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After the 'gold rush': Global archaeology in 2009


Archaeology in 2009 is being adversely affected by a global economic crisis. This has followed a period of successful expansion of practice in many countries, and is now leading to reductions in budgets and job losses. Countries that have adopted a market-facing, commercial system to deliver archaeological management have been more seriously affected than those where the state has retained control over this process. In many states, capital expenditure by governments on infrastructure projects is supporting some archaeological practice. Government commitment to funding archaeological practice is likely to be unsustainable in the long-term, and post-crisis a return to private-sector funding of flexible commercial archaeological practice can be expected.

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After the ‘gold rush’: global archaeology in
Kenneth Aitchison
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Archaeology, 41:4, 659-671
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After the ‘gold rush’: global archaeology
in 2009
Kenneth Aitchison
Archaeology in 2009 is being adversely affected by a global economic crisis. This has followed a
period of successful expansion of practice in many countries, and is now leading to reductions in
budgets and job losses. Countries that have adopted a market-facing, commercial system to deliver
archaeological management have been more seriously affected than those where the state has
retained control over this process. In many states, capital expenditure by governments on
infrastructure projects is supporting some archaeological practice. Government commitment to
funding archaeological practice is likely to be unsustainable in the long-term, and post-crisis a return
to private-sector funding of flexible commercial archaeological practice can be expected.
Capital expenditure; commercial archaeology; development; economic crisis; employment; European
Union; infrastructure projects; job losses; pay; professional practice; recession; redundancy.
At the time of writing (summer 2009), the global economy is being seriously affected by an
ongoing financial crisis. This was initiated through the collapse of the US sub-prime
mortgage market in 2007 (Turner 2008), and it represents only the third time that there has
been a financial crisis that has affected not just individual national economies but the
entire global economy. The first of these, often known as the Great Depression, occurred
in the 1930s and the second (which does not have an agreed name) in the 1970s (Gamble
2009: 6). The economic transformations of the current recession of the late-2000s, which
has been described as the ‘New Depression’, have directly or indirectly affected almost
every sector of commercial activity in most countries of the world. This article seeks to
review what the impacts have been on archaeological practice, exploring the differences
World Archaeology Vol. 41(4): 659–671 Debates in World Archaeology
ª2009 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online
DOI: 10.1080/00438240903363772
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between archaeology as commercialized activity and archaeology that is under direct or
indirect state control, contextualizing this through a series of case studies.
Prior to the transformation to economic decline the global economy had been
undergoing a long period of expansion, progressing inconsistently since approximately
1980 but steadily since the early 1990s, and in many states the level of construction activity
was the most visible indicator of economic growth (Turner 2008). Where archaeology is
recognized as an environmental resource and where systems are in place to ensure that
remains are recorded and interpreted as a mitigative action against the effects of
development upon this resource, the amount of archaeological work undertaken grew in
parallel with the construction boom.
This was archaeology’s ‘gold rush’ – the boom led to unprecedented amounts of
archaeological work taking place which represented fantastic opportunities both to
increase archaeological understanding and for financial advancement.
No overarching review of archaeology’s place in the globalized political economy has
yet been written. Patterson (1999) presented a studied review of the development of
archaeology within the capitalist system in the United States and the effects of twentieth-
century economic crises on professional archaeology, considering the emergence of
commercial archaeological practice in the United States (as part of cultural resource
management) to have been a consequence of legislative changes that coincided with the
transition from Keynesian to monetarist policies in response to the global economic crisis
of the 1970s.
