Students interested in archaeology are strongly encouraged to think about exploring fieldwork opportunities, either by participating in a project led by a Brown University faculty member or by finding other projects that focus on regions or topics of particular interest to the students. Brown — through the work of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology, the Department of Anthropology and other programs on campus — has a long and impressive tradition of sponsoring archaeological fieldwork, and faculty often offer opportunities for students to join them in the field. Likewise, Brown's faculty members are very pleased to help students find appropriate projects organized by other schools and programs around the world, which offer their own advantages.
Fieldwork can introduce students — either through more formal field schools (taken for credit) or through volunteer experiences — to key archaeological techniques and methodologies, as well as provide opportunities to travel and explore. Students should think about the type of experience they would like, for archaeological projects take place in numerous countries, and in regions and on sites belonging to different time periods and cultures; different projects teach different skill sets.
Keep reading to find out more about gaining experience in archaeology through fieldwork, lab work, and museums, questions to ask when choosing a fieldwork experience, and questions to ask when choosing other archaeological experiences.
Gaining Experience in Archaeology - Fieldwork, Lab Work, Museums, Etc.
Doing fieldwork is often considered a cornerstone of becoming an archaeologist, but it’s not the only way (or even necessarily the best way, depending on your interests). While some archaeologists do spend their summers abroad wrangling trowels and wheelbarrows, others work in labs, museums, or cultural resource management (CRM) firms - sometimes in their own hometowns.
Fieldwork can provide an opportunity to learn archaeological methods and concepts and immerse yourself in a region, time period, or culture that interests you. The arrangements, locations, and expectations of field projects vary widely and we’ve listed a set of questions below to help you think about what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Working in a lab or museum is another great way to gain archaeological experience, make professional connections, and develop specific skills in analyzing and interpreting archaeological material or presenting it to the public. We’ve provided some additional questions to ask yourself when you’re looking for these types of experiences.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Fieldwork Experience
Am I looking for a field school or a volunteer experience?
Field schools can be useful if you’re new to archaeology since they provide formal instruction on archaeological methods and concepts. They are often more structured and may include a set curriculum, lectures, formalized excursions, or exams. Volunteer opportunities will have varying experience requirements, but many will expect you to have some basic knowledge of archaeological field methods to build on.
How do I choose a project?
Archaeological projects take place in numerous countries, and in regions and on sites belonging to different time periods and cultures. You might want to think not just about the past culture that you’re interested in, but also the present culture that you’d like to work in and learn more about. You’ll be interacting and/or work with, at least to some extent, and sometimes a great deal, with the people that live in the place where your project is located. Living and working in a place with a different culture is exciting, but also something you should consider as you think about what your day-to-day life on a field project might be like and how comfortable you’ll feel with personal identity expression.
Different projects also teach different skill sets or have different specialists involved - are you hoping to learn more about specific areas (field survey, bioarchaeology, oral history, pottery analysis)?
How much does participation cost?
Look closely at program descriptions and/or ask project directors to see what is covered - look for things like travel, accommodation, food, visa fees, equipment (do you need to bring your own tools?). There are many projects that don’t charge fees, so you might only need to cover travel costs (and there’s always the possibility of getting those costs covered with a scholarship or other funding) or you can look at local field schools or archaeological volunteering opportunities near where you live. Don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money to have a fun and useful fieldwork experience!
What are the living and working conditions like?
There are lots of questions to ask when it comes to the daily working/living conditions on a project. Fieldwork provides a great opportunity to challenge yourself in all kinds of ways, but it's also important to consider what conditions you'll need to be happy and successful.
What kind of work will the project include? Will you be excavating, doing survey, working in a lab? How long will work days be and how many days per week? Will you be exposed to the weather for long periods and, if so, what will those conditions be like? What kinds of facilities will be available at the project site? What kinds of tasks will be required and will there be opportunities to change tasks or to focus on specific tasks? Consider how the different types of projects might complement your abilities and interests and don't hesitate to talk to project directors, faculty, and other students about the different ways in which tasks can be accomplished.
Just like working conditions, living conditions will vary significantly between projects. Some project teams work and live in basically the same place. Other projects travel to the work site each day. Do you want to find a project where you’ll be housed in a hotel/apartment in a city - are you interested in having city amenities close at hand? Or are you okay living in a tent and looking forward to spending time away from populated areas? Investigate what kind of food will be available. Does the project provide meals - and if so, does the team cook them or do you all go out to eat together? - or do you need to cook for yourself or find places to go out to eat on your own? If you follow a particular diet or have dietary restrictions, how does the local cuisine intersect with your needs? Will the program be able to accommodate specific dietary needs or will you need to provide some or all of your own food?
You’ll also want to consider the culture of the place in which you’ll be working and think about how comfortable you’ll be based on your own identity, expression, or presentation. You can talk to project directors, or faculty and students who have been on fieldwork in the same or similar areas to find out more about what the local culture (and perhaps the culture of the particular project) is like and experiences they have had.
