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What Do Archaeology Volunteers Do?

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  • Written By: Amy Rodriguez
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Archaeology volunteers perform a number of assisting job duties for a professional archaeologist. Volunteer responsibilities may include organizing discovered artifacts, collecting local history by speaking to natives, restoring historic structures, and participating in an archaeological dig. Many partially buried artifacts within a dig must be carefully removed in a timely manner so that the elements to which they have become exposed do not damage them further; having several archaeology volunteers on one dig will help speed up this process.

One archaeological dig can produce numerous artifacts that must be categorized. Archaeology volunteers can organize the artifacts at a digging site or in a laboratory setting. Artifacts may need to be divided by era or item type, such as pots and utensils. Some volunteers may be asked to analyze the artifact's exterior surface for any past damage or visible engravings. Most volunteers are assisted by professional archaeologists to ensure that all items are safely handled and labeled.

Oral history was a common form of passing on older stories to a new generation before written communication began. Some archaeology volunteers may visit local natives near a digging site to document regional histories that may never have been recorded before. These histories may help professional archaeologists understand the discovered artifacts' purposes in the future.

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Other types of projects with which archaeology volunteers may assist include restoring historically important structures. Many such structures are neglected due to lack of public funding; while volunteers restore these structures, professional archaeologists may study the structures and supervise the process. Typically, the archaeologist will give specific instructions and tools to volunteers so that the structure is not inadvertently damaged during the restoration. The work can be accomplished rapidly with several volunteers while the archaeologist gains new insight into the structure's formation and purpose.

An archaeological dig is one of the main responsibilities for an archaeologist, but some digs can be very large. In these cases, volunteers are imperative for a successful dig. The items cannot be pulled or scraped from the ground; rather, in a time-consuming process, dirt must be carefully brushed away from artifacts to ensure their structural integrity. A single archaeologist covering one dig would not be able to extract the artifacts in a timely manner. As a result, important artifact evidence may be ruined from rain or wind damaging the newly discovered items.

Archaeology volunteers are normally used for university research or government archaeology projects. It is possible to find a particular research project that is personally satisfying, such as discovering a past city or a herd of fossilized dinosaurs. Potential volunteers should contact a local college or government body to inquire about future project positions.

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