How to Become an Underwater Archaeologist

The ocean is a harsh place to live, but that doesn’t stop people from looking for adventure in the deep blue. Underwater explorers are at risk of decompression sickness, oxygen depletion and possible death as they explore shipwrecks or dive into caves with no light source below them. But if you’re interested in exploring underwater archaeology this might be just your job opportunity waiting for you!

The “underwater archaeology salary” is a career that requires the person to work underwater. This job can be very rewarding, but also has some challenges.

Frederick "Fritz" Hansel man underwater archaeologist in water.

We’re back with another installment of our So You Want My Job series, in which we speak with guys who work in coveted positions and ask them about the realities of their employment as well as tips on how men might achieve their goals. Texas Highways Magazine provided the above picture.

Underwater archaeology seems like something you’d only see in Indiana Jones movies or read about in Clive Cussler’s novels. It turns out that it’s a real-life job, and it’s exactly as coveted and FOMO-inducing as you would think.

As a student in college, Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann came upon a book about underwater archaeology. He finished the book that night, grew ecstatic about the career opportunities he had just discovered, and decided that this was the area for him. Frtiz’s job has carried him all over the globe in quest of the shipwrecks of Captains Kidd and Morgan, and has provided him with the opportunity to satisfy his passion for adventure as well as historical knowledge. In the video below, he offers advice to anybody who wants to follow in his footsteps.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What is your age? Describe your job, including how long you’ve been doing it, and so on.)

I grew raised in Indiana and was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I used to believe I was born in the wrong spot since there were no beaches in the area — unless you consider Lake Michigan. If I had grown up on the beach, I would not have been as motivated to pursue an aquatic profession. Having said that, we did spend time with my grandparents on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida every year.

I’m 35 years old and have been an underwater archaeologist for over ten years.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career as an underwater archaeologist? When did you realize this was what you wanted to pursue, and how did you end up in this field?

Water and history have always piqued my interest. Every year, I spent time on the beach, snorkeling, and free diving in the Gulf of Mexico as a kid. My grandfather used to stuff golf balls inside old dress socks, toss them to the bottom, and then have me swim down to collect them. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau repeats and everything else related to being beneath or on the ocean on television. I competed in swimming and worked as a lifeguard for numerous years. I was also a voracious reader, devouring books on topics such as the period of discovery, conquest, and colonization of the “Americas,” the old west, and so on. In high school, I was exposed to Clive Cussler’s works, which sparked my creativity. I suppose I always knew I wanted to be an underwater archaeologist, but it took a long time for me — and my father — to believe it was possible.


My freshman year of college, I took my first archaeology course and wrote a term paper on Bronze Age shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. Mesoamerican and Maya archaeology were equally fascinating to me. When I was able to afford it, I eventually got my diving certification. I picked Indiana University for graduate school because it was the only program in Latin America that had continuous field research and allowed me to work on not just shipwrecks but also submerged ancient sites. The persistent fear of not being able to support myself drove me to pursue a Master of Public Affairs with a concentration in submerged cultural resource management. I completed classes in economics, management, cost-benefit analysis, and sustainable development, among other things, in addition to scientific diving and underwater archaeology. I thought I needed a backup plan in case everything didn’t work out. Those courses have shown to be incredibly useful in controlling budgets and working on the development of marine protected zones in the long term. As a result, I dabble in fields other than archaeology.

The Office of Underwater Science at Indiana University engaged me to teach courses and assist with field projects, and things took off from there. I was able to work on projects like researching Captain Kidd’s lost ship, the Quedagh Merchant, searching for shipwrecks lost by Christopher Columbus on his third trip, researching Tano sites buried in caves, and helping to develop a marine protected area system in the Dominican Republic. I moved from Indiana University to the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and subsequently to Texas State University’s Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, where I am now Research Faculty, Chief Underwater Archaeologist, and Diving Program Director. Our headquarters are located on the shores of Spring Lake, a spring-fed lake that serves as the San Marcos River’s headwaters. The Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project, the Chagres River Maritime Landscape Study, the Monterrey Shipwreck Project, the Sunken Ships of Colombia Project, the Spring Lake Underwater Archaeology Project, and the McFaddin Beach Underwater Archaeology Project are all part of the center’s Underwater Archaeology and Exploration Initiative. I’m also aiding colleagues in continuing to develop archaeological activities in some of Mexico’s underwater cave systems, which are some of the most beautiful dives in the world.

