There are a lot of people who give archaeologists shit about their career path, myself included. Apparently, there are no jobs for us, and if there are jobs, they are in Ivory Towers, waxing poetically about ruins and Egypt. That is patently untrue, there are actually quite a few jobs out there, although initially seasonally, definitely with the possiblity of better work. It’s just that many archaeologists get burned out (like many other social science and hard science fields) working the hours to wait for the golden opportunity. But enough with that, let me introduce you to my job:
So, what exactly does the average archaeologist do? You’re in luck, because I can totally tell you! They work in CRM to protect the archaeological resources in the United States (the U.K. calls this ‘commercial archaeology’, many countries have a bureaucratic designation for this).
What is CRM? It is what almost every archaeologist will or should do at some point in their career, and how most archaeological data is found in North America and the United Kingdom today.
Basically, the idiots guide is this (because it was a very confusing class and there are a lot of parts of it.)
- As of now, all companies who work for the government or who accept any form of government support(most of them) have to make sure they are not building over archaeology sites (or disturbing environmental features).
- To mitigate this, archaeologists test areas for archaeology sites; this is usually done years before the proposed project takes place.
- Surprisingly, an enormous part of the world under your feet is archaeology. If you are living here today, somebody else thought it was a good idea to live there.
- We either protect the major sites, or curate (put into high security storage/museums) the artifacts we find to save them, as well as recording the information, meticulously that we find.
This is pretty important work, believe it or not, and it ties heavily into the overall framework of environmental protection. There is an enormous amount of work available in this field, but it is physically demanding and sometimes not worth the pay. There are different levels and intensities of excavation, but that is about as interesting as watching slugs mate. (if you want to watch slugs mate : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST_AEmm3GmI. )
With a bachelors, you can do the job that I do, which is the physical recording and collection of artifacts OR curation with supervision in a lab. I’ve been paid anything from $16.50 per hour (without housing and food A.K.A. ‘ per diem’) to $14.75 an hour with per diem to do this job. I am pretty lucky, because the average pay is definitely lower than that. A hot tip: government agencies (in the U.S.) pay WAY more and can abuse you WAY less; more internal surveillance, they also have more security. However, there is more mobility and a greater potential for higher salaries in private companies towards the management end. OH THE ETERNAL DECISION OF SECURITY VERSES WEALTH!
As far as the U.K. goes, my friends who work in Commercial Archaeology state that entry pay is around £7 or £8 starting pay; not quite sure how good or bad this is, given the exchange rate. It is the same between government agencies and private, likely because there is tighter regulations on wages, leading me to think private companies would go lower if they could*.
Here is the kicker though: as nice as that deal is, I can only work when the ground is NOT frozen. Where I live, that is roughly April through November, from there you can live on unemployment or have a flexible seasonal job. I substitute teach, personally, and that supplements pretty well. But, I do not have regular health insurance (luckily, I’m under 26 and eligible for my Dad’s) and no guarantee until I ‘level up’ (I’m a fan of Skyrim, hence the term).
I went through a grueling 13 months of work and thus I have some mobility. I have a masters, so I also have the potential to move up in management, which includes overseeing the entire site and organization of the labor and paperwork. From there, it moves into further bureaucratic leveling (I am not saying this negatively, but government labor designations are very tiring!).
The place I’m at now travels around the state, having me stay in motels until we are done. Since it is government, it is Monday to Friday, approximately eight hours a day. Some places have you work different on and off days, for example, ten days on and three days off. Again, these are usually private firms setting the most convenient schedules for their work.
There are horror stories off course, of having to stay in horrible conditions and being forced to work on little water or no breaks (http://archaeology.about.com/od/careerstories/qt/rebecca.htm, http://archaeology.about.com/od/careerstories/qt/slave.htm ). I would like to say this isn’t typical, but I only know my own experience for sure, and I can say that I enjoy the work. Will I do entry level work forever? No, my knees are shit enough without ten years of ‘shovel bumming’. But some people do, so obviously it still draws people in to work.
My biggest advice would be to stand up for yourself and your dignity wherever you work, and always look for a new job as soon as you even suspect the current one won’t cut it. Don’t be afraid to report being abused; that is the very foundation of human rights and you should exercise them!
If you have any questions, or comments, please share them! I love what I do most days and would enjoy answering your questions! Also, if you have any stories, in or out of archaeology you want to share, comment below.
*(ANYONE FROM THE U.K., correct me if I am wrong; I only lived in your country for a year, that isn’t enough to say I’m any kind of an expert! Anyone else from around the world, please give me insight into how things work! I am very interested in hearing about it, and would love to branch out in my own experiences once I stop being poor.)