Whether you want to excavate ancient temples or skeletons of extinct critters like dinosaurs and mammoths, archaeological and paleontological digs all over the world are looking for volunteers to lend a hand.
In exchange for tuition and sweat, participants receive hands-on instruction, room and board, and the deep gratification of contributing to important scientific discoveries. Most excavations are strenuous, dirty, and physically challenging, involving walking, squatting, and sometimes tolerating rugged accommodations without electricity, but they attract many passionate people of all ages — not just college kids earning credits.
Generally taking place in summer with a spring application deadline, projects take place in almost every nation accessible to researchers. Here are seven excavation opportunities that are actively seeking adult volunteers for 2022.
1. Biblical archaeology in Jordan
The site: Khirbat a-Balu’a
Located in north-central Jordan, Khirbat a-Balu’a extends more than 12 miles, and served for millennia as a waystation on the path to the Karak Plateau. The site has been occupied from the Early Iron Age, about 3,000 years ago, through today.
The finds: Among other artifacts, crews have excavated fortification structures and rare iron objects.
The details: The 2022 project runs from June 23 to August 4, with two half-sessions available. There is a minimum stay of three weeks. The price to participate in this archeological dig range from $1500 to $2500, depending on the length of stay and registration fees. College credit is available through La Sierra University.
Contact: Dr. Monique Roddy is reachable via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the Balu’a Regional Archaeological Project website if you’re keen to participate.
2. Archeological dig at an early settlement in Central Portugal
The site: The esteemed nonprofit Earthwatch Institute sponsors field school for adults interested in understanding the unsolved mysteries of prehistoric Portugal. The transition from pre-agricultural society to herding and farming is the primary focus of the Tagus Valley research. Participants in the 2022 fieldwork will excavate human remains, tools, and other indicators of the transition from hunting and gathering to longer-term settlement.
The finds: The main questions the head archaeologists are asking include how, when, and why Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples occupied the area, which happens to be one of the hottest debates in contemporary European archaeology. Field school participants will excavate shell mounds, analyze artifacts, and conduct lab work.
Details: Eight field sessions run for either one week or two between August 1, 2022 to late September 2022. Participants will stay in the nearby Palace of Muge Estate and couples’ rooms are available. Farm-fresh meals come from local restaurants that can accommodate special diets. Evening lectures are included, and 14-day sessions usually allocate a day or two for recreation. A one-week session is $2,850, and a two-week session costs $3995.
Contact: Dr. Nuno Bicho of the Universidade do Algarve is the project’s lead scientist. Contact Earthwatch for more information to apply.
3. A Mayan city in Belize
The site: Blue Creek, Belize
The Maya Research Program is a non-profit affiliate of the University of Texas at Tyler. It’s legit, certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists. The project’s overarching goal is to understand more about the societies of the Americas, and to educate interested people about the ethics and procedures of archaeology. The Blue Creek site is about 20 miles east of the Guatemalan border.
The finds: Over the years, the project has excavated a portion of an ancient Mayan city. Among many other finds, this has included artifacts that indicate pre-Hispanic trade; residential, religious, and civic buildings; pottery; lithics (archaeology jargon for “stone tools”); jade; jewelry; irrigation systems; and sacred objects.
The details: There are three two-week field sessions in 2022, running from June 6 through mid-July. UT also offers four laboratory classes in the field on topics like archaeological artifact analysis and 3D mapping. Non-student volunteers pay $1,850 for a two-week field session; students enrolled in accredited college courses get a break and only pay $1,600. Participants are housed in a two-story building with a kitchen, or nearby cabanas without electricity. Meals and water are included, and laundry is available for a small fee. Evening lectures cover topics like conservation, mapping, and the sad history of looting Mayan remains.
Contact: For more information, check out the project’s website or email email@example.com.
4. Pre-Inca military interactions in Peru
The site: Pan de Azúcar de Nepeña, Peru
This Institute for Field Research sponsored field school in coastal Peru teaches university students and the general public (18 years old and older) to excavate and analyze 1,000-year-old Peruvian remains like ceramics, textiles, and skeletons. The field school’s research agenda is to understand how the coastal Casma people reacted to the nearby warrior Chimú culture, and how resistance facilitated the Casma’s persistence. Students will learn both excavation and laboratory analysis skills, as well as attend lectures and go on field trips.
Finds: So far archaeologists at the field school site have located a fortified adobe platform, 13 nearby mounds, and a cemetery.
