What I Want To Be When I Grow Up: An Archeologist

I hear a lot of students are having a hard time deciding on a major. I hear a lot of grown ups talk about hating their jobs. So here it is: a series of interviews about What I Want To Be When I Grow Up. This is here to help people decide what occupation they want to occupy. Or, it’s here to help people resurrect their dreams of being a Komodo dragon trainer or volcano rock smelter.

First occupation in the spotlight: A Spook.

Second occupation in the spotlight: An Archeologist.

Remember when you used to dig holes in your backyard and expect to find the lost remains of your pioneer ancestors? Or possibly a saber tooth tiger skeleton? Or…more realistically…pirate treasure?!

Every kid likes to dig holes.

Some adults do, too.

We call them archeologists.

It is my great honor to introduce you to the awesome Arielle Danielson:

Oh geez that’s a bad picture of her. Let me try this one:

Hm. Still no good. How about:

Okay that’s decent. But my favorite has to be:

This is Arielle laughing and hugging her mom. If you know anything about her you’ll quickly find that she loves to laugh and loves her family. She also loves to rock climb and is pretty darn good at it. She also likes to dig holes . . . but we’ll get to that in a minute. For now let’s focus on the fact that she’s my cousin.Yes, yes, it’s true. Arielle is my cousin. So if you notice any good lines in her interview below . . . it’s most likely she got them from me.

Without further ado, I give you THE ARCHEOLOGIST:

Is your life constant motorcycle chases, treasure hunts, booby traps, indignant natives, collapsing temples, poisoned dates, and angry Nazis? In other words, is Indiana Jones FOR REAL?

Sadly, no. Our friend, Indy, tended to do things more on the illegal side, and we try to keep operations legal and not offend the natives.

Also, the type of archaeological work I do is different. I work in the CRM (Cultural Resource Management) field, which means that instead of going to temples and excavating, I do the initial survey of land parcels and try to discover archaeological sites. Here’s where the adventure comes in. The majority of the land parcels that we get to survey are undeveloped, so I get to blaze my own trail. This sometimes requires hacking my way through briars and dense vegetation, trudging through swamps, and crossing deep streams by way of fallen logs. All of this is done while looking for signs of prior human occupation and potential archaeological sites. So, in one sense, it has that same treasure hunt feel.

Do you have to wear this hat in order to become a real archeologist? If not, what IS an archeologist supposed to wear?

Well, a hat is very helpful, especially on sunny days, but usually a ball cap will do.  Since archaeologists are exposed to the elements all day, it always good to have some form of sun protection! The typical archaeological uniform consists of comfortable pants made out of durable fabric, a t-shirt, and hiking boots. Rain gear, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt are usually kept in your backpack in case you run into some unexpected weather.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A crocodile hunter, like Steve Irwin. Or, a journalist for National Geographic.

Why archeology? What are some reasons for digging? 


Let’s see, I actually just kind of happened into archaeology. I started out as a Mass Communications major, but realized journalism wasn’t for me after all. I had already taken a couple of anthropology* courses, and it seemed interesting enough to get a degree in, so I did. My junior year I went to field school where I spent a month deep in the jungles of northern Belize, excavating Mayan temples. From then on, I was hooked.

Since then, I have surveyed and excavated sites all over Texas, Louisiana, and Washington. Archaeology is very important because it gives us a more accurate representation of what happened in the past. It allows us to glimpse into cultures that were around before written language, as well as give a voice to the side of history which is generally over-looked: the side of the common people.  History typically focuses on those in power, while archaeology tries to uncover what was going on in the daily life of the entire community.

*Archaeology is one of several branches of Anthropology.

 So tell me what archeologists do.

diggin’ square holes, boss

Archaeologists excavate possible prehistoric (before written language) and historic (anything older than 50 years old) sites and determine their significance to the archaeological record. Basically, we dig a lot of holes and try to discover or confirm information about past cultures.

What is your dream dig?


One where I got to discover all the significant artifacts and didn’t have to do any of the paper work. Also, I would really like to go South America and excavate a cave dwelling or burial. That would be really cool.

What do you love about your job?

I love that I get to be outside all day every day.  I love that I get to travel. I love that I get to work with my hands and perform some good ol’ physical labor. And I love that when I dig up an artifact that I am probably the first person to touch it in over a century.

What don’t you love about your job?

Living out of hotels, rainy, cold days digging in the mud, and not being able to see my friends and family.

Say I want to be an archeologist when I grow up, what are some things I could do in jr high/high school that will prepare me for the job?

More and more communities across the country are instigating community archaeology projects. You can volunteer and get involved that way. Or, you can always volunteer at your local museum. There are also several field schools you can sign up for through your local university or online through another university. If none of those options are available to you, you can read books about archaeology and do all the yard-work for your mom (to get used to physical labor in the outdoors).

