We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Egyptologist

The Real Poop

Egyptologists study Egypt.

We realize this may come as quite a shock.

There are as many kinds of Egyptologists as there are (or were) things to find in Egypt. Egyptologists trained in archaeology (also called Egyptian archaeologists for some strange reason) conduct excavations primarily in Egypt to add to and further explain our body of knowledge about the ancient Nile River civilization. 

These are your Indiana Jones-types, who you might imagine scaling pyramids with one hand on the rock and the other firmly clamped to his leather hat...but really they just do a lot of digging.

Then there is the Egyptian philologist (or the Daniel Jackson-type for you Stargate fans) feverishly working out inscriptions and hieroglyphics to figure out which are historical records and which are mummy-raising curses.

 
You may even work at amusement parks. (Source)

Egyptologists work in academia as translators, historians, art historians, instructors, and researchers. They may work in museums as curators, registrars, researchers, and exhibit creators. On average they make $50,000 a year to unravel the past (Get it? Because mummies.) (source). While tourism is one of the main drivers of the Egyptian economy, few Egyptologists actually work in tourism—most are in it for the archaeological discoveries and research glory. 

Egyptologists sometimes appear in public lectures or on television, as "talking heads" in documentaries, or consultants for Hollywood to make films more authentic.

All periods of Egyptian history and culture are included, though most Egyptologists focus on what is called the pharaonic (a.k.a. Pharaohs, a.k.a. those mummies you want to find) period from 4000 BCE until that time Mark Antony and Cleopatra decided to digest snake venom rather than getting captured by Roman legionnaires in 30 BCE.

Becoming an Egyptologist requires many years of education—and becoming an employed Egyptologist requires some luck on top of that. There's roughly one job for every five trained Egyptologists right now, making it awfully tough for newbies to squeeze their way in. This means careful planning and specialization toward the needs of a particular potential employer or subfield is mandatory.

Unlike medicine, there's no such thing as an Egyptologist in general practice. Every successful Egyptologist has one or more narrow (and often obscure) specialty, guaranteed to create job security and improve their odds of standing out to whatever museum, university, or other research institution that they want to work for. 

If you really think you're going to be hired to study ancient beer jars from Abydos, you really better at least read a book about them beforehand. Each archaeologist hires for his own dig, and because of the surplus of available people, it's unlikely they'll choose someone who doesn't have the precise specialty that they need.

 
Whatever pays the bills. (Source)

What do people do when they wash out of this gig? Whatever they can, as often as they can. You can continue to study in the hopes of getting picked up elsewhere, fall back on your other background (you have one right?), or maybe just say forget it and move on to making short films.

Once you've navigated the deserts of a long education and competition and landed an Egyptology job, you'll be able to laugh in hindsight, but until then keep that laughter to yourself. Humanities or not, this field is at least as competitive as medical school. 

You'll have to be smart, but you'll also have to be stubborn and have the requisite obsession to persevere through many necessary and unnecessary obstacles to a paying career in Egyptology.

If you really just want to dabble a bit in Egyptian history, you could always become a docent at a museum with an Egyptian exhibit, or join an Egyptological society or internet mailing list about Egypt. Only serious Egyptophiles need apply (yes, that's a word).