What Is a Project Archaeologist?

E. Reeder

A project archaeologist is responsible for overseeing archaeological projects. This type of archaeologist may supervise archaeological excavations and projects for a government agency, business or cultural resource management firm. An archaeologist in this position would be responsible for some field work but more often would take responsibility for planning and managing archaeological field operations. As with archaeologists in general, a project archaeologist’s main task is to preserve and document sites and artifacts that are important to understanding history, anthropology and the cultural heritage of a region.

Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.
Jaffa, Israel, an ancient city that has been studied by many archaeologists.

One responsibility of a project archaeologist is planning and directing complex archaeological excavations. Such excavations are sometimes made because the site will soon be the location of a new building. Other times they are conducted at the request of the government or a cultural resource management firm. The project archaeologist must hire competent field archaeologists and other workers and supervise them; he also sometimes may multitask by simultaneously managing several excavations at the same time. Conditions such as weather, funding, project requirements and availability of workers can change rapidly, so an archaeologist in charge of projects must be able to deal with these changes in a flexible and effective manner.

A project archaeologist might oversee a site dig.
A project archaeologist might oversee a site dig.

Another aspect of being a project archaeologist is writing progress reports about the projects for which he has responsibility. Reports and documentation are kept throughout projects and at the completion of them. A final report is almost always required by the company or organization requesting the project. In addition, this kind of archaeologist must make sure that workers accurately catalog, classify, document and put into historical context the sites and artifacts excavated. The artifacts found may go into a museum or may be kept at the site of the excavation, which may be opened to the public as an historical landmark.

One other important task for which a project archaeologist usually is responsible is serving as a link or liaison between field archaeologists and field workers and the management team from the organization funding the project. The archaeologist responsible for projects must be able to maintain communication between field workers and the management team with ultimate responsibility for the project. He must be able to provide workers with direction that is consistent with the aims and goals of the project guidelines furnished by the organization calling for the excavation or project.

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