Commercial archaeology subsequently became established on varying bases elsewhere
in the world. But, as Patterson and many others recognize, this development has
universally followed on from pre-existing, established academic approaches to archae-
ological practice, and has often led to rapid expansion of the numbers of individuals
working in archaeology without those individuals necessarily being well rewarded for their
endeavours. These factors lead to constant comparison with and criticism from the
academic sector. Archaeology has had an uncertain and initially cautious engagement with
the market – generally, where commercial archaeology has become established, it has led
to the emergence of professional associations which hark back to the social democratic
principles advocated by Willy Brandt – ‘As much market as possible, as much regulation
as necessary’ (McShane 2008). The Institute for Archaeologists’ Code of Approved Practice
for the Regulation of Contractual Arrangements in Field Archaeology (IfA 1990, current
revision 2008) supports that professional association’s disciplinary code of conduct by
providing collective guidance on how it is considered most appropriate to undertake
commercial work, while the terms of reference of the European Association of
Archaeologists’ Committee on Professional Associations in Archaeology (EAA 1999)
specify that one of its responsibilities is to ‘advise EAA how to ensure that professional
and ethical values can be used to strengthen national laws and transcend the values of the
marketplace’. These were circumspect ideas which looked admirable yet somewhat
outdated as Western governments established the post-1989 neo-liberal consensus which
allowed globalization to flourish.
By the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, commercial archaeology
was established as the norm across the English-speaking developed world – in the United
States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, for example – and was being embraced
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elsewhere, including in many European states, particularly those that had transformed
from centrally planned economies following 1989. Elsewhere in Western Europe, state- or
semi-state-led systems were still trying to contain and directly manage the effects of rapid
economic development (cf. Demoule 2002, 2008), and across much of the developing world
no systems were yet in place to ensure archaeological recording ahead of construction or
other potentially damaging activities.
The two most visible differences between states where commercial archaeology has
become established and where it has not are exactly those identified by Patterson in 1999.
In states with commercialized archaeology, far more jobs and opportunities to work were
created – but these people are paid less, on average, than in countries where archaeology
remains under the control of the state (Aitchison 2009b: 5). This is not a balanced
equation – the opportunities that the market-led system creates mean that, in total, far
more money is spent on archaeological work and is thus earned by archaeologists working
in a commercialized environment than where the market has no direct role. The far greater
number of individuals is not outweighed by the slightly lower salaries.
The effects of the global recession upon archaeological practice
These differing approaches to market engagement have been central to the visibility of the
effects of the economic crisis on archaeological practice. To date, these have been most
heavily felt where archaeology is most involved with, and thus exposed to, the market
Archaeological work in the United Kingdom is primarily undertaken by commercial
providers on behalf of property or land developers, with this market-based system
mediated through the democratically accountable process of local spatial planning
control. This system, which has been in place in England since 1990 (DoE 1990) and across
the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom since the early 1990s, led to an ongoing
expansion of the amount of archaeological work undertaken and the number of
archaeologists employed to do this work (a growth of approximately 4.5 per cent per year
from 1997 to 2007 (Aitchison and Edwards 2008)) which persisted until the onset of the
current global economic crisis (Aitchison 2009a).
The amount of archaeological work in the United Kingdom is currently declining from
a 2007 peak, when over 5,000 archaeological investigations were undertaken in that year in
England alone. Ninety-three per cent of all archaeological reporting stemmed from
projects initiated through the spatial planning system, with one in every 124.8 applications
by developers for planning permission leading to the production of an archaeological
report (Ehren Milner pers. comm.).
There had been a gradual reduction in the number of people employed as archaeologists
from the 2007 high-water mark, but when the global economic crisis transformed from the
‘credit crunch’ that had begun in the summer of 2007 into what has been called its ‘second
phase’, accompanied by numerous banks being rescued or nationalized by governments in
the autumn of 2008, speculative building in the UK almost came to a halt. This led directly
to a significant decline in the amount of new archaeological fieldwork being undertaken, as
developers’ budgets for site investigations – all forms of geotechnical and other
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environmental evaluation work, including archaeology – have been rapidly trimmed
(Wynne 2008).
This reduction in work has led directly to redundancies. While an estimated 6,865
people were working in all areas of archaeological employment in the UK in the summer
of 2007 (Aitchison and Edwards 2008), this total declined by 10 per cent over the period
from August 2007 to 1 April 2009 (Aitchison 2009c). This effectively represents the loss of
one in six jobs in UK commercial archaeology, with many companies shedding staff and
some firms going out of business.
