Archaeology As A Career: Good Idea Or Total Disaster?

Archaic Inquiries
Cultural Resource Management
7 min readOct 26, 2019

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Archaeology. It’s one of those rare professions that capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. Even before such staples of Western zeitgeist as Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, the study of ancient cultures captivated millions. A mix of treasure hunting, science, and adventure, with a dash of respectability managed to form a profession of it sometime between searching for the Seven Cities of Gold and opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

It remained a realm difficult to make a living in, however. Outside of the gray market for antiquities, only the largest of universities and museums could afford — or need — to staff archaeologists. And those tended to be polymaths, as most scientists are in the infancy of any given discipline. It is only a fairly recent development that archaeologists have specialized in more than a regional cultural area. Where before there were Mayanists, Egyptologists, Sinologists, Classicists, and the like, today there is practical specialization by type of tasks performed and not just background familiarity with the history of a region. Now an archaeologist could have specialized experience and expertise in such arcane skills as paleoethnobotany, dendrochronology, isotope analysis of skeletal remains, underwater excavation, or battlefield archaeology.

But by and large, the overwhelming majority of practicing archaeologists don’t work in an academic setting, and need a far broader familiarization of skills. In the private sector, the term Cultural Resource Management (CRM)is a catch-all used for most of those archaeologists, who can be employees at large, publicly traded multinational firms or one-person independent contractors or anything in between. There are any number of excellent textbooks, courses, and even online primers about how to embark upon the path of the academic archaeologist.

But to date, there has been limited guidance available for those wishing to pursue a career in the CRM industry. Given that so few jobs are available within the academic realm — and even fewer that are full-time or pay enough to raise a family or live a decent lifestyle — this is a tremendous oversight on the part of the archaeology profession. That lack is exacerbated by the fact that few archaeology classes taught at the university level, quite frankly, address…

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