

Being well-prepared and demonstrating your passion for archaeology can improve your chances of landing the job.

Remember that the job market can be competitive, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a job offer immediately.

Continue to refine your skills, network with professionals in your field, and apply for new opportunities as they arise.


Step 11: Continue Professional Development and Education

As an Archaeological Lab Technician, it’s crucial to stay updated on the latest developments and techniques in the field of archaeology.

Archaeology is a field that is constantly evolving, with new technologies and methodologies being introduced regularly.

By engaging in continuous professional development, you can keep your skills sharp and remain a competitive candidate in the job market.

Consider attending archaeology conferences, workshops, or seminars, which can provide you with opportunities to learn about new research findings or advancements in archaeological techniques.

Joining professional organizations, such as the Society for American Archaeology or the Archaeological Institute of America, can also provide additional opportunities for learning and networking.

In addition, you may want to consider furthering your formal education.

Earning a master’s degree or a PhD in archaeology or a related field can open up more advanced career opportunities and allow you to specialize in a specific area of archaeology.

Another way to continue your professional development is by seeking out additional training opportunities.

This could include learning how to use new types of lab equipment or software, or getting certified in a specialized skill, such as artifact conservation or geophysical surveying.

Remember, the field of archaeology is constantly changing and growing, and the most successful Archaeological Lab Technicians are those who are committed to lifelong learning and professional growth.


Archaeological Lab Technician Roles and Responsibilities

Archaeological Lab Technicians play a vital role in preserving and understanding human history.

They focus on the analysis, classification, and cataloging of artifacts recovered from archaeological sites.

They have the following roles and responsibilities:


Artifact Processing

  • Clean, sort, label, and catalog artifacts recovered from archaeological sites.
  • Perform initial analysis of artifacts, including typology, materials, and condition.
  • Prepare artifacts for further examination, conservation, or display.


Data Management

  • Record detailed information about artifacts, including measurements, descriptions, and photographs.
  • Maintain precise and accurate records of artifact information and provenance.
  • Input artifact data into databases and ensure data integrity.



  • Assist in research projects, including literature reviews, comparative analysis, and report writing.
  • Contribute to the identification and interpretation of artifacts.



  • Assist in the preservation and conservation of artifacts, using appropriate materials and techniques.
  • Monitor and manage the storage conditions of artifacts to prevent damage and decay.



  • Work closely with archaeologists, conservators, and other professionals in the field.
  • Contribute to team discussions and decision-making processes.


Field Work Support

  • Provide support during archaeological excavations, including on-site processing and recording of artifacts.
  • Assist in the preparation and packing of artifacts for transport to the lab.


Public Engagement

  • Assist in the preparation of artifacts for display or educational purposes.
  • Communicate archaeological findings to the public, including students, visitors, or the media.


Continuous Learning

  • Stay updated with the latest techniques and developments in archaeological lab practices.
  • Participate in professional development activities, such as workshops, seminars, and conferences.


What Does an Archaeological Lab Technician Do?

Archaeological Lab Technicians work primarily in laboratories associated with universities, museums, government agencies, or independent archaeological firms.

They can also be found in field-based roles during excavation seasons.

Their main responsibility is to assist in the analysis and preservation of archaeological artifacts.

This includes washing, sorting, cataloging, and labeling artifacts such as pottery, tools, bones, and other materials.

They are trained to use various laboratory equipment and tools such as microscopes, calipers, and scales to examine and measure artifacts.

Archaeological Lab Technicians also record and maintain detailed logs of the artifacts they process.

This could involve entering data into a computerized database, creating visual documentation of artifacts through photographs or drawings, or writing descriptions of the artifacts.

Additionally, these technicians may contribute to research efforts by conducting background research, compiling data, and assisting in the preparation of reports and presentations.

They often work closely with archaeologists and other professionals in the field to better understand the context and significance of the artifacts they handle.

Their work is crucial in uncovering and preserving historical information about past civilizations and cultures.