Simultaneously with jobs being lost and businesses closing, the number of people
looking to study archaeology in the UK is increasing. UCAS (Universities and Colleges
Admissions Service) reports that 10,505 potential students have applied to start
undergraduate degrees in the combined category of archaeology (in humanities or as a
physical science) and forensic science for academic year 2009–10, an increase of 8 per
cent over the previous year (UCAS 2009). Typically, about one-quarter of that total
will be accepted onto degree courses. This is not particular to archaeology – these
figures represent an overall trend of increasing university applications for all subjects,
as many people are seeing higher education as a route both to improve their
employability and as a respite from the labour market for a few years at a difficult
time (in total, the number of applicants for all subjects increased by 9.7 per cent for
2009–10 over 2008–9).
In Ireland, the effects of the downturn have been even more severe. By the first years of
the twenty-first century, Irish archaeology had grown at a remarkable rate – the number of
archaeological excavations per annum had increased to forty times the level of the mid-
1980s (UCD 2006: 15–16) – and this was fuelled particularly by state infrastructure
projects and then increasingly by private investment. The number of archaeologists
working in Ireland grew even faster than in the UK, increasing from 650 in 2002 to 1,709
in 2007 (McDermott and La Piscopia 2008: 5) – and then ‘between July 2008 and January
2009 there was a 52% reduction in the total number of archaeological staff employed in
Ireland . . . an 82% reduction in contract [commercial] archaeologists employed in the
same period’ (Eogan and Sullivan 2009).
This dramatic decline was not entirely unforeseen: The Future Demand for
Archaeologists in Ireland (CHL 2002) identified that growth in the sector was strongly
linked to the state’s National Development Plan 2000–6 and in particular to the funding of
the National Roads Authority (NRA)’s roadbuilding scheme – and recognized that ‘there
is a temporary balloon in demand resulting from the rapid implementation of the roads
programme under the NRA. It is envisaged that the major new inter-urban routes will be
completed or well-advanced by 2007, following which the level of demand for
archaeological consultants will fall’ (CHL 2002: 32).
The other Western European state where commercial archaeology has been vigorously
adopted is the Netherlands, as Dutch archaeology has actively embraced the philosophies
underpinning the systems used elsewhere in the English-speaking West (Willems 2005).
Following a period of heavy state regulation, Dutch archaeology engaged with the
commercial system in the late 1990s (Van den Dries and Willems 2007: 50) and, by 2008,
90 per cent of archaeological work was developer funded and being undertaken by
commercial firms (Bakker et al. 2009). After a period of near full employment for young,
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aspirant archaeologists, archaeology has been adversely affected by an abrupt decline in
housing construction, but this has not led to a dramatic downturn in archaeological work
such as has been seen in Ireland and the UK. While commercial companies are facing
cashflow problems and may be reducing the number of staff they have working for them,
assessment work continues for infrastructure projects and the situation (although
unpredictable) is not expected to become much worse (Bakker et al. 2009).
Outside Europe, Altschul and Patterson (forthcoming) estimate that approximately
11,350 people worked as professional archaeologists in the United States in 2008, with
spending on cultural resource management being between US$600m (e425m) and $1bn
(e705m). However, even as those data were being compiled, it was recognized that while
the national economy slowed there was a decline of archaeological job growth in some
regions and job losses in others.
The American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) has published the results of
research it undertook in March 2009 into the effects of the economic decline on cultural
resource management practitioners (ACRA 2009). This showed convincingly that the
majority of commercial practices that responded to this survey had experienced decrease in
business over the previous six months and that more expected to decline rather than grow
in the six months from that date. A repeat of this survey in September 2009 (ACRA
forthcoming) confirmed that this trend was ongoing, with twice as many ACRA member
businesses experiencing a decline than had experienced an increase in trade over the six
months to the survey date.
While US state expenditure on archaeology is likely to remain constant, or even to
increase slightly, through the indirect benefits of economic stimulus packages for
infrastructure and renewable energy projects, private-sector spending is falling and Jeff
Altschul (pers. comm.) expects ‘about a 20% drop in CRM spending in the U.S. to
somewhere around $750–$800m [e530m–e565m]’.
By contrast, the Australian economy has not dipped into recession (Roubini 2009),
largely because of ongoing demand for natural resources from China. This has meant that
commercial archaeology, which in that country is funded significantly by both
construction and the minerals extraction industry, has been able to remain only lightly
influenced by the effects of the economic crisis.
