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Shortcuts: How to make it as an archaeologist

By Paul Sussman for CNN
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(CNN) -- Following news that archaeologists in Rome have discovered a sarcophagus containing what they believe to be the mortal remains of St. Paul the Apostle, we offer a few tips on how to get in on the world of excavation.

Forget the bull whip

It might have got Indiana Jones out of a scrape or two, but then Indiana Jones has little if anything to do with real archaeology. Excavators these days are far more likely to be armed with a theodolite and laptop than a whip and pistol, so if you are working on the assumption that archaeology = glamour you're going to be sorely disappointed. Mind you, if you find yourself digging somewhere hot then an Indiana Jones Fedora might come in useful.

Study hard, get the qualifications

Gone are the days of the enthusiastic amateur -- men such as 19th Century businessman Heinrich Schliemann who, having made a fortune contracting during the Crimean War, decided to turn his hand to excavating and, at Mycenae and Troy, made some of the most spectacular discoveries in the history of archaeology. These days archaeologists are highly qualified, technically skilled professionals -- simply being able to poke around in the ground with a trowel is no longer enough. Draughtsmanship, surveying, micro-botany, photography, material conservation, epigraphy, digital design, cartography, computing -- these are just a few of the skills that are required on a modern archaeological mission (although not all necessarily by the same person).

Volunteer as "trowel fodder"

While many of the technical aspects of archaeology can be learnt in a classroom, there is no substitute for practical experience. If you are really committed to the subject many excavations will offer places to what are commonly known as "trowel fodder" -- people who do all the messy, boring jobs such as digging trenches, pushing wheel barrows and standing around all day in the pouring rain holding surveying poles. It might not be glamorous, but it will give you an invaluable grounding in the basic skills of field archaeology.

Resign yourself to a lifetime of poorly-paid obscurity

Archaeology is a tough business, and certainly not for those who crave either their creature comforts or a healthy bank balance. Spending months living in a fly-blown tent in the middle of the Sahara, or up to your knees in mud digging up tiny fragments of flint in the Outer Hebrides, all for the sort of pay packet that would provoke workers in most other industries to walk out on strike - this is neither a comfortable nor a renumerative career. Even Howard Carter, whose discovery, in 1922, of the tomb of Tutankhamun made him one of the few archaeologists ever to attain the status of international celebrity, endured decades of unrecognized penury before eventually hitting the big time (at one point he was so poor he was reduced to producing sketches for tourists to fund his work). If you are not utterly obsessed with the subject, to the exclusion of all else, then archaeology is probably not for you.

Find Nefertiti

Anyone who is genuinely impassioned by archaeology will be perfectly happy spending their time out of the limelight mapping sites no-one has ever heard of and unearthing bits of pottery no-one is interested in. If you are really determined to make a name for yourself, however, you will need a spectacular discovery on your CV, and fortunately there are still plenty of those to be made. The final resting place of Nefertiti, for instance, the legendarily beautiful queen of Ancient Egypt, has never been located, and nor has the tomb of Alexander the Great. The ground is full of amazing things just waiting to be dug up, and if you are single-minded enough, and able to navigate the politics and bureaucracy that are increasingly a part of the archaeological business, you could be the one to find them.


The tomb of Tutankhamun was one of the greatest discoveries in the history of archaeology

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