Is archaeology a dangerous job?

Ah! A question about the dangers of archaeology.

Is archaeology a dangerous job?

Madaba5Yes and no. It depends on the country in which you work. Digging in a third world country where there is a civil war or harsh living conditions: yes, it is dangerous. Digging a First Nation site north of Toronto, barely half an hour away from your home: no, it is not. Still, like with any other job, you have to be careful and aware of your surroundings and take medical precautions to avoid illness.

Answer for Stuff You Missed in History Class

My friend Mary B. at the Museum told me that the ladies who do the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts had a question about ancient Egyptian names (which came up in their Unearthed in 2015, part 1.) Apparently a bona fide Egyptologist had yet to furnish an answer to their question…  so, ladies… hope this helps!

Regarding Raneferef and Neferefre (or Neferefra)…. There is this thing with the ancient Egyptian written language called ‘honorific transposition.’ This means that when the name of a god or king is a component of a person’s name, it is put at the front of all the hieroglyphs making up that name (regardless of it being syntactically in the wrong place). The god (or king) is being honoured by having first place, if you will.


To be read in very short rows from right to left, starting at the top. Reed leaf+game board+water squiggle = Amun ; half circle+quail chick+half circle = tut ; Egyptian cross with loop = ankh (the name is followed by a title, which you need not worry about!)

As an example, let’s look at the name of Tutankhamun—a pharaoh whose name includes that of the god Amun. Everybody knows Tutankhamun. Tut. Ankh. Amun. If you look at the hieroglyphs that spell his name, you’ll see that it is actually spelled Amun. Tut. Ankh.  (Read the caption to know what sign is what.)

He was named after the god Amun and even though in the short sentence the name Amun should be at the end, it is moved up to honour that god. (Tutankhamun means ‘living image of Amun’.)

Now, do the names above make sense if I tell you that the Fifth Dynasty King listed above was named after the god Ra? (Also spelled Re.) Ra. Nefer. Ef  is really Nefer. Ef. Ra.


As for Queen Khentkawes… her name  can be spelled Khentkaus… because the sound U and W are very close. It can also be spelled Khentakawes or even Khentakawess! Egyptian hieroglyphs are primarily phonetic. It is also a language where the vowels are seldom written (which is the case with Hebrew, for example). When you’re stuck with only the consonantal roots of words, you need help trying to pronounce these words today…. So Egyptologists will stick the vowel E in between consonants. You’ll inevitably end up with varied spellings of the same name. An example: Ramses. Can also be spelled Rameses. Even Ramesses! The consonantal root is r ms s… bring on the vowels!

There is also the ancient Greek version/rendition of Egyptian names, which is very confusing.  In English, we tend to use the Egyptian version of these names: take for example, Khufu… (the sounds fit with the hieroglyphs) but in French we prefer Cheops (this is how the Greeks referred to the king who built the Great Pyramid).  Senwosret (also spelled Senusret) versus the Greek SesostrisAmenhotep versus Amenophis!

Plus, it seems that modern languages adapt Egyptian names, too.  Don’t go look for Nefertiti in a German book! You’ll find her name spelled Nofretete instead.

Are you confused yet? Aren’t hieroglyphs and the ancient Egyptian language fun? (Insert grin here!)

If you’re interested in ancient Egyptian language for fun, I suggest you take a look at one of the world’s most ancient and noble blogger’s posts on Circa, the North Carolina Museum of Art’s blog. Fefi is sharing secrets about hieroglyphs… which can be read from right to left, left to right and vertically downwards (not from the bottom).

Check out Fefi’s posts:
Learn Hieroglyphs with FefiViper, viper, reed leaf, nobleman
Name or Nickname? That is the question?
Write Your Name in Hieroglyphs

Government archaeologists

This morning, I received an e-mail from a young woman interested in archaeology who wished to find out more about the field. She wrote to the museum hoping to get in touch with a local archaeologist, someone she could shadow and observe in action. Evidently, the message was forwarded to me. While I could potentially help, I thought it would be rather boring for someone to observe me create PowerPoint presentations and write up project budgets (that’s what I’m doing these days). It’s really not as exciting as sorting arrowheads and doing data entry… something that might be possible if you volunteer at the Office of State Archaeology. This is what I suggested to this young woman.

Although you might think there aren’t that many archaeologists in your area, there are probably several working for state, provincial or federal governments in a town near you. We’re not all employed by universities and museums! (Heck, the US Department of Defence employs archaeologists! Read this for details.) Every American state should have an OSA that focuses on the cultural heritage within its boundaries. The same goes for provincial archaeology offices (look under Ministry of Culture) in Canadian provinces and for Parks Canada, who manages and protects federal archaeological resources in the Great White North.

These are good places to start looking for archaeologists and the volunteer work there will be different from that in a museum (and probably more archaeological and hands-on). You might have to have some training before you can even begin to volunteer… but isn’t that the point? Learning more about archaeology?

Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. Is there something on the dig that scares you?

Here’s a question about the life of an archaeologist that is fitting for Halloween:

Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes.  Is there something on the dig that scares you?

Hmm… this is a little embarrassing to admit: I hate ants. I really, really hate ants. I didn’t as a kid, but somehow I do now. Once, on a dig in Jordan, I dug right through an ant colony with one fell swoop of my hoe and suddenly there were millions of ants crawling everywhere at my feet… I shudder just thinking about it.


How to reach an archaeologist


Should you have questions for the ‘Answered by an Archaeologist’ chronicle, you can now reach me at: archeologue.wordpress ( at )

Questions are welcomed, but make certain you have browsed the site and blog for an answer before you contact me. Please note that I will not answer homework or research questions. Queries regarding universities and colleges, details about admission, programmes and courses should be directed to universities and colleges.

Should your question be relevant to a wide audience, it will be posted here.

Do I have to like school to become an archaeologist?

Here’s a question about schooling and archaeology. May the Fourth be with you.

Do I have to like school to become an archaeologist?
It certainly would be an advantage! Even if you chose to be a field technician (which necessitates only a BA), you still need to go to college. Keep in mind, though, that when in university you actually get to chose the courses you want to take, which makes your studies so much more interesting.


How can I find out about field school?

Here is a question for those interested about fieldwork experience!

How can I find out about field school?
There are several digs across the world that welcome volunteers each year. These are undoubtedly very expensive. Take a look at the Archaeological Institute of America website for their listing. Also check with archaeological associations or museums with archaeology collections nearest you as well as universities and colleges nearby that offer an archaeology programme. Some institutions may offer “Archaeology camps” for children. Otherwise check with universities that offer fieldwork opportunities for undergraduate students during the summer.