Archaeology or archeology (American English) is the study of human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains, including architecture, artefacts, biofacts, human remains, and landscapes; see photos. The goal of archaeology is to shed light on long-term human prehistory, history, behaviour and cultural evolution. It is the only discipline which possesses the method and theory for the collection and interpretation of information about the pre-written human past, and can also make a critical contribution to our understanding of documented societies.

At its most glamorous, archaeology can result in the finding of wonderful treasures. One of the most famous finds (so famous that he was honoured with a Google Doodle on his birthday in 2012!) was made by British archaeologist Howard Carter in Egypt in 1922. The tomb of the Pharoah Tutankhamun was the most complete ever found, and the amazing contents, including the iconic Pharaoh’s gold burial mask, have been exhibited around the world ever since.

Another important long-drawn out piece of archaeology is the excavation of the legendary city of Troy, lost for centuries but now known to have been in northwest Turkey. First identified in a German exploration of 1868 and followed up by, among others, American archeologists over seven seasons from 1932, the history of the great city from 3,000 BC to 500 AD began to emerge. This important site for understanding early relations between the Mediterranean world and the early civilisations of Anatolia is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and Troy continues to be explored by archeologists.

But while these two examples are justly famous, archaeology is often a far from glamorous profession, and some of the most significant advances in knowledge involve painstaking research in mud and dirt - including all types of human waste, for ancient sewers often contain important lost items, and rubbish tips will give up their vital secrets to the careful archaeologist.

If this doesn’t put you off, how do you become an archaeologist? Even if you get a university degree in archaeology, there are few paid jobs (each one attracts about 150 applicants), and those that there are do not pay well. They also tend to be for fixed term contracts, so expect periods of unemployment. Unless you are extremely fortunate, the way in is probably going to be via voluntary work on a dig, hoping that the experience gained and contacts made will increase your chances of getting a job. It is a sad irony that one of the most important professions for the better understanding of human history and culture is not well supported by governments in general...

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