There are numerous states where archaeology is less exposed to market forces than in
the anglophone area. This is particularly true where commercial archaeology does exist,
but has been heavily funded by national or transnational expenditure, such as in the
central European states that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007.
In these countries, recent and ongoing heavy investments by the EU’s structural funds
have been significant. Objective 1 of the structural funds, ‘supporting development in
less prosperous regions’ aims to ‘narrow the gap between the development levels of the
various regions’ (EC 2008). Transport projects are a particular priority of this
programme, with environmental protection an obligatory part of any funded projects
– and so this has supported a great deal of archaeological work. The end of the 2000–6
programmes, from which Ireland noticeably benefited, was a major factor in the
reduction of archaeological work in that country; with new states joining the European
Union in 2004 and 2007, structural funds are being targeted at supporting development
in those states.
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The biggest archaeological projects in Hungary have been funded in large part by
the European Union, which continues to ‘insure’ archaeologists against the worst of
the economic effect, and in Slovenia the levels of fieldwork are declining, but this is
more the consequence of the end of a series of major road-building projects than due
to the direct effects of the global situation. Czech archaeology has not yet been
seriously affected by the economic downturn – the level of archaeological work remains
unchanged from 2008, although while major projects continue, fewer new projects are
being planned – again, with the exception of projects funded by the European Union
(road infrastructure or reconstructions of monument presentation and access).
However, developers are actively seeking to reduce the cost of archaeological work,
and the danger of clients defaulting on payments is increasing.
In Romania, where, again, archaeological work has been driven by large-scale
infrastructure projects, the number of archaeological investigations peaked in 2006
(figures from Romanian Ministry of Cultural and Religious Affairs quoted by Bors¸and
Damian 2009) with budgets now becoming increasingly uncertain as major delays to road-
building projects are seriously affecting archaeological work.
In Poland, there has also been a general reduction in the amount of construction work
being undertaken, a situation which has been compounded as Polish archaeology has been
suffering from organizational crisis over the last three years following a constitutional
ruling that gives primacy to a landowner’s rights over the public benefit of archaeological
investigation (Kobylinski 2008). Generally, the sector is being mostly focused on ongoing
infrastructure work projects which are not affected by this specific issue. A great deal of
this is targeted on the preparations for the 2012 European Football Championships which
will be hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine, but other infrastructure projects are being
delayed or suspended, which is leading to a decline in the amount of archaeological work
being undertaken with consequential effects on the numbers of people working in
archaeology (Marciniak and Pawleta 2009).
Other states have adopted a mixed-economy approach to archaeology, where the state
retains the most significant role but private enterprise also plays a considerable part. To a
certain degree this is the case in the central European states discussed above, where
transformation has typically taken place from state-led archaeological systems to those
whereby management is achieved through semi-state ‘national archaeological institutes’
and fieldwork is undertaken by private firms.
Across Germany, there is no single national system as the structural basis of
archaeology varies regionally. Each of the La
¨nder (federal states) sets its own legislation
and structure, which means that the levels of private enterprise activity and market
engagement are not universal. While some La
¨nder maintain a state monopoly on
archaeological work, others are more open to active market engagement (this is frequently
the case in the La
¨nder in the eastern parts of Germany). This means that, historically,
‘some ‘‘poor’’ states [within Germany], like Sachsen-Anhalt, invest [relatively] much more
money in archaeology (heritage management) than some ‘‘rich’’ states (like Bavaria,
Hessen or Baden-Wu
¨rttemberg)’ (Dirk Krausse pers. comm.).
This variable approach may have contributed to the feeling that recent economic growth
has not necessarily led to positive effects in German archaeology; German (and Austrian)
archaeologists were the most cautious across the twelve states that participated in the
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Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe project when reporting past growth and
anticipated future growth in 2007–8 (Aitchison 2009b: 13–14).
Where it is exposed to the market, archaeological practice in Germany is suffering
negative effects. The Federal government in Germany announced a significant
infrastructure package in December 2008 (Ashurst 2009), which has the potential to
support large amounts of archaeological work. Where state monopolies exist for
archaeological work and this stimulus package has effect, the numbers of people working
in archaeology may (temporarily) increase.
