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Archeologists are one of the harder roles, but can become powerful in the late game. They are often called Arcs for short and start the game with Speed and Stealth. According to the guidebook:

Archeologists understand dungeons pretty well; this
enables them to move quickly and sneak up on the local nasties.
They start equipped with the tools for a proper scientific expedition.

Archeologists can be lawful (human or dwarf) or neutral (human or gnome).

Starting equipment


Archeologists gain the following abilities upon reaching the specified experience level:



Main articles: Hit points and energy

You start with a base 11 HP, with a racial bonus: +2 for humans, +4 for dwarves, +1 for gnomes.

You start with a base power of 1, with a racial bonus: +2 for gnomes, +1 for humans.


Main article: Archeologist quest

The archeologist quest artifact is The Orb of Detection, a crystal ball. When carried, it confers magic resistance, telepathy and half damage when attacked by spells. When #invoked, it toggles invisibility on/off.


Main article: Religion
  • Lawful: Quetzalcoatl
  • Neutral: Camaxtli
  • Chaotic: Huhetotl

Rank titles

The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:

  • XL 1-2: Digger
  • XL 3-5: Field Worker
  • XL 6-9: Investigator
  • XL 10-13: Exhumer
  • XL 14-17: Excavator
  • XL 18-21: Spelunker
  • XL 22-25: Speleologist
  • XL 26-29: Collector
  • XL 30: Curator


The archeologist's attire is heavily influenced by the Indiana Jones movies - you start with a leather jacket, fedora and bullwhip.


Early Archeologists are neither berserkers nor powerful spellcasters, but can - and must - become proficient tool-users. By this it is meant that an Arc must use every item in Nethack to an expert degree: their pet, their touchstone, their pickaxe, their sack and so forth. The early game must be played cautiously, akin to the Tourist and Healer. Arc is considered the most difficult role in the majority of samplings over NAO.

Your starting touchstone will instantly identify a gem even when uncursed, which can make the first few floors of the mines very profitable. Between the ability to identify gems and the ability to use your pick-axe to dig up vaults, you can accumulate a lot of wealth in just the first few floors of the dungeon and mines. You can aim to purchase protection as soon as you reach Minetown, even without having to play a dangerous protection racket strategy. Luck is very important early in the game, so save at least one cheap gem to throw to a co-aligned unicorn. Throwing an identified precious gem gives a very large boost to luck, so you might consider doing it even before you find a luckstone.

Archeologists should try to have poison resistance before even thinking of doing the quest because the quest is full of poisonous snakes. Players should learn or familiarize themselves with safe-to-eat monsters that give poison resistance as this is a major danger to Arcs who start with low constitution and hp in most cases.

Because Arcs start with low physical stats and often even melee penalties, acquiring an artifact weapon is a central concern. Since they start with a good supply of rations and a tinning kit, they should continually conserve food by praying instead of consuming, and when they find an altar camp there and defeat monsters until they can convert the altar and get an artifact weapon. Lawful and Neutral Arcs have good gift possibilities (Greyswandir, Mojo, Vorpal, Magicbane). Chaotics can hope for Stormbringer, Fire Brand, or Frost brand, or even Orcrist or one of the -Banes (which still all have a +1d6 to-hit bonus) but may get stuck with a poor gift, in which case you should continue to sacrifice for another. After getting an artifact weapon that adds +1d6 to hit, they will be better able to employ two-weaponing, as the second weapon is guaranteed to hit if the first (artifact weapon) one does.

Since Arcs cannot fight very well at first and start with Stealth and Speed, invisibility is a highly desirable quality for avoiding monsters. A fast, invisible, stealthy opponent is hard to chase down. Their quest artifact provides it but they may want to get it at first opportunity (from wand, cloak, etc).

Arcs are better suited at the protection racket than any other class, as they can get money easily and can dig down to gnometown. Some may even start with a lightsource to boot. Be careful digging pits and holes, though as you can get attacked while doing it, or get interrupted. However they are also excellent at Sokobon because they start with a pickaxe with which to erase any boulder puzzle mistakes, and a sack to store lots of food and items. Since their stats start so low, pushing boulders in Sokobon to develop strength is also desirable. Lastly Sokobon has food in abundance which aids in altar-camping when trying to sacrifice for an artifact. However since random monsters are auto-generated on the Oracle level (and many are quite strong), as well as being populated by bones files on NAO, players may want to dig down past the Oracle level to get to the entrance to Sokobon.

Archaeologists can read most Spellbooks without needing to bless them as they start with high intelligence and proficiency in matter, divination, healing, or attack. At the same time Armor is critical as they have low hit points and start with no armor. Whether to cast spells or wear metal armor is dictated by what items the player gets from the RNG.

The use of "Elbereth" is an absolute necessity to an archaeologist. To this end, their touchstone will identify harder gems which can engrave in the floor. In this way they can safely fight monsters that normally they couldn't defeat, but remember engraving with a gem or dagger takes turns and exposes you to attack until the word is complete. Of course wands of lightning, fire and digging are also indispensable for this reasons. They may also want to collect daggers with which to engrave and use their sack to segregate similar daggers (so they don't engrave with 5 daggers and simultaneously make them all dull). Engraving first "El" and then adding "bereth" will let you engrave the whole word with one dagger. This is advisable to do on a staircase to run back to in case of trouble.

