Egyptology 101: How To Become An Egyptologist
In the following article, we've attempted to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this exciting and interesting field of study.
Please note that, this is not intended to be an exhaustive guide and you should consult existing Egyptologists or relevant institutions for more detailed information.
What is the study of Egyptology?
Egyptology is the study of the culture, people, language, history, literature, religion, art, economics, and architecture of ancient Egypt. It is defined by dictionaries, like the Collins Dictionary as:
As you can see it is a very broad ranging subject and Egyptologists tend to specialize in one of our several of these aspects of ancient Egypt.
According to the Theban Mapping Project, which is mapping the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, most Egyptologists will tend to fall into one of two main categories:
- Demotists or Language experts - These Egyptologists specialize in the study of Egyptian-demotic language. The term 'demotic' is derived from the Greek word δημοτικός meaning "of the people."
In regard to linguistics, this term refers to a local vernacular language anywhere in time and place and will include written and spoken aspects of it.
- Archaeology - This is the broad study of human activity through the recovery, study, and analysis of artifacts and other material that survives the ravages of time. It tends to include experts in various forms of other sciences from Geologists to Anthropologists and is considered a blend of social science, humanities, and the hard sciences.
In North America, Archaeology is considered a sub-branch of Anthropology; whilst in Europe, it tends to be considered a discipline in its own right. Archaeologists tend to focus their studies between the rise of early humans around 3.3 million years ago - the Palaeolithic Age to the present day - but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.
As you might expect, Archaeology is a cross-disciplinary subject that draws on aspects of other scientific and humanities subjects like: Anthropology, History, Art history, Classics, Ethnology, and Geography, Geology, Literary history, Linguistics, Semiology (the study of signs), Textual criticism, Physics, Information sciences, Chemistry, Statistics, Paleoecology, Paleography, Paleontology, Paleozoology, and, Paleobotany.
How much is the average salary for an Egyptologist?
Egyptology, as we have seen, tends to form a sub-discipline of larger fields like Archaeology. For this reason, there is little, if any, information collected on Egyptologist salaries by agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
However, information from related fields like Anthropology and Archaeology is available.
The average (median) income for these disciplines in 2018 was $62,410 per annum. This works out at roughly $30 per hour).
Amounts are up slightly from 2010 when recorded incomes were in the order of $54,230.
According to the BLS, the lowest 10% of earners in this field received remuneration of less than $36,840, with the highest 10% earned in excess of $97,170.
The BLS also indicates that the typical entry-level qualifications needed for these fields are a Master's degree or higher. According to the BLS, job outlooks for these disciplines are considered slow (about 4%) between now and 2026.
Other salary comparison sites, like schmoop.com, record the average income for Egyptologists as $57,420. This equates, by their estimation, to an expected lifetime income of $2,397,000.
For the United Kingdom, sites like unistats.ac.uk estimate average incomes for Egyptologists to be between £23,000 (after 6 months) and £30,000 after 3 years.
But, of course, like any career, your actual income will depend completely on your experience, willingness to travel, industry trends (supply and demand), location and ability to negotiate.
How long does it take to become an Egyptologist?
Egyptologists tend to require the same level of experience and education as related fields like Anthropology and Archaeology. This tends to mean that candidates will be required to first complete an undergraduate degree (in a relevant field), followed by further higher education studies at the Master's, and often at the Ph.D. level.
They will also need to acquire relevant fieldwork experience to become a full "practitioner" of Egyptology. Experience, whether actually on site or in research, can be acquired prior to, during and after completing any stage of their education.
Bachelors degrees in relevant subjects like Archaeology, Anthropology, and Egyptian Archaeology.
Undergraduate degrees tend to require 3 years full-time study, but can be taken part-time, in some circumstances. After completion of a relevant bachelor's degree, budding Egyptologis's will need to pursue higher education in a relevant Master's degree.
These tend to take between 1 and 2 years of full-time study. Master's level education in this field (and undergraduate where relevant) will also include fieldwork elements of the discipline but students can undertake volunteer positions (or paid) throughout their study periods.
"Many students also attend archeological field schools, which teach students how to excavate historical and archeological sites and how to record and interpret their findings and data," Bureau of Labor Statistics notes.
Master's degrees tend to be enough for most positions, but if candidates wish to pursue careers at a leadership level, they will probably need a Ph.D. For international work, most candidates will also need a Ph.D. in order to comply with the requirements of foreign governments.
PhDs require a significant investment in addition to academic study. Most students must complete a doctoral dissertation, which typically includes between 18 and 30 months of field research and knowledge of a foreign language.
If this sounds too much, if you only complete a Bachelor's degree (and experience) you can work as field or laboratory technicians or research assistants.
So, in summary, approximate timescales for working as an Egyptologist are as follows:
Research/lab assistant - Roughly 3-years and relevant experience.
Most research/field jobs - 3 years for Bachelors plus 1-2 years for a Master's degree and relevant experience.
Leadership/higher level work and/or working internationally - 3 years for Bachelors plus 1-2 years for a Master's degree, plus 2-3 years to complete a Ph.D., and relevant experience.
Is Egyptology a science?
In short, yes and no. It can be considered as either a humanities discipline or as a scientific one.
In general, however, Egyptology tends to be considered as a philological discipline. This is, according to Wikipedia, "is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics."
From this point of view, Egyptology is, technically speaking, a humanities discipline.
In North America, as we have already seen, Egyptology tends to be regarded as a branch of Archaeology, and in turn a sub-discipline of Anthropology.
Anthropology is generally considered a true science, and from this point of view, it could be argued that Egyptology is, indeed, a science. But, if you consider Egyptology as more akin to Archaeology, the latter tends to be considered a social science, and by extension a humanities subject.
But what is the correct answer? Ultimately, we'll let you decide.
If after reviewing all this information, if you haven't been put off and are still determined to pursue a career in Egyptology, we'll be the first to wish you the best of luck! It won't be easy but by all accounts, Egyptology is a very rewarding, and challenging, field of study.