Essential Archaeological Lab Technician Skills

  • Archaeological Knowledge: A good understanding of archaeological principles, theories, and practices is essential. Familiarity with different archaeological periods, typologies, and artifact identification are key to this role.
  • Lab Techniques: Lab technicians need to be proficient in standard laboratory procedures, including cleaning, cataloging, and preserving archaeological artifacts.
  • Analysis and Reporting: Analyzing findings and preparing detailed reports is a crucial part of an archaeological lab technician’s job. They need strong skills in data interpretation and report writing.
  • Attention to Detail: Archaeology is a precise discipline. A keen eye for detail and the ability to record meticulous observations is crucial for artifact handling and analysis.
  • Research Skills: Lab technicians often assist in research projects and must be proficient in conducting research, including literature reviews and database searches.
  • Technical Skills: Proficiency in using lab equipment, imaging tools, and software for archaeological analysis, like GIS (Geographic Information System), is required.
  • Physical Stamina: This role may require handling heavy objects or standing for extended periods, so good physical stamina is beneficial.
  • Preservation Techniques: Knowledge of artifact preservation techniques, including chemical and physical methods, is essential to prevent further damage and deterioration of artifacts.
  • Communication: Good verbal and written communication skills are essential for collaborating with team members, writing reports, and presenting findings.
  • Organization: Archaeological lab technicians often work with a vast array of artifacts. Strong organizational skills, including cataloging and inventory management, are crucial to keep track of these artifacts.
  • Teamwork: Archaeological projects are often collaborative, so the ability to work effectively within a team is important.
  • Problem-solving: Lab technicians often face unique challenges that require creative problem-solving abilities.
  • Computer Skills: Proficiency in using computers for data entry, database management, report writing, and research is required.
  • Patience: The process of cleaning and analyzing artifacts can be time-consuming and requires a high level of patience.
  • Curiosity: An inherent interest in history and archaeology, and a constant desire to learn more about past civilizations is helpful in this role.


Archaeological Lab Technician Career Path Progression

The Foundation: Junior Archaeological Lab Technician

Your journey as an Archaeological Lab Technician usually starts as a Junior Lab Technician.

At this stage, your primary objective is to learn as much as you can and build a strong foundation.

Your duties may include cleaning and cataloging artifacts, maintaining lab equipment, and assisting senior staff in their tasks.

Here are some tips for success in this role:

  1. Continuous Learning: Stay updated with the latest archaeological lab techniques and procedures.
  2. Seek Mentorship: Ask for guidance and learn from the experience of senior colleagues.
  3. Attention to Detail: Develop a keen eye for detail, as the smallest discrepancies can be important in archaeological studies.


The Ascent: Archaeological Lab Technician

As you gain experience, you transition into the role of an Archaeological Lab Technician.

Your responsibilities grow, and you may be involved in more complex artifact analysis, research, and report preparation.

Here’s how to thrive at this stage:

  1. Research Skills: Enhance your research abilities and keep up with the latest archaeological findings and theories.
  2. Teamwork: Work well within a team, as archaeological projects often involve multidisciplinary collaboration.
  3. Lab Safety: Prioritize lab safety and maintain a tidy and organized workspace.


Reaching New Heights: Senior Archaeological Lab Technician

The next step in your career is the Senior Archaeological Lab Technician position.

Here, you’re recognized for your expertise and skills.

You may mentor junior colleagues, lead specific lab tasks, and contribute significantly to archaeological research.

To excel as a Senior Lab Technician:

  1. Mentorship: Guide junior staff and share your knowledge and experience.
  2. Critical Thinking: Develop your ability to think critically and solve complex analytical problems.
  3. Leadership: Take ownership of your tasks and lead by example.


Beyond the Horizon: Lab Supervisor and Beyond

As your career advances, you may move into roles such as Lab Supervisor, Lab Manager, or even a Lab Director.

These roles involve more responsibilities, leadership, and strategic decision-making.

Here’s what to focus on:

  1. Management Skills: Develop strong leadership and communication skills to manage your team effectively.
  2. Technical Leadership: Take the initiative in technical matters and set the standard for lab procedures and practices.
  3. Innovation: Continually look for ways to improve lab procedures and equipment.


Pinnacle of Success: Director of Archaeological Lab

You may reach roles like Director of Archaeological Lab at the pinnacle of the career ladder.

In such a position, you’ll be responsible for overseeing all lab operations, making critical decisions, and leading larger teams.

This role not only requires excellent archaeological and lab skills but also demands strong leadership and strategic planning abilities.


Archaeological Lab Technician Salary

Entry-Level Archaeological Lab Technician

  • Median Salary: $28,000 – $35,000 per year
  • Entry-level archaeological lab technicians typically have 0-2 years of experience and may hold a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, anthropology, or a related field.