Similarly to Germany there is no national system for archaeological heritage management
in Spain, as this is devolved to a regional level, and here too the levels of state and com-
mercial involvement in the process vary on a case-by-case basis. As in many other countries,
the archaeological sector being adversely impacted upon as it is closely tied to a construction
sector which is being seriously compromised by the economic crisis (Parga-Dans 2009).
Since 2001, the French state has adopted a ‘polluter pays’ approach to archaeology,
ensuring that the developer responsible for damaging an archaeological resource is held
financially accountable for their actions. Rather than leaving the delivery of this to market
forces (as in the anglophone states), a system of hypothecated taxation has been
introduced which funds a semi-state agency (INRAP) to undertake evaluation work
(Demoule 2008). At the most immediate of levels, this has been a relative success – the number
of people working in French archaeology rose by 50 per cent over eight years, from 2,068 in
2001 (Rubio and Bernard 2001) to 3,131 in 2009, with private enterprise now being tolerated
in a minor role (14 per cent of archaeologists in France work for ‘enterprises prive
´es’) (Giraud
2009). Two weaknesses of this system are the obligation upon all developers – regardless of
their choice of site – to pay into the hypothecated fund which finances the archaeological
evaluation work and the limited choice available to the developers when it comes to
mitigation. At this stage, INRAP, which had undertakes the evaluation work, then also
specifies what (if any) further mitigation work has to be undertaken. The cost of this is not
decided through the precise, formulaic manner whereby the evaluation costs are predicted,
but this is left to market forces – and in many parts of France, INRAP is either the only or the
most significant ‘contractor’ available to undertake this work. This system has evolved
significantly from its inception and the establishment of the underpinning law in 2001, as
earlier weaknesses have been attacked and exploited by political opponents of the system,
leading to the law of 2001 having been twice reviewed in 2003 and 2004 (Demoule 2004).
Comparably with France and some parts of Germany, Japanese archaeology is
dominated by non-commercial enterprises. These are normally based within local or
provincial government, and, while they are in part funded by private investment, the
financial income streams are overwhelmingly of state origin (in 2007, only 16 per cent of
archaeological funding came from private investment, with public development making up
the balance (Agency for Cultural Affairs 2009: 17)).
Japan has been facing an ongoing national economic crisis dating back to the 1990s,
which is being compounded by the current global situation, but the lack of direct exposure
to the market – both in terms of income and in terms of the near-absence of economic
competition between archaeological organizations – may have contributed to the numbers
working in archaeology declining only relatively slowly. From a 1997 peak of 132.1bn yen
(e950m), spending on development-led archaeology had fallen to 72.4bn yen (e520m) in
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2007 (Agency for Cultural Affairs 2009: 17), and the numbers employed in archaeology
(ibid.: 1) peaked in 2000 at 7,111 individuals; by 2008, this total had reduced to 6,255, an
annual decline of 1.1 per cent (contrasting with a decline in income of 45 per cent over ten
years, or 4.5 per cent per annum). This steady decline has meant that there has effectively
been a freeze on recruitment into professional archaeology, leading to a ‘lack of social
metabolism’ (Katsuyuki Okamura pers. comm.) with few opportunities for young
archaeologists and a reduction in the numbers studying the subject with the intention of
making a career in the profession.
Work in Cypriot archaeology is almost exclusively undertaken by the state through the
Department of Antiquities. There has perhaps been a slight decrease in construction
leading to less demand for fieldwork, although because of European Commission-funded
projects the Department of Antiquities is planning to increase its roster of fieldworkers. In
general, by the summer of 2009, the economic effects of the crisis had not yet seriously
affected Cyprus, although reduction in tourist income will have a knock-on effect on the
whole economy. The organizational situation is similar in Turkey where archaeologists
can work only for a limited range of state or municipally funded organizations and, while
the amount of work being undertaken is currently lower than in recent years, this appears
to be more related to non-publication leading to restrictions on the numbers of excavation
permits being granted than to the overall economic situation.
What gold rush?