Thank you for being here, Arielle!

Stay tuned for the next installment of What I Want To Be When I Grow Up: Scientist

Would you like to be an archeologist?

Have any questions for the archeologist?

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  1. Ellie! This is so fun! I think I would love being an archeologist. Not the Indiana Jones kind, the real kind. Just so you know, I’m starting a new linkup that might be perfect for this series. It’s called Saturday Morning Serial Linkup. I’d love for you to list your postings for this series on Saturday mornings…No pressure though. I love reading your blog, and your tweets crack me up! Have a great day!

    • EllieAnn

       /  November 19, 2011

      Hi KD! I’ve enjoyed your blog and will check out the Serial Linkup. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  2. Another great one, Ellie! My granddad was an archeologist…a great career path that dear to my heart. ;) (As you know from my blog–thanks for the visit!) Stay well and keep these great posts coming!

  3. What a great post! Archeology has always fascinated me, and I love the quote about being the first to touch something in over a century. That’s awesome!

    • EllieAnn

       /  November 19, 2011

      Yes! And I love what she said about archeology being about the common people and history being about the powerful people.

  4. I remember collecting different kinds of rocks for a while. Growing up in Wisconsin with its black fertile soil didn’t provide much excitement when digging, except for the occasional earthworm!
    There are some amazing places to dig here in Colorado.
    Someone recently found camel hair and ancient tools when digging a basement right here in the Boulder foothills!
    We also have Dinosaur State Park~

  5. Sara Grambusch

     /  November 19, 2011

    I really enjoyed this post. I wanted to be an archeologist growing up. I would always dig in the backyard and one time I found a fork! I thought I was onto something big ;) This definitely is another career path I would have loved to explore. Thanks for the interview!

    • EllieAnn

       /  November 19, 2011

      haha! Right! Once I dug up a plastic flower and kept if for years. That dirty decrepit old thing was so beautiful to me. And anytime I found a triangle shaped rock I just KNEW it was an old Indian arrowhead.

  6. Wow. Very interesting, Arielle, and I do see the family resemblence between you two.

    I wanted to be an archeologist for a while when I was a child. I thought it would be so cool to discover an ancient city and learn about its people. Life took me another direction, but I still get excited reading about new discoveries of ancient peoples and things.

    Just one question. “Anything older than 50 years old.” Could you please send a team to the back of my refrigerator?

    Thanks for the awesome interview. :)

  7. Wow, what a cool job! Great questions, too, Ellie! Love the pics.

    I was wondering, who hires archaeologists? Who pays their salary – museums? Is it hard to find a job? (Future info for my younger sons, lol).

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Arielle Danielson

       /  December 7, 2011

      Hey! Sorry for the late response. Most archaeologists are hired by Environmental Consulting Firms, which are hired by both government and private agencies. Archaeologists are just one part of a survey team that also includes biologists, geologists, etc. Essentially, a survey team in sent out to determine the impact the project will have on any natural or cultural resources. Say, for example, a new pipeline needed to be installed through government land. Archaeologists would be needed to conduct a survey of that areas that would be effected by the pipeline to insure that no burial grounds (or other informative archaeological sites) would be destroyed. If an archaeological site is discovered along projected pipeline route, they have the option of rerouting or paying for a full scale excavation.

      If you are willing to move around often, it isn’t that hard to find a job. If you are determined to stay in one area, it will be virtually impossible to find a job without a masters degree and a lot of time in the office. Many firms takes contracts from several states, which results in being hired in one state and working in another. For example, I was hired by a firm in Houston to work in Louisiana. Also, it is a little hard to get your foot in the door initially, so I would suggest making a good impression in field school. References are very important, and professors usually have the connections you need to get your foot in the door. The CRM community is relatively small, so once you’re in and have proved that you can work hard, word will spread and it will be easier and easier to get hired. Hope this helps!

  8. Dave

     /  November 20, 2011

    When hiking through the deserts and mountains of New Mexico, there is evidence of pit houses, fire pits, and other signs of ancient human habitation everywhere. What percentage of these are ever excavated? What requirements must be met before an excavation is authorized?

    (sorry, but there is always paperwork…)

    • Arielle Danielson

       /  December 7, 2011

      If they are on government land and out in the open, I can guarantee that they have already been recorded and added to the archaeological record. Excavation requirements are different for each state, and have to do with the impact the site recieves from natural and human causes. If a site isn’t directly impacted by a pipeline, right-of-way, road or any other type of construction they are often left intact and monitered by follow up surveys every couple of years. Sorry I can’t give a more detailed response, but the variances between states, agencies and Native American tribe policies make it impossible to nail down one course of action.

      And I know there is always paperwork (that, and permission, is what seperates archaeology from looting); but a girl can dream, can’t she?

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