Archaeology was activated in yesterday's Beta build, so today I spent some time trying it out. At this point I've leveled it to 100 skill and I've spent a pretty good chunk of time with it. So far it's an interesting profession and the implementation is pretty different. When you visit the trainer you learn the Survey ability, which allows you to track artifacts. This is not tracking like you use on the mini-map, it's more like triangulating hotspots.
First, you must travel to an active dig site. These are currently marked on the continent maps, not on individual zone maps. If the zone you're in doesn't happen to have a dig site, you'll need to zoom out to find them in nearby zones. Once you get to a zone with a dig site, the area is marked by a red area on the zone map (like the blue quest spots, just red). The Survey ability isn't functional until you enter the subzone for the dig site. When you reach it, you can click the Survey button to take a reading. This places a telescope on the ground which points you in the direction of your target. There's also a light on the scope which indicates the rough distance in terms of red/yellow/green. You can take as many readings as you want until you get within a few feet of the object. Once you're close enough to the item to click and loot it, the object will spawn instead of the scope. Most artifact fragments appear as tablets or urns. When you loot the item, the fragments are added to your collection. Each object contains 2-4 fragments and the average is running about 2.8 fragments per object.
Each dig site can be produce three objects before it's tapped out and you'll need to seek another. At any given time there will be 4-5 dig sites on each continent. When you dig one out, a new site spawns in a different place. Occasionally this may be the same zone, but more often it's in a different zone. From what I'm seeing, the spawns don't change location until you use them up. So if you want to trigger a new spawn, you have to clear an existing one.
An artifact requires a certain number of matching fragments to be located before you can create it. This number can range from 25-35 and appears to be random. Once you've collected the proper number of fragments, you can click the "Solve" button to create the artifact. This will add it to your Completed collection and allow you to start a new artifact. If you happen to have extra points beyond what's needed for the current artifact, they carry over to the next one. Here's a pic of the Current artifact window:
At this point in time there are ten categories of artifacts, but only four seem to be active. These are Dwarf, Troll, Night Elf and Fossil. I assume there are others for different racials, I just haven't run into them yet. You can click on one of these to see the current status for that type of artifact. There are also separate tabs for current (aka in progress) artifacts and completed artifacts. Viewing completed artifacts allows you to read the lore associated with them. Here's a pic of the Completed artifact window:
Initially, you gain skill in Archaeology by clicking the objects that contain fragments. They start out orange to you and turn yellow around 25 skill. They are green by 50 and gray by 100 skill. Despite this, I was getting skill-ups for every object until I was almost 60 skill. You also get skill points for "solving" artifacts. Each time you solve an artifact, you get five skill points. So far I haven't run into the cap on that, but a buddy of mine says he did. Assuming that's accurate, it's somewhere in the 120 to 150 range. I have no clue how we can gain skill points after that.
So far I've only received gray (junk) items from the artifact creation process. It's quite possible that the true loot tables aren't implemented yet. I did get one common item, a scroll that purports to grant me an artifact completion regardless of fragment quantity. It wasn't working however, so I can't report how it worked out. Here's a picture of it:
One thing that I like about Archaeology - it appears that the objects are phased. This was posted in the forums as well, it seems that objects are unique to the player. So you shouldn't have any problem with other players swiping your artifact loot. I'd love to see this expanded to other professions, but I don't know if that's something they want to see happen. Still, I think if you phase other nodes, you could reduce the volume of them and make them more challenging to find. It's an interesting idea at least :)
A possible downside is the high amount of travel needed to track down artifacts. Sometimes dig sites are half a continent from you, so there's a lot of lag time. It's not like picking herbs or mining ore where you can just hang in one zone and farm respawns. Once you're tapped out, you have to move on to a new spot. This could get frustrating for those who want to power level, but I'm guessing it's just setting the tone for a more casual vibe. There's nothing wrong with that, I'm sure some players will be perfectly comfortable with it. It could be frustrated for power-gamer types though.
This is all I have for today on Archaeology, as always please post your questions and requests in the Comments!