Beginner's Guide to Archaeology

So you want to be an Archaeologist?

The first thing you should understand is that Archaeology isn't a money-making profession, it's purely a fun activity. If you try it and you're not having fun, you're not required to keep doing it. All of the perks associated with Archaeology are personal to you. It won't make you more powerful or help you in raids. The items you collect will mostly be oriented to teaching you the lore of the game. Occasionally you'll find an artifact that's a novelty piece, such as a pet or mount. Just be sure your expectations are appropriate going into it -- this activity is meant to be fun!

An important thing to bear in mind is that you cannot power level Archaeology. This isn't a tradeskill where it's possible to purchase all the required components on the Auction House and blast your way to the skill cap in a few hours. There is a massive amount of traveling involved and there's no shortcut to completion. The upside is that you get experience by looting artifacts, so it's a nice alternative to questing and other combat-oriented activities.

Companion Skills

This is a secondary profession, so there are no companion skills. There are some aids you can get from other professions, but none that will make a huge difference for you. Anything that enables you to travel more easily will be helpful. Mages who can portal to major cities will have a modest advantage, although they still have to get to the dig sites the long way. Dwarves have a racial that gives them bonus fragments and allows their survey ability to work faster. Scribes have teleport scrolls that allow them to hearth home more frequently, Druids have their Teleport spell for easy access to northern Kalimdor, the vendor rings that port you to Dalaran are handy for Northrend dig sites. There are a number of small bonuses that players can use to get around, so don't be shy if you have access to one or more of these.

Starting Your Adventure

The first thing you should do is visit an Archaeology trainer. The most obvious mentor to select is Harrison Jones in the Stormwind Library. Horde players can train with Belloc Brightblade, a snappy-dressing blood elf inside Grommash Hold in Orgrimmar. Or if you happen to be in Dalaran you can visit Dariness the Learned in the Legerdemain Lounge. There are other trainers in most major cities, just ask a city guard to mark your mini-map with their location.

There are no special tools for Archaeology, you'll get the abilities you need from your trainer. The main ability you'll be using is Survey. To get started you'll need to consult your continent map. This is the map that shows the whole continent you're currently on, so click the "Zoom Out" button once after hitting the "M" button to bring up the map. Once you have the continent map loaded, you should see a few small shovel icons on it. There are always four dig sites on each continent. Decide which dig site you want to visit and take a flight path to it. You can also fly there with your flying mount if you prefer, but that takes more attention on your part.

Once you arrive at your chosen zone, consult your continent map to figure out what area the dig site is in. If you put your mouse pointer over the shovel on the map, you should be able to see the name of the dig site. This can be tricky if the dig site is next to or on top of another map object. Just do your best. Dig sites are generally named after the area they're found in, for example the Andorhal dig site is near the Andorhal section of Western Plaguelands. Familiarity with the various locations in each zone will be very helpful when tracking down dig sites. The zone map should have a red "cloud" over the dig site area, but if you can't see it just try to get as close to the target area as you can before you start surveying. Another option is to log your character out and back in to regenerate the map display. If you're outside of the dig site area you'll get an error when trying to survey. You can also use your mini-map to identify your location, the name at the top of the mini-map is the "sub-zone" for your current location. If it matches the name of the dig site, you're in business.

Now it's time to start surveying for ancient artifacts! You have a new ability called "Survey" in your spellbook. Drag this spell to a spot on your hotbar so you can access it more easily, you'll be using it a lot. Clicking the spell will place a survey tool on the ground near you, which looks like a telescope on a tripod. The survey tool has an indicator light on it, which glows in one of three colors depending on your proximity to the artifact you are tracking. Red means you're pretty far away, but the large end of the scope is pointing you in the direction of the object. Yellow means you're getting closer, but probably at least 50 yards away. Green means the object is very close, within 40 yards of you. This part is a bit like hide-and-seek, so just be patient. When you're close enough to click on the missing object, it will spawn near you. These objects are called "finds" since they are just fragments of an artifact. Most often they look like an urn or a tablet. Each object will contain 2-6 fragments, which are added to your Archaeology journal.

Dwarf Object Troll Object Night Elf Object Fossil Object
Dwarf Object Troll Object Night Elf Object Fossil Object

After you've located your first object you can start surveying again for the next object. Each dig site has three hidden fragment objects. Once you find them all the site will be exhausted and you'll need to pick a new dig site from your continent map. Emptying one dig site will always spawn a new dig site somewhere else on the current continent. The locations are random - sometimes it will be in the same zone and sometimes it will be clear across the continent. Also, dig sites are unique to your character. You may see other players surveying in the same place you are, but only you can loot the artifacts you track.

The Archaeology Journal

Artifact fragments are automatically added to your Archaeology journal. You access your journal by clicking the brownish icon in the Archaeology section of your Professions window.

Current Artifact

This is an image which shows the current artifact being researched. You can see at the bottom it shows a progress bar which has the number of fragments you've collected and the number required to solve. In this image the 'Solve' button is gray, indicating that we cannot yet solve this artifact. Note the small hexagon in the lower left corner. This is where we would place our keystone if we were using one for this artifact. Keystones are discussed below in the section for Bonus Items

There are ten different races you can collect artifacts for and each race has its own section in the journal for tracking artifact fragments. When you have enough fragments from a particular race to complete an artifact, a "Solve" button is activated. Click the button to solve the current artifact and unlock a new one!