So from Texas to Colombia, I study on submerged late Pleistocene prehistoric sites through pirate/privateer and colonial Spanish shipwrecks.

Frederick "Fritz" Hansel man underwater Achaeologist.

3. How can you best prepare for a career as an underwater archaeologist? What degree should you pursue, and what kind of experiences and talents should you seek?

I believe you must have a strong interest in history or prehistory, as well as a desire to be outdoors and on and in diverse bodies of water. Being a qualified diver is obviously advantageous, but being an efficient and competent diver is much more so. Use every opportunity to improve your diving talents, even if it’s only in the pool. Similarly, get as much experience as possible with archaeological projects. This covers data post-processing and writing. The bulk of our labor is artifact examination, historical research, and writing up the outcomes of our fieldwork. It isn’t all scuba diving, boats, sun, and fun. I consider myself quite fortunate in that we have a dive site right outside our building, which means that when my eyes go hazy from gazing at a computer screen for too long, I can escape and go diving literally right outside my door.


One of my major pieces of advice to anybody thinking about going into archaeology is to discover a talent that is still useful outside of archaeology. The fact that I’m multilingual in Spanish, as well as my expertise in project management and budgeting, helped me advance quickly in my job. Knowing how to handle magnetometers, side scan sonars, and other geophysical survey devices may be quite useful and can help you rise to the top of a list of employment hopefuls. It’s also beneficial to have a background in GIS (geographic information systems). It also helps to have basic diving abilities down pat; this way, no one needs to worry about your learning curve on a project, and incorporating you is as simple as plugging and playing. Divers with advanced abilities also operate in a more safer setting.

4. What are the many types of jobs available for underwater archaeologists? Are you employed by universities or private businesses? Is it a case of feast or famine, where you’re able to acquire sponsorships for searches at times and then have to wait for them to arrive at other times? When you and others aren’t diving or exploring, what do you do?

In all honesty, underwater archaeology is a rather small subject with little job chances. However, the chances that do exist may be found in a number of venues, including state and federal government jobs, universities, research institutions, and the private sector. The majority of the roles are in cultural resource management (CRM) businesses. These businesses offer services that ensure that federal and state regulations governing historic preservation and archaeological resources are followed, usually prior to significant building projects and other similar activities. If a site is to be disturbed, the objective is to ensure that nothing historically important is lost and that all available information is obtained.

5. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

It’s difficult to choose the finest aspect of my profession since there are so many things I like about it. Diving and being on the ocean are two of my favorite things to do. I like discovering new things, whether it’s while diving on a site or afterward during artifact analysis or archive research. I like the sense of adventure that comes with it all. Even though artifact examination might be laborious at times, there is always a feeling of adventure and discovery for me. It’s when we obtain the majority of the genuine information, such as a shipwreck’s date and origin. Interacting with history is one of my favorite things to do. Archaeology allows us to connect with our past rather than just read about it; it brings history to life.

One of the things of my profession that I like the most is sharing my enthusiasm with others, particularly students and individuals who are interested in the area. On a worldwide basis, we aren’t developing treatments for illnesses or resolving social issues. I got into it since it’s entertaining and helps us to discover more about ourselves and our background. One of the most significant and enjoyable components of this work is sharing that knowledge. There’s no purpose in doing anything if we’re not all learning something from it.


6. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

My wife Lyndee says I’m not just a glass-half-full type of man; I’m a glass-overflowing-with-sparkling-water kind of guy, so picking the worst is difficult. Some things, though, may be difficult. While I work at Texas State University, The Meadows Center is a self-funded research center, which means we must raise all of the funds to pay not just our research but also our wages, overhead, administrative personnel, and other expenses. As a result, we’re always working on grant submissions, donor requests, and sponsorship funds, among other things. When you add that to our regular research, teaching, and service activities, it’s no surprise that we’re all incredibly busy! Aside from that, I’m not sure whether there is a “worst” component.