In many of the developing countries of the world, the credit boom of the late twentieth–
early twenty-first centuries did not have a significant and direct effect upon archaeological
practice, and so the effects of the subsequent crisis have not been direct either. In most
Caribbean states there is little relationship between development and archaeological work,
so any reduction in construction has not affected the (already low) levels of archaeological
work. Long-term research projects are still ongoing, many of which are university-led, and
where local archaeological ‘units’ exist, such as in Antigua, the effects have been relatively
minor (Nigel Sadler pers. comm.).
Nigeria can be seen as typical of many West African countries, where commercial
archaeology is non-existent and no archaeological work is done in response to
construction. This means that, as there never was an archaeological gold rush, there
were and are very few jobs in archaeology – and these are not being affected by global
economics (Adebayo Folorunso pers. comm.).
Capital expenditure
Governments are now using a series of fiscal tools to attempt to mitigate the worst effects
of the economic crisis, often looking to increase the fluidity of money supply through
quantitative easing and to increase state investment in infrastructure projects to support
and rejuvenate construction (capital expenditure). This can, and has, supported archae-
ological work.
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Historically, Norway has a tradition of supporting cultural heritage through investment at
times of economic hardship. In the current crisis, there have so far been few negative effects on
archaeological work in Norway, where the system is heavily state regulated and
simultaneously the state is extensively protecting the Norwegian building industry. The
Norwegian government invested 225m NOK (e26m) in February 2009 in construction with
the aim of avoiding unemployment (Inger Karlberg pers. comm.). This has specifically
involved the conservation of protected buildings, monuments and sites, and 25m NOK
(e2.9m) will be spent on accessibility and conservation of sites and monuments (this
compares with a total spend from all sources on archaeological excavation in Norway in 2008
of 104.7m NOK (e12.0m)), and, rather than seeing a decline in the amount of work done,
government spending has (at least temporarily) led to more archaeological work.
The first application of capital expenditure to support archaeology was in the United
States in the 1930s through President F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. This led to extensive
excavation and post-excavation programmes in advance of the Tennessee Valley
Authority’s dam building programme (Jameson 2004).
In the United Kingdom, the Communities Programme of the Manpower Services
Commission (MSC) funded significant amounts of fieldwork and post-excavation in the late
1970s and 1980s. This was an unemployment reduction tool which supported jobless people
in doing socially valuable work, which was deemed to include archaeology. This was so
enthusiastically embraced by the archaeological sector (then in a nascent commercial phase)
that for a time the MSC effectively became the major funder of archaeological work (Sheldon
1986) and this led to an overall increase in the number of individuals ‘working’ in
Also in response to the financial crisis of the 1970s and its ongoing effects into the 1980s,
there were numerous state programmes to reduce unemployment in Germany, the most
significant of which for archaeology was the ABM (Arbeitsbeschaffungsmaßnahmen), which
continued post-1989 in the eastern La
¨nder (of the former German Democratic Republic).
Capital expenditure is currently being used again by governments to ease the effects of
the economic situation upon archaeology. As noted above, the Norwegian government is
directly funding archaeological work, while in many other countries – including the United
States, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Germany – state funding of
infrastructure work is leading to consequential archaeological work.
The ACRA surveys (2009, forthcoming) referred to above also asked about levels of
confidence that cultural resource management businesses in the US had that they would
benefit from federal economic stimulus legislation (The American Reinvestment and
Recovery Act, signed into law by President Obama on 17 February 2009), to which the
majority of respondents to the March 2009 survey replied that they thought they would
benefit, either directly or indirectly; by the date of the September 2009 survey, nearly 50
per cent of respondents felt that they had benefited.
Late in 2008, the UK government announced that it would bring forward £700m
(e825m) in capital spending for road and rail projects (Klettner 2008), and archaeology
has directly benefited from this in at least one instance. The A46 trunk road between
Newark and Widmerpool in Nottinghamshire follows the line of a significant Roman
road, the Fosse Way, and it is being upgraded using this funding. This opportunity led to
two of the largest commercial companies in UK archaeology forming a consortium,
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Cotswold Wessex Archaeology, in March 2009 to undertake the evaluatory and mitigative
work required (Wessex Archaeology 2009). The establishment of this project has led to a
slowing in the rate of job losses in British archaeology in summer 2009 (Aitchison 2009d):
while many firms continued to lose staff, several of the larger firms that have been able to
become involved in this and other comparable projects have been taking people on.