Here is a list of the types of artifacts you'll be hunting:

Eastern Kingdoms
Kalimdor
Night Elf | Troll | Dwarf | Fossil
Outland Draenei | Orc
Northrend Vrykul | Nerubian
Cataclysm Tol'vir | (not yet implemented)

There are two types of artifacts: Common and Rare. A common artifact will typically require 25-45 fragments to solve. Rare artifacts often require 100-150 fragments to solve. Common artifacts have no use and just provide a bit of lore and a small amount of coin when you sell them to a vendor. Rare artifacts are actually rare or epic items that can be used by you or sometimes other characters on your account. If an artifact is a piece of gear, it will typically be bound to your account so you can mail it to a more appropriate character. Rare items are usually soulbound, meaning the character who solves the artifact is the only one that can use it. These items tend to be more novelty-oriented, so this shouldn't be a problem for you.

Bonus Items

The number of fragments required for each artifact can vary from 25 to 150. Luckily there is a type of bonus available to aid this process. These are lootable items called keystones. Occasionally when you're looting fragments you'll get a keystone as well. Each race has a different keystone, which can only be used to complete artifacts for that race. To use a keystone, open your journal and select one of the artifacts you're working on. Under the progress bar there will be a hexagonal opening if you can use a keystone on that artifact. Not all artifacts will allow you to use keystones, but rare artifacts will often let you use two or three at once. Click on the open spot to insert your keystone into the slot. The keystone will increase your fragment count by 12, acting as a wildcard of sorts. Using keystones will let you solve artifacts more quickly. Personally I save my keystones for rare artifacts, which eases the pain of collecting 100+ fragments for one item.

At this time keystones are not soulbound and can be traded or sold. This is the only potential revenue source for Archaeology, it remains to be seen whether it will be a lucrative one.

Optimizing Travel Time

Archaeology involves a lot of traveling from zone to zone and between continents as well. There are a variety of ways to optimize this, using whatever travel shortcuts you have available to you is one way. Another is to prioritize your dig sites. If you have two dig sites north of Ironforge and one in Booty Bay, head north first. By doing that you can ensure you get two dig sites with less travel in between them. Plus you increase the odds that a new dig site will spawn closer to Booty Bay. If you travel south first, you only have a 25% chance that a new dig site will spawn to the south after you clear the Booty Bay site. Exhausting the two sites to the north gives you a 50% chance that a new dig site will pop up in the southern portion of the continent. In this scenario I would stay in the northern end of the continent until all the spawns were south of my location, then start working my way south.

Unlocking New Races

When you first start Archaeology you can only solve four types of artifacts: Night Elf, Troll, Dwarf and Fossil. Other races become available as your Archaeology skill goes up. This means you'll spend the bulk of your time in the "classic" zones, which are in Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms. While you can go to other continents and collect artifacts, you can't solve those artifacts until your skill is high enough. You need an Archaeology skill of 300 to activate a new set of races, this is the Draenei and the Orcs. Dig sites for these two races always spawn in Outland. You will occasionally find dig sites for other races there as well, but there's no real reason to survey in Outland before reaching 300 skill.

Once you get to 375 skill you can unlock the Vrykul and Nerubian races in Northrend. The Outland and Northrend artifacts require more fragments than the previous races, so you may prefer to stay in the classic zones where the fragment requirements are lower. You do tend to get more fragments from looting in these higher zones, but I don't think it completely makes up for the increased fragment requirements. Each race has its own set of rare items, so if your priority is on discovering rare items you may welcome the opportunity to start working on a new race. The last race you'll unlock will be the Tol'vir, this is only available to you at 450 Archaeology skill. Currently Tol'vir dig sites spawn predominantly in Uldum, a level 83+ zone.

The Leveling Process

Initially you'll be getting skill points in Archaeology for looting fragment objects. This is a short-lived scenario and eventually those easy skill points will dry up. At that point the only way to get skill points is by solving artifacts. Each time you solve a common artifact, you'll get 5 skill points. Solving a rare artifact rewards 15 skill points. As you may imagine, this is a pretty slow way to level a profession. Based on my timed sessions I've estimated that it takes an average of 20 minutes to solve one artifact. This can vary depending on how far apart the dig sites spawn for you, but over longer play sessions it balances out to around 20 minutes per artifact. The total time investment to get from 1 to 525 Archaeology skill will likely be around 30 hours.

Looting Artifacts

Skill Range Difficulty
1 to 25 Orange
26 to 76 Yellow
76 to 100 Green
100 and up Gray

Optimizing the Leveling Process

To optimize your leveling process, I recommend not solving artifacts until you reach 50 skill. The skill points you get from looting fragments dry up at 50, so you may as well hold off on solving artifacts until you hit that number. Technically the fragments are still green to you at 50 skill, but I have looted 100+ spawns beyond 50 skill and didn't get even one additional skill point. Bear in mind that you'll be collecting fragments all the way to 525 skill, so there's no legitimate reason to start solving fragments early. There's also no penalty for collecting more fragments than the current artifact requires to be solved. Fragments continue to accrue long after you reach the number required for the current artifact, there's a hard cap of 200 fragments per race. However, I understand that some folks will be unable to resist the temptation to start solving artifacts, so I encourage you to wait until at least 50 skill.

Another option for leveling efficiently is to stay in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms while you work on Archaeology. You get skill points for any artifact you solve, no matter which race it's for. The Night Elf, Troll, Dwarf and Fossil artifacts tend to have lower fragment requirements. This helps you increase skill points more quickly by reducing the amount of collection that goes into each artifact. The only reason to survey Outland and Northrend zones is to discover the artifacts specific to those races. If that's not your primary objective, you should progress more quickly in the lower zones. Thanks to the additional flight paths that have been added to the lower zones, you can also travel a bit more quickly too.

The full loot table for Archaeology ever-changing and new artifacts can be added at any time. For a comprehensive list of the currently discovered artifacts, please visit Wowhead's Archaeology Chart.

Please Note: This guide was updated for patch 4.2, some information may have changed. If you notice any errors, please contact us!