Mid-Level Archaeological Lab Technician

  • Median Salary: $35,000 – $45,000 per year
  • Mid-level technicians have 2-5 years of experience and often take on more complex tasks such as cataloging and analyzing artifacts.


Senior Archaeological Lab Technician

  • Median Salary: $45,000 – $55,000 per year
  • Senior technicians possess 5+ years of experience and are responsible for supervising projects, drafting reports, and assisting in research design.


Archaeological Lab Manager

  • Median Salary: $55,000 – $65,000+ per year
  • This role requires significant experience and often involves overseeing the daily operations of the lab, managing staff, and ensuring quality control in artifact analysis.


Research Archaeologist / Principal Investigator

  • Median Salary: $65,000 – $85,000+ per year
  • These high-level positions require extensive experience and deep knowledge in archaeology, and often involve leading research projects, securing funding, and publishing findings.


Archaeological Lab Technician Work Environment

Archaeological Lab Technicians often work in laboratories of universities, research institutions, museums, or government agencies.

They may also work directly at archaeological sites, where they assist in excavations and process artifacts.

Their work often requires precise attention to detail and a meticulous approach, as they handle delicate artifacts and conduct detailed analyses.

Archaeological Lab Technicians may work a regular 9 to 5 schedule when in the laboratory but may have to adopt flexible hours when working on excavation sites, particularly during the active dig seasons.

Over time, experienced technicians may choose to pursue advanced degrees to become professional archaeologists or hold administrative roles within research institutions or museums.


FAQs About Becoming an Archaeological Lab Technician

What is needed to become an Archaeological Lab Technician?

Becoming an Archaeological Lab Technician typically requires a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, anthropology, or a related field.

In addition, you will need practical experience, often gained through internships or field schools, where you can learn to identify and handle archaeological materials, use laboratory equipment, and document findings.

Key skills include attention to detail, analytical thinking, and excellent written and verbal communication.

Knowledge of archaeological laws and regulations, as well as proficiency in relevant computer software, can be beneficial.


How long does it take to become an Archaeological Lab Technician?

The time it takes to become an Archaeological Lab Technician can vary, but it typically involves four years of undergraduate study.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you may need to gain some practical experience through internships or volunteering in archaeological labs, which could take an additional year or more.

Ultimately, the time frame can depend on the individual’s pace and the specific requirements of the job.


Can I be an Archaeological Lab Technician without a degree?

While it might be possible to work in entry-level roles in the field without a degree, most Archaeological Lab Technician positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in archaeology or a related field.

The technical skills, understanding of archaeological principles, and practical experience gained through a degree program are typically necessary for this role.

However, significant relevant experience and a demonstrated ability to perform key tasks could potentially substitute for formal education in some cases.


Is being an Archaeological Lab Technician a stressful job?

Like any job, being an Archaeological Lab Technician can have its stressful moments.

This can include meeting deadlines for research projects, dealing with delicate or difficult materials, or working with incomplete or confusing data.

However, many find the work rewarding and intellectually stimulating.

Stress levels can often be managed by maintaining a good work-life balance and having a passion for the field of archaeology.


What are the prospects for Archaeological Lab Technicians in the next decade?

The job prospects for Archaeological Lab Technicians can depend on a range of factors, including the availability of funding for archaeological research and public interest in cultural preservation.

However, as technologies advance and more archaeological materials are digitized and analyzed in laboratories, there may be increased opportunities for lab-based roles in archaeology.

Additionally, the skills gained in these roles can be transferable to other fields, such as cultural resource management, museum work, or education.



And there you have it.

Embarking on the journey to become an archaeological lab technician is an adventure in itself, rich with opportunities to uncover mysteries of the past.

Equipped with the right skills, academic background, and determination, you’re on track to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of human history.

Remember, the journey may be demanding, but the rewards are priceless. Your discoveries could lead to groundbreaking insights about ancient civilizations, profoundly altering our perception of the past.

So, take that first step. Immerse yourself in research. Collaborate with fellow archaeologists. And most importantly, keep digging and analyzing.

Because the world is waiting for what you can unearth.

And if you’re seeking personalized guidance on launching or advancing your career in archaeological lab technology, explore our AI Career Path Advisor.

This complimentary tool is designed to provide tailored advice and resources to help you navigate your career trajectory effectively.

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