Frederick "Fritz" Hansel man underwater Archaelogist.

Alan Franks is responsible for this image.

7. How do you strike a work-family-life balance?

Like any other job, striking a balance between work, family, and life is a balancing act. However, when you like your job as much as I do, it might seem like it isn’t work at all. I always look forward to going to work and performing my job. When deadlines for reporting or publishing loom, I don’t always get to visit my family as often as I’d want. The same thing happens when I’m working on a project hundreds of miles away from home. Bringing my family along on various initiatives has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve been able to accomplish in my quest for balance. I spent three months away from home on a project some years ago, and we determined that the separation was too difficult for all of us. We established a rule that if a project lasts more than three weeks (or a month if it’s really necessary), my family must follow me, and we’ve mostly adhered to it. It’s been incredible to see my two boys grow up with me in and on the sea. Eagan, my 10-year-old, began diving shallow reefs with me at the age of five, and Anders, my seven-year-old, had lived in four places before he turned one. He just had his first ocean dive last summer in Panama, and I believe he’s hooked. He was adamant about not returning! Lyndee has been really helpful and has even assisted with project work, from being on site to organizing expenses and logistics. It’s turned into a family affair. Of course, she wishes for the boys to become physicians and other professions, but when pressed, they constantly declare they want to be divers! Aside from spending quality time outdoors, the boys learn more about various people, cultures, and corners of the globe, which will benefit them much in the future, whether or not they follow in my footsteps.

8. What is the most common misunderstanding about your job?

The most common misunderstanding regarding underwater archaeology is that it is synonymous with treasure seeking or salvage. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how much coins or artifacts I have, or whether I’ll be able to retire if I locate a Spanish treasure galleon. Archaeologists do not believe in putting a monetary value on heritage or selling relics. That, we feel, is unethical. Archaeology is the scientifically grounded, methodical investigation of the physical remains of humanity in the past, such as shipwrecks or stone tool making sites. As an archaeologist, you will never be wealthy, but I can guarantee you that it is a lot of fun and well worth your time. My close buddy and I have joked that if we ever become wealthy, not much would change. We’d still be performing underwater archaeology and expeditions, but we’d have more money to do it, and we’d be able to do it on our own terms!


9. Do you have any other advice, recommendations, observations, or anecdotes to share?

I suppose I have some professional and personal advise to offer.

As I have said, anybody interested in underwater archaeology — or archaeology in general — should seek out and master a non-archaeological skill set that can be applied to archaeology, anything that will distinguish you from the usual archaeologist or archaeology student. Being multilingual in Spanish has been one of the most important aspects of my profession and project management in Latin America. Having attended economics and finance classes has helped me to never return home from a project with a negative budget. Ability to perform geophysical surveys using a magnetometer and sidescan sonar, as well as analyse the data, will set someone apart in the area and help them obtain work. GIS is another vital technology that just a few of us are acquainted with.

In terms of personal counsel, I believe that saying “I don’t know” should never be feared. I believe that we, as scientists, archaeologists, or any other kind of “-ologist,” are sometimes too eager to conjecture and theorize when we don’t have an accurate answer. When I say or think “I don’t know…”, it makes me want to find out the solution and gives me greater motivation to do so.

Years ago, a dear friend and colleague offered me some great advice, which I try to pass on to my boys, students, and others: don’t take yourself too seriously. When you take yourself too seriously, your judgment is clouded, you can’t be impartial, and you turn into an a**hole. We may work hard and give it our all, but at the end of the day, how we treat and collaborate with one another is what counts most. This will guarantee that projects are successful and that professional ties turn into long-lasting friendships, which has occurred on the majority of the projects I’ve worked on. This concept extends beyond occupations, professions, politics, civilizations, and so forth. Not only in underwater archaeology, but in life, being a nice person is essential.

Above all, have a good time! Life might be difficult, yet we can find enjoyment in the struggle.



The “marine archaeologist job responsibilities” is a profession that requires a lot of skill and training. The most important part of the job is to be able to find underwater artifacts.

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