Details: The field school offers two sessions in 2022: June 4 to July 2 and July 2 to July 30. The cost is $3,870 for a full four-week program’s worth of instruction, room and board, local transportation, health and evacuation insurance, and a field trip to the coastal site of Chan Chan. Participants stay in a fully furnished field house in the nearby town of Nepeña. As with many field schools and immersive experiences, proof of full COVID-19 vaccination is required of all participants.
Contact: Check out the website for the Nepeña field school if you are interested in partaking.
5. Roman archaeology in the Austrian Alps
The site: The Roman site of Municipum Claudium Aguntum is situated in Austria not far from Leinz in the Eastern Alps. Geographically and socially, the site stands as a threshold between the Romans of two distinct regions. The peak occupation of the site lasted from about the time of Christ to 500 AD.
The finds: Participants can expect to excavate large structures as well as smaller material culture, and will have the opportunity to analyze some in a laboratory setting. Complementary coursework will be available to students who seek even more enrichment.
Details: The 2022 summer program is likely to be capped at 10 students. It runs from July 25 to August 19, 2022. Participants must be 18 or older and content is delivered in English. The cost is around $2000, not including housing which is another 350.
Contact: For more information, contact Martin Auer of the University of Innsbruck at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Prehistory of the US Southwest in Gallina, New Mexico
The site: About 9000 years ago, the indigenous people of the United States desert began to interact with other cultures and new technologies, foods, and structures. The area grew somewhat violent as peoples fought for scarce resources. Desert archaeology preserves remarkably well, so archaeologists can piece together events that wetter parts of the world can obfuscate. Students at this field school will work to better understand the Gallina peoples of New Mexico – ancient rebels who for 200 years between 1100 and 1300 CE actively resisted elite encroachment on their landscape.
The finds: At the Gallina site, students will find, analyze, and interpret ancient structures, tools, ceramics, and more. One aspect of this field school that sets it apart is that participants will engage in community outreach and preservation of the Gallina’s lifeway. As with many of the other field school experiences, all participants must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Details: The field school runs from May 18 to June 22, 2022. Cost is $4160. Students will also take field trips to important nearby sites like Chaco as well as lectures, storytelling, and other educational components. Camp housing is near the site and food is enjoyed communally.
Contact: Dr. Lewis Borck of the University of Missouri heads up the school. He can be reached at email@example.com. Check out the website to learn more about the program.
7. Presidential estate in Montpelier, Virginia
The site: The Montpelier Foundation manages US President James Monroe’s Virginia estate. One of the most important aspects of the archaeology of Montpelier is the reconstruction of the daily lives of the many enslaved people who labored there.
The finds: Much of the mansion and its grounds are intact but archaeologists keep finding more artifacts that round out the story of events that occurred there. Participants will find everything from ceramics to foundations of wooden structures. Most of the artifacts and features (which are immobile artifacts) date back to the 1700s and 1800s with some being more contemporary.
Details: There are four available types of field programs through the Montpelier Foundation. They are excavation, surveying or “finding” sites and artifacts, lab analysis, and historic structure reconstruction. Sessions take place almost year-round. The first session is in March 2022. There are special sessions for high school students and even children, and the foundation offers some thematic sessions like “Wine and Archaeology” throughout the year. Excavation programs last a week and cost $850 and include some meals and souvenirs. Shorter programs cost about $500. None of the programs include lodging.
Contact: Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and visit the project’s website.
8. Biblical archeology in Israel
The site: Israel’s Jezreel Valley is full of sites, many from biblical times. The Jezreel Valley Regional Project runs excavations throughout the valley, and allows volunteers and students to participate in several aspects of the endeavor. In most years, the JVRP has four excavations and one survey project to find more sites. Some of the sites are cities, like Tell Abu Shusha where King Herod based his armed forces. Others, like Legio, which is the focus of 2022’s field season, are 2000-year-old Roman legion bases.
The finds: Past students and volunteers have found objects dating back to ancient times, depending on the specific site they excavated. Some objects were used for ritual, others were household material culture and weapons of war.
Details: The dates for the Legio field program are May 13 to June 2, 2022. Scholarships are available.
Contact: Check the JVRP volunteer website to keep up to date about costs and for FAQs. That’s also where you’ll find the travel details and forms to submit deposits.
A version of this article was previously published on January 3, 2019, and was updated on January 5, 2022.