However, this is not translating into overall business confidence – one respondent to that
survey wrote that ‘I think there is a blip of major infrastructure jobs that the government
has rushed through to breathe some life into the economy, but it is difficult to see these
extending much into 2010 – I think therefore that the [archaeological] economy will falter
or become stagnant in 2010)’ (Aitchison 2009d: 5).
Where archaeological practice is tied to development – wherever it is recognized that the
archaeological resource is threatened by changing land use and there is a duty for that
resource to be recorded or preserved – there are opportunities for archaeologists to work,
and through that work to add to the sum total of human knowledge about the past. Where
these opportunities have been created and sustained through market economies, the global
financial crisis has severely damaged archaeology’s capacity as a profession to deliver that
knowledge and understanding.
Some erroneous ideas have been attached to the fact that because, historically,
archaeology has been able to access some of the funding from capital expenditure projects,
the economic crisis is in some way good for archaeology (Merrony and Eisenburg 2009).
In the past, where capital expenditure reached archaeology, it was for the purposes of
reducing unemployment rather than for furthering archaeological research and where it is
currently being applied to support archaeology it is providing an alternative, replacement
source of income that may or may not sustain archaeologists in their work.
Some states have, prior to the onset of the current economic situation, deliberately
sought to avoid market exposure through retaining control over both the management and
execution of archaeological work, and these are currently appearing to be less seriously
affected by the pressures of the crisis than the commercial systems. This is likely to be
because governments react more slowly to economic impacts than markets do, and so the
effects on state services are likely to be delayed both in impact and recovery and thus these
cannot necessarily be seen as coping better with the crisis. Indeed, these effects on state
services and budgets are likely to continue to be felt long after recovery has begun in other
These are extraordinary times, when the states with the most significant financial
services sectors in the world – the United States and the United Kingdom – have resorted
to nationalizing banks and increasing taxation in order to cope with the strains upon their
economies, and so these are extraordinary times for archaeology too.
In times both ordinary and extraordinary, commercial archaeology has operated in
an alternative role separate from the rest of the archaeological economy. Unlike state,
semi-state or municipal systems, it can be intensely competitive, fast moving and
innovative, and, with archaeologists who understand calculating margins, taking risks and
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exploiting opportunities, far more was achieved in the face of the challenges of expanding
economies pre-crisis than the alternative model ever could hope to have done. Now, in the
time of shrinking economies, national support for cumbersome state-based systems
temporarily appears to be the best way forward in some parts of the world, but this is
unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term as governments will choose to transfer or
return the financial responsibilities for funding archaeological investigation to the private
sector. Post-crisis systems for the management of the archaeological resource will need to
be entrepreneurial, flexible and responsive, and these are the attitudes and characteristics
of commercial archaeology that will lead to the sector’s recovery.
The author appreciates advice he has received from many colleagues in compiling this
overview. The information and opinions they have provided have been invaluable, but
responsibility for any errors or misinterpretations rests entirely with himself. Thanks to:
Efthymia Alphas, Jeff Altschul, Corina Bors¸, Laura Farquharson, Adebayo Folorunso, Jan
Frolik, Tim Howard, Inger Karlberg, Dirk Krausse, Arkadiusz Marciniak, Ehren Milner,
William Moss, Mihaily Nagy, Yumiko Ogawa, Katsuyuki Okamura, Elif Ozer, Eva Parga-
Dans, Vesna Pintaric, Nigel Sadler, Mark Spanjer, Eoin Sullivan, Monique van den Dries
and all the participants to the stimulating debate at the Archaeology and the Global Crisis:
Multiple Impacts, Possible Solutions session at the fifteenth Annual Conference of the
European Association of Archaeologists held in Riva del Garda on 17 September 2009. He
also wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers of this article whose insightful comments
prompted some important revisions.
