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WoW Archaeology: Getting Started
World of Warcraft Archaeology is a secondary profession, which means that everyone can learn and have fun with it. There is a trainer in each faction's capital city. After training, you can immediately start digging up artifact fragments. From level 1-300, artifacts can only be dug up in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. These artifact fragments come from Night Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, and fossils. Level 300-375 opens up dig sites in Outlands, with level 375-450 in Northrend. Above that, dig sites are available in the new high level areas of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms.
But why do Archaeology? To start with, it's simply a relaxing activity to do; it also brings a sense of history and lore to the game, since an array interesting artifacts can be assembled from the various fragments. Most of these artifacts are BoP and vendor for amounts that range from a few silver to several gold. At high levels, rare and epic quality items can be assembled, including weapons, a pet, and a mount. Also, like other gathering professions, for those not max level it's a way to earn XP for times when you don't feel like grinding or doing quests.
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Finding Where to Dig in WoW Archaeology
At the very beginning, be in either Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms. Look at the map and zoom out to the single continent view. There will be four dig sites available on each continent at any one time. When one dig site is exhausted (more on this later) a new one will appear in a different location. The dig sites show up as little spades on the map. A mouseover on the site will give the site's name, which is normally some sort of ruins (artifacts from a culture), or a fossil field.
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Surveying For Fun and Profit
The "survey" command is the lifeblood of WoW archaeology. Use it in one of the red highlighted dig sites. This will have one of four effects:
Telescope with yellow light - artifact fragments are 100-300 yards away in the direction the telescope is pointing.
Use these visual clues to play "hot and cold" or triangulate the position of the artifact fragments. Eventually, the fourth thing will happen when you survey - you'll dig up the artifact! Right click on it to collect it.
Each dig site can be gathered from three times. Each time use the same process. After collecting the third artifact the red zone will disappear from the map, and a new little spade icon will appear on the continent map, showing where a new dig site has opened up.
As a note, World of Warcraft Archaeology is the only gathering profession where it's impossible for another player to poach what one is gathering.
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So Many Potshards, So Little Time
So, what to do with all the artifact fragments? First, check out the archaeology book. There are a required number of fragments for each artifact, and the book will say what artifact is next to be made and how many fragments it requires. Each kind of fragment has its own section. There is also a page in the book that lists all the artifacts that have been made.
Important note: It's okay to collect many more artifact fragments than are currently needed. Save them up and make several at once. One reason to do this at the beginning is that archaeology skill is gained for successfully surveying until skill 100. After that, skill gain only comes from completing artifacts.
Also, sometimes an artifact will give not only fragments (which take up no inventory space) but also a "keystone item," such as a Highborn Scroll or a Dwarf Runestone. Those DO take up inventory space, but are well worth keeping. Each of those items is effectively worth 12 artifact fragments and can be used to complete artifacts. Save those for later on, for the big, exciting items.