Finally, it's important to consider how comfortable you are with the availability or unavailability of medical care or support systems. Some project teams may live and work within easy access of emergency or other medical support, but for projects in more remote areas, that support - and even things like phone service - may be more limited.
What is the reputation of the program?
Do a search for program reviews, check their website or Facebook page. Look at the background of the project instructors and/or staff. Ask professors if they know about the program. If other students have participated in the program before, ask them about their experience!
Do I need to earn credit? Will Brown accept the credits from the project I’m considering?
Generally, to receive a full credit for fieldwork, students must participate daily in a project sponsored by a college or university for a minimum of four weeks. Upon their return to Brown, students must complete the Transfer Credit Approval form, and meet with the Concentration Advisor for Archaeology and the Ancient World to discuss whether it would be appropriate to assign credit for an equivalent course at Brown.
The Institute for Field Research (IFR) also has some helpful questions to ask yourself when choosing a fieldwork project: https://ifrglobal.org/students/choosing-a-program/
How do you find out about fieldwork opportunities?
- Talk to your professors!! Talk to graduate students! Talk to fellow students who have done fieldwork!
- Ask classmates and graduate students where they’ve done work - they can give you lots of information about the whole experience!
- Let your professors know what you’re interested in - they may have a field project that you can join or they can connect you with colleagues whose projects might fit your interests.
- Check out the websites listed above on this page.
- The AIA website has some great resources - check out the Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin (AFOB) and their extensive Fieldwork List.
- Check with your hometown university’s or college’s archaeology or anthropology department.
- Look for opportunities with local, state, and federal museums and historical preservation offices.
Where can you find funding?
Not all fieldwork projects cost a lot of money, but you may still need to find funding to cover things like international airfare. Brown provides many funding opportunities - from general internship or travel grants to program grants focused on particular topics or regions.
The following are good places to start:
Office of Global Engagement, Grant Opportunities
UTRAs (Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards)
Brown LINK Awards (formerly Brown Internship Award Program)
Research at Brown (RAB) Grants
Middle East Studies Research Travel Award
Judaic Studies Student Research Grants
Royce Fellowship Program
Program in Early Cultures
Some funding options outside of Brown include:
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) - Jane C. Waldbaum Archaeological Field School Scholarship
Etruscan Foundation Fieldwork Fellowship
American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Fellowships
American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) Named Fellowships
The Classical Association of New England (CANE)
Eta Sigma Phi Honorary Society for Classical Studies
UNICO Foundation Scholarship Program
The Society for Classical Studies - Frank M. Snowden Jr. Undergraduate Scholarships (previously the Minority Scholarship in Classics and Classical Archaeology) and the David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship for Travel in Classical Lands
Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Other Archaeological Experiences
What kind of skills do I want to develop?
Archaeology is more than just fieldwork and there are a variety of useful skills you can develop without touching a trowel. Are you interested in work in a lab? Doing database work, GIS mapping, or photogrammetry? Maybe you’d like to develop skills at interpreting and presenting archaeological information to the public. Thinking about what you’d like to get out of your experience can help direct your search. And don’t forget that things like learning a new language or developing archaeological illustration skills can be incredibly useful too!
Am I looking for a paid or volunteer experience?
Museums, labs, and CRM companies may offer paid internships, part-time, or summer employment. Volunteering may also be an option - and can be especially useful if you need more flexibility in your schedule.
Do I want to travel or find something local?
Many people find local experiences the most convenient since they often already have accommodation and won’t need to worry about costly travel arrangements. However, if you’re interested in traveling - or already have plans to travel and stay somewhere for a summer or semester - you can look for opportunities further afield.
A few examples of opportunities in and around Providence are:
The Public Archaeology Lab (PAL) in Pawtucket, RI and Archaeological and Historical Services (AHS) in Storrs, CT both offer internships to undergraduate students from time to time.
Internships with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
RISD Museum summer internships
The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) trains volunteers to conduct maritime history and marine archaeology research (note that there are fees involved!)
The Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission sometimes needs volunteers to help map cemeteries.
The Rhode Island Historical Society often has volunteer opportunities.
More Resources and Information
Information about fieldwork opportunities, both Brown-sponsored and other possibilities, is provided each year through a combination of e-mails and meetings. Fieldwork opportunities are also frequently posted on the Joukowsky Institute's blog. Most projects accept applications in the January-April before the summer in question, but interested students are encouraged to make contact with their advisors in the fall term to begin the planning process.
Or start exploring fieldwork possibilities using the web sites below:
- Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities (Global coverage)
- Past Horizons (Global coverage)
- Council for British Archaeology: Fieldwork Briefing (Principally targets Great Britain)
- Current Archaeology (Principally targets Great Britain)
- Findadig.com from the Biblical Archaeology Society (Mediterranean and European opportunities with a stress on Israel)
- Student Conservation Association (Internships and volunteering in the United States)
- Fieldwork Opportunities Handout and Fieldwork Resources Brochure (Updated 11/2022)