The use of pet tactics to aid in the protection racket (killing monsters for you so you don't gain levels) or to aid in melee is another important skill to have when playing this role. Just having a pet (or multiple pets) so as to distract a monster so you can use speed and stealth to get away is extremely important.

Weapon selection and skills

Maximum skills

Archeologist skills
Max Skills

Starting skills

Archeologists start with Basic skill in the categories Whip and Pick-axe

Weapon strategy

The best early weapons are the pick-axe and your starting whip (purely for the +2 bonus; whips are ordinarily quite poor). The whip can be applied towards a monster, which will disarm the monster if your dexterity is 6 or higher. This can be a lifesaver when fighting some monsters, given your poor starting AC. Dwarvish mattocks are two handed pick-axes that do more damage than any other non-artifact weapon. Generally you should use the pickaxe and advance it in skill whenever possible, preparing for finding a Dwarvish Mattock. However, if you start out with physical stats that assign penalties (such as 9 STR or 9 DEX) you may need to use the whip, purely for it's +2 bonus.

The best artifact weapon for you is Grayswandir, which does double-damage and silver damage.It is one of the few artifact weapons you can advance to Expert. A normal silver saber is an excellent weapon - the watch captain in Minetown often carries one, so consider getting a pet to kill him for it. If you disarm him with your whip, that will help your pet, and will anger him but not anger other guards. As noted before the neutral artifact weapons for Archaeologists are quite good as well, and will allow you to start being effective with two-weapon skill (due to most having a +1d6 bomus). Lawful Arcs that manage to find a longsword can also dip for Excalibur. This is a desparate move as the +1d5 to hit and the -4 for using it unskilled cancels out. However Excalibur does +1d10 to all monsters, which may mean life or death when facing ants, killer bees or a horde of orcs. Sacrificing later and getting a different longsword gift (such as Firebrand, Demonbane or Sunsword) may unrestrict it.

Archeologists have several decent options for melee weapons available in the early game, but the lack of a good ranged weapon will really hurt in the beginning. Boomerangs can be advanced to expert, but your chances of finding one without polypiling aren't very good and their flight pattern is unusual. While a boomerang will only return to you in a relatively open space, it has such high potential damage it can be effectively used as a conventional ranged weapon in tighter quarters, albeit over a short distance and with no return. Slings can be advanced to skilled, but they are weak and rocks are very heavy. However, with your starting touchstone you will identify numerous pieces of worthless glass which do the same damage as a rock but at 1/10 the weight. Darts and daggers are your other two plentiful options in the early game, both of which can be advanced to basic. Of these, daggers are probably the better option because you will never lose them. However if you find a large stack of darts with +2 or better enchantment, you might consider using those instead.

So you will definitely want to give a skill slot to daggers (or possibly darts). Advancing pick-axe to expert is probably also a good idea, as a dwarvish mattock may be your primary weapon until you get an artifact. That artifact will hopefully be Grayswandir, so advance saber if you find one. That uses 12 skill slots so far, which you will have available at XL 13 - before you do the quest.

Later on you may want expert (or skilled if you can get away with decent spell failure rates) divination for casting magic mapping and identify, and basic in two weapon combat for supplementing your artifact sword with a silver saber. That uses 19 skill slots, for which you must be XL 20.

Boomerangs are a very powerful ranged weapon. They are probably the most powerful ranged weapon available to Archeologists in the game. Unfortunately they are also very rare. If you find one or two early on, it's probably worth advancing your skill to basic. Very late in the game (XL 20 or over) you might consider polypiling for them. A stack of +7 boomerangs can do a lot of damage if advanced to expert level. However, it's probably not worth advancing your skill in boomerangs past basic if you only have 1 or 2 of them--thus this is only a viable strategy late in the game.

Actions specific to an archeologist

The following actions abuse your alignment record:

  • digging up graves, if you are lawful. (You get the relevant message, "You feel like a despicable grave robber," regardless of your alignment, but do not suffer any negative consequences if you are neutral, for example.)
  • breaking historically significant statues, like the ones on the Oracle level. (If you want to get at the spellbooks they might contain but avoid the alignment penalty, one effective workaround is to position yourself in a line with the statues and have a monster zap a wand of striking at you.)

Ascension kit

Main article: Ascension kit

You should not rely on The Orb of Detection as a source of magic resistance; the Wizard of Yendor can easily steal it. Assuming you do not wish for another quest artifact or use Magicbane, that essentially requires you to wear either gray dragon scale mail or a cloak of magic resistance.


In SLASH'EM, Archeologists may be doppelgangers, elves, or hobbits in addition to the vanilla roles. They can use the research technique at level 1. The starting equipment has also changed.

They begin with a spellbook, one of detect food, detect monsters, light, knock, or wizard lock, 2 random scrolls, a 25% chance of a blindfold, a 25% chance of a towel if they did not get a blindfold, 25% chance of a leash, a 25% chance of a tin opener or a 25% chance of either an oil lamp or a torch if they did not get the tin opener, and a 12.5% chance of a magic marker. The starting fedora has also changed in SLASH'EM and gives +1 charisma and acts as a luckstone when worn.


UnNetHack replaces the Orb of Detection with the Itlachiayaque, an artifact shield of reflection, that confers ESP, half spell damage and fire resistance. When invoked, it produces player targettable stinking cloud.

Encyclopedia entry

Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. [...]
So forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel,
and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried
treasure, and X never, ever, marks the spot.

[ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ]

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