More than Just Bullwhips and Fedoras: The Diverse World of Specialisms in Archaeology


It may surprise you, but one of the first questions I get asked as an archaeologist is still, “So is it as exciting as Indiana Jones?” 


(The second question is usually, “so what kind of dinosaurs have you found?”)


Popular culture would have you believe that all archaeologists are adventure-seeking, tomb-raiding, fedora-wearing, bullwhip-wielding world travellers that spend most of their time knee deep in sandy Egyptian pyramids. In reality, most archaeologists can be found trowelling in a field, mixing chemicals in a lab, or in my case, half asleep over a pile of sheep bones at 10pm. 


Within archaeology are many different types of subfields or specialisms – archaeologists may choose to specialise by region (British archaeology, North American archaeology), time period (prehistoric archaeology, classical archaeology), or by specific disciplines. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on the latter. 


Most archaeologists will probably identify their speciality by discipline. For example, I’m a zooarchaeologist – this means I specifically work with animal remains in the archaeological record. Osteoarchaeologists, on the other hand, focus on human remains. Additionally, paleoentomologists study insects and arthropods in archaeology. 


Paleoentomology and zooarchaeology may also be considered part of environmental archaeology, which focuses on analysis and sometimes recreation of past environments. Other specialisms in this broader discipline include landscape archaeology (study of past landscapes and how they were utilized) and archaeobotany (study of archaeological plants).  



Some specialisms are based on the way archaeology is used for analysis and interpretation – for example, experimental archaeologists may attempt to recreate methods of tool production (such as flint knapping) to better understand how it was used in the past. Marine archaeologists often utilize scuba diving to excavate sites that are now underwater due to the changes in modern coastlines.


More recently, advances in archaeological sciences have led to the specialisation in specific methodologies – this includes lab techniques such as radio carbon dating (used for dating organic material) and stable isotope analysis (uses isotopes from elements like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen to investigate things like diet).


As long as technology and theory continue to evolve over time, so too will more subfields be developed into their own disciplines of research. A recent example of this is “archaeogaming” – archaeologists in this field use archaeological frameworks and theories to examine the virtual worlds of video games. We have certainly moved a long way from Indiana Jones…who knows what kind of research will be developed next? After all, archaeology only needs a past record to thrive – and the world doesn’t seem to be running out of that


This article only covers a very small portion of the many subfields in archaeology. For further information, Current Archaeology has a section dedicated to specialisms in archaeology here.



About the Author:

Alex Fitzpatrick is a zooarchaeologist and PhD student at the University of Bradford in England. You can view her website here, and her twitter here!

Academics Across the Ocean – Advice for the International Student


Study abroad programs are often advertised by universities as “life-changing” opportunities to experience new cultures and new places…and only for the low cost of a couple thousand dollars! And while some students may see these programs as an easy holiday from home for a semester, there are some benefits to traveling elsewhere for your studies. This is especially true for those looking into applying internationally for postgraduate studies – and I would know, as an American PhD student currently “across the pond” in England.


Prior to my move across the Atlantic, I had lived my whole life in New York and attended Hunter College for my undergraduate degree in classical archaeology and anthropology. After participating in a study abroad program in the UK alongside staff and students from the University of Bradford, I realized that I was much more interested in the technical and scientific aspects of archaeology, which are arguably more emphasized in British archaeological education.


The decision to study abroad for my MSc wasn’t an easy one – I knew I would have to start relying heavily on student loans and would be far away from my friends and family for a long time. But I strongly felt that studying abroad would allow for better opportunities and provide training that would look more attractive to future employers.



And while I don’t regret my decision, I will admit that it was a hard and stressful first year! I ran into visa troubles, I got severely homesick, and my MSc program was intense. It was definitely hard work, but I also never felt more confident in my abilities as an academic and scientist. It opened a lot of doors, as well – currently, I’m halfway through my PhD in archaeology and have been able to work with some of the greatest archaeologists and researchers in my field. Even almost three years into living abroad, I still run into issues from time to time regarding my status as an international student, but I think it has so far been worth it.


So, with a few years of living as an international student under my belt, what kind of advice can I give others thinking about making a big move for their research?


  • Get organized – I am one of the least organized people on this planet, so the visa process was a nightmare. Getting your documents organized is by far the best advice I can give to anyone thinking about applying for an international program! Nowadays I have folders dedicated to any paperwork I need: passports, application receipts, letters of acceptance, etc. This is especially useful for anyone thinking about doing multiple degrees abroad or looking for work abroad afterwards – keep your documents close and in order, and applying for new visas will become a breeze!


  • Get in touch – Being in contact with current international students at the program I was about to join as well as staff in the international student department of my university made a lot of the visa and moving process easier. Don’t be afraid to reach out while you’re still considering a program – department heads can get you in touch with current students and relevant staff to answer any questions you may have. Also be sure to check if there’s any scholarships available to international students – funding can be tricky when you’re not a citizen of the country you’re studying in, so take advantage of any funding saved specifically for international students.


  • Get donating – “Live lightly”, I think, is the motto for most international students. When you first move, it will be tempting to bring everything from home, but you might end up paying extra for two checked-in suitcases (something I unfortunately had to deal with when I first moved!).  Bring along clothes, any essentials, and some mementos and pick up everything else when you get to your new home. It’ll make travel a lot easier…and you can feel good if you end up donating a lot of your unneeded things! This also works in reverse as well – if you end up moving back after your study abroad program, most universities have donation programs that allow international students to leave furniture and appliances for future students.


  • Get friendly – Moving to a new place is scary, especially if you don’t have any friends or family there. Be open to joining societies or extracurricular activities to meet new people – most universities will even have special events specifically for their international students, so you’ll be able to find people in the same situation as you!

  • Get excited – Studying abroad can be full of fear, anxiety, and panic – but it may also be incredibly rewarding! Even now, I still sometimes wake up in awe that I’m living in England. Enjoy your time, take advantage of any university-sponsored excursions, and soak in your new home while you can.

About the Author:

Alex Fitzpatrick is a zooarchaeologist and PhD student at the University of Bradford in England. You can view her website here, and her twitter here!