I've been meaning to write about Cataclysm's new secondary profession for a while, but at the same time I wanted to give it some time before making a judgement. I do think I've got a pretty good impression of it now.
Basically I went through roughly seven different stages while levelling it on my main:
I had read up on it a little, but not much, so I knew that I had to go to one of the dig sites highlighted on my map and do this thing called survey, but that was pretty much it. It didn't take me long to figure out how to work it, and the instant reward of getting a skill-up every time I looted any kind of fragment worked well to make me want to keep going.
I didn't know that the act of looting fragments would stop giving skill-ups very quickly, so instead of not combining any finds until I'd run out of digging skill-ups, I quickly burned through the first 75 skill points or so both by digging and solving whatever I could find. Of course, once I stopped getting skill-ups from the digging itself, it felt as if the whole thing instantly slowed to a crawl, not to mention that I seemed to get nothing but rubbish for all my efforts. I might have given up at this point if the fact that my boyfriend was working on it too and appeared to be a lot more enthusiastic about it than I was hadn't tickled my competitive side.
3. A rare!
At some point my first rare popped up. I don't even remember which one it was, but it wasn't anything particularly exciting. Still, at the time I didn't know whether it wasn't going to do anything cool, so I felt reinspired to find out. While trying to assemble the countless fragments needed for the rare, I also got skill-ups from making more common items from the other categories. After I finally completed it, I soon had another one pop up, and then another... this kept me going quite well for a while.
4. Yay, Outland! Eh.
Still, once I had reached around 300 skill I was sick and tired of scouring Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms for dig sites, and happily set off to Outland for a change of pace. With Burning Crusade still holding the title of "my favourite expansion" I'm always glad to return there for a while. As it turned out, the place was pretty good for skilling up quickly. The fact that there are only two different types of artifacts in Outland - orc and draenei - meant that individual items got completed quicker than in the old world, not to mention that many times the dig sites were very close together. (Sometimes it felt like I was doing nothing but flying circles around Terokkar Forest.) However, I didn't get a single rare here and quickly started to get doubles of the common items, which made me glad when I hit 375 and could move on to Northrend.
5. Yay, Northrend! Except, not really.
Northrend was actually rather a pain in the backside. Like Outland's races, the vyrkul and nerubian dig sites seemed to offer little of interest, not to mention that nerubian dig sites seemed to be really rare in general. Also, the continent is considerably bigger than Outland, and the dig sites seemed to be spread out in a very annoying fashion. It wasn't unusual for me to bounce back between Howling Fjord, Icecrown, Zul'Drak, Borean Tundra and Storm Peaks simply because that's how new sites popped up. In a way I also didn't make things easier for myself since I decided to save up all my night elf and troll fragments from here on, to combine them once I hit 450 and actually had a chance at procuring one of the really good items.
6. Final disappointment
Getting to 450 felt like quite a slog, but once I finally got there I was hopeful. Lots of combines and only a small amount of skill-ups later, I still didn't have any good items. I then kept digging around some more in Kalimdor, since I was after the night elves' Tyrande's Favorite Doll in particular, but nothing came of it.
Once I maxed out the profession, my interest quickly dwindled again. I still wanted to get some of the rare items, but now even the incentive of getting skill-ups was gone. Eventually I found a place for archaeology though - during arena and battleground queues. It doesn't matter how long or short they are, you can always do some flying around and surveying. I have since made several dozen of the common night elf items and keep getting anything but a Canopic Jar from the tol'vir (give me that Vial of the Sands recipe, damn it). However, it's easy not to think too much about it and treat it as something relatively mindless to keep you busy while you wait, similar to mining or herbing.
Since I'm fairly obsessive-compulsive about maxing out my professions on all my alts, I'm thinking about levelling archaeology on them too, but so far I haven't touched more than a couple of dig sites with them. During my first levelling run, simple curiosity was a big motivaton, but that is completely gone now. I know now that the Pendant of the Scarab Storm is really nothing to get excited about. And how many Kaldorei Wind Chimes do I really need?
It also seems to me that archaelogy is also the first profession that really doesn't lend itself to levelling it at all until you get flying. I was thinking about working on it a little on my troll druid in between instances, but when you have to rely on limited flight paths and your ground mount to get to places, it really gets tedious very quickly, even while you still get skill-ups for digging. Considering that it gives very good experience though, it might be worth giving it another go once I can buy flying at sixty, to ease the transition through level ranges where I've already seen the quest content enough times and just want to move on quickly.