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Archeology - Overview


Archeology is the study of people who lived in the past and their ways of life. Students analyze fossils and mummies to understand how people lived. They learn how to go on "digs," determine the age of fossils and human remains, and preserve artifacts.

Imagine yourself high on a mountaintop. The wind is blowing so hard that your face is numb. The mountain air is white with freezing snow. You take a step, and then another, and another, as you reach the peak. Even though it hurts to keep your eyes open, with each step you carefully scan the icy rocks. Suddenly you hear someone yell, "Over here! Over here! I think I see something!" You rush to the voice and there in the snow is the head of a mummy, a child. You and your colleagues dig carefully and quickly find two more, another girl and a boy. You gasp. On one of the mummies you can still see the hairs on her arms. You suddenly forget about the wind and the cold. Scientists have been trying for years to learn more about Incan life, and you've just discovered the best preserved Incan mummies ever found.

Sounds like an action movie, right? Yet, this really happened! In March 1999 a team of archeologists climbed to the top of a volcano in Argentina and discovered the 500-year-old mummies. They also found statues made of gold and silver, clothing, blankets, and pottery. Some of the pieces of pottery still had food in them, preserved by the frigid air.

As an archeologist, you're part detective, part scientist. You study human culture from its very beginnings. You look at artifacts from cultures and people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago. You look at a piece of pottery and try to figure out who made it. When? How? And most importantly, why?

Professional archeologists work as researchers for the government, private companies, or universities. You can work for museums or for organizations that protect historical buildings and artifacts. You can even be an underwater archeologist who studies shipwrecks.

In archeology programs, you study archeological theory, what past cultures were like, and how people have changed through the centuries. You take courses from many different areas, such as anthropology, art, history, statistics, biology, and geology. You can use an archeology major to go to graduate school in fields such as history, art, and business. However, many people who receive a bachelor's degree in archeology go on to graduate school in archeology.

Some schools offer concentrations in archeology as part of an anthropology program. Other schools have a separate archeology program. In both cases, archeology programs are usually part of the anthropology departments. Most four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in anthropology or archeology. (About 95 offer programs specifically in archeology. Many more offer anthropology). Many also offer graduate degree programs.

Typically you receive a bachelor's degree in archeology in four years. Graduate programs take from two to five years after you finish your bachelor's degree.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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