It really wasn’t until the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark that most of us thought archaeology could be cool. Indiana Jones, with his whip, fedora, and confident smirk, had all of us reconsidering our future vocational choices. And while there are no Nazis, no rolling boulders and no daring escapes in archaeology as it exists in World of Warcraft, it’s still strangely mesmerizing and potentially very rewarding. It’s not without drawbacks, sure, but Cataclysm has made getting your hands dirty in search of Azerothian ancient history a lot of fun.
Joining First Aid, Cooking and Fishing, Archaeology is a secondary skill. It won’t interfere with the two professions a character currently practices. This means there is really no reason not to train the skill. You’ll find an archaeology trainer in every major Horde and Alliance city, and for a handful of copper that trainer will teach you to survey an area in search of artifacts ranging from vendor trash of very minor interest to relics of wondrous power.
Once a character trains archaeology, dig sites will be represented on the map of Azeroth by small shovels, and at any given time there will be four dig sites per continent. Zooming in to a zone map, you’ll find the dig site itself highlighted. Unlike herb and mining nodes, dig sites are player specific – you’ll never find yourself competing with other players when surveying. After flying, riding, or hoofing it to the dig site, it’s time to survey. A few seconds later, a telescope and a small light will appear on the screen. The telescope indicates which direction you’ll need to move to dig up your prize, whereas the light indicates distance – a green light means it’s very close, whereas red means you have some walking to do. A few trials later and you’re rewarded with a fragment (or two) of an artifact! After digging around at a few different sites, you’ll be able to put the fragments together and assemble the piece of history itself. These lower level items will barely net you cab fare at the vendor, but at the higher end of archaeology are some truly legendary relics that will make you the envy of everyone who crosses your path. If you’re an achievement junkie, there are both personal and guild achievements available in archaeology as well, including the title ‘Professor’ for putting together 20 artifacts.
The real hook in the practice of archaeology in WoW is the journal. Each time a player digs up a different fragment, it creates a new page in the journal. This journal page records the particular artifact’s progress as they obtain more fragments, which is handy, but certainly not its most compelling function. Buried in the well-worn, leather-bound virtual book are pages of knowledge revealing just what the artifact was, who might have used it, where it was used, and the artifact’s place in World of Warcraft lore. You don’t have to be a WoW lore nerd to find these fascinating, and oftentimes very funny. My dwarf recently put together a scandalous silk nightgown of Night Elf origin; its useless except as vendor trash, but the journal description was pretty darn amusing.
Time and travel are perhaps the two biggest drawbacks of the Azerothian archaeologist. Currently, each dig site will only net three fragments before going dry. To really make any headway in archaeology, you’ll need to travel. A lot. You can cut down on travel time dramatically via mage portals, but the best way to limit your time between sites is training Artisan Riding and purchasing yourself a swift mount. Artisan riding isn’t cheap. This skill will set you back 5,000 gold. The swift flying mount will run you just 100 gold. Both of these costs can be reduced by favorable reputation. You’ll also need to buy a Flight Master’s License for 250 gold. This is a pretty expensive buy-in, and while it certainly isn’t mandatory for practicing archaeology, blazing across the friendly skies of Azeroth is the best way to get from site to site quickly and without having to negotiate landmarks, mobs, bodies of water or, if you’re on a PvP server, hostile players.
Planning your route with an eye towards exactly what you’re looking to dig up will help minimize your down time as well. If you’re looking to dig up Night Elf fragments to put together an ancient Kaldorei relic, you’ll want to find sites in traditionally Night Elf zones like Darkshore or Ashenvale, not Dun Morogh or Durotar. Since you can only work on one artifact at a time, you’ll need to be mindful of the sites you choose.
The first time I heard about the mechanics of archaeology and watched it in practice, it occurred to me that archaeology could be the new fishing. While that may be unattractive for those who find fishing boring, it had me lining up to put my money down and get to surveying. It’s a great way to explore the newly destroyed and renovated zones of Azeroth, to sink your teeth into some engrossing and, at times, very funny morsels of lore, and one day put together an epic-quality item, a fossilized raptor mount, or some Night Elf unmentionables of your own.
“Al Diel Shala.” (Safe Travels.) – Thalassian parting wish
Dateline Azeroth updates every Tuesday. Next week we’ll talk about lining the pockets of your freshly-minted level 1-20 character.