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Kenneth Aitchison is Head of Projects and Professional Development at the Institute for
Archaeologists, the professional association for archaeologists in the UK. His role is to
develop and lead projects that research and promote best professional practice for
archaeologists. He has worked extensively on the collection and analysis of data relating to
the archaeological labour market, and previously worked as an archaeological contractor
and consultant in Britain, France and various other European and south-west Asian
countries. He writes here in a personal capacity.
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... Several academic works raise concerns about the critical situation of archaeological activity in Spain and beyond. Aitchison (2009) andSchlanger (2010) opened the debate in the European context, while later on Gnecco and Dias (2015) widened the discussion to different global settings. Recently, these debates have moved to the ethical terrain. ...
... This can only compare with Ireland, where the number of contract archaeologists increased from 650 in 2002 to 1709 in 2007, followed by a drastic 52% reduction in the workforce between 2008 and 2009. Countries like the Netherlands, Poland or France underwent cutbacks, as well as Japan (7111 archaeologists in 2000 to 6255 in 2008) and the US (11,350 in 2008, a 20% reduction in CRM expenditure), but their crisis was not comparable with Spain (Aitchison 2009). Further research strands tackle different national public policy approaches to managing archaeological heritage, from the centralised systems of France (Demoule 2002) to the more decentralised Italian administration (Bonini Baraldi 2014), with Spain being a case of radical decentralisation. ...
This paper explores the underlying factors behind the collapse of commercial archaeology in Spain, with implications for other international contexts. It contributes to the current global debate about heritage ethics, adding nuance and conceptual depth to critical management studies and cultural heritage management in their approach to business ethics. Similar to other European contexts, Spanish archaeological management thrived during the 1990s and 2000s as a business model based on policies directed at safeguarding cultural heritage. The model had controversial ethical implications at academic, policy and business levels. However, the global financial crisis of 2008 had a huge impact on this sector, and more than 70% of the Spanish archaeological companies closed by 2017. Drawing on the concepts of abstract narratives, functional stupidity and corporatist neoliberalism, this paper illustrates the need to examine ethical issues from a pragmatic standpoint, beyond epistemological and moralistic critiques of profit-oriented businesses in the cultural realm. In doing so, it connects the fields of cultural heritage and management studies, opening up hitherto unexplored strands of research and debate.
... The exceptions to this are various English-speaking countries deviating from the state-led model, such as the UK, where a market-oriented model always prevailed to some extent. Now, competition between private organizations in a market supplying archaeological assistance and monitoring to building and development companies (the developer-led model) dominates the international scene (Aitchison 2009a). Little research has addressed the practical consequences of these policy shifts, the adaptation of archaeological firms to changing market circumstances, and the effectiveness of international agreements in promoting heritage management and conservation goals. ...
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As in most European countries and elsewhere, Spanish commercial archaeology is a business model based on the theoretical and technical principles of safeguarding heritage that thrived during the 1990s and 2000s. However, nearly half of the Spanish archaeological companies closed by 2014, stressing the drama associated with the redundancy of its workforce in a mere five-year period and the threat to heritage protection and management. The current context of global crisis has impacted this sector, which is on the brink of extinction. This emphasizes the need for a new paradigm of archaeological heritage management in the 21st century. This breakdown calls into question the extent to which archaeology can generate initiatives of sustainable heritage management. By analysing data derived from an empirical study of Spanish archaeological companies between 2009 and 2017, this paper explores the underlying factors behind the collapse of commercial archaeology. In doing so, it contributes to the current global debate about the future possibilities of heritage management in a post-industrial context. Introduction As in most European countries, Spanish commercial archaeology emerged with the adoption of global regulations on safeguarding heritage and the palliative approach based on the 'polluter-pays' logic, prompted by public institutions since 1990. During this institutional process, Spain witnessed an exceptional building boom between 1997 and 2008. According to data from the Spanish Statistical Office, the economic impact of the construction sector took it up to 22 per cent of GDP in 2008, increasing by ten points during this period, and becoming the highest rate of growth in the sector among European Union countries. However, in 2014 the percentage dropped to 10.5 per cent. Spanish commercial archaeology evolved in parallel because the business model relied on the provision of specialized services to the construction sector by conducting archaeological impact-assessment studies, the main activity of 95 per cent of Spanish companies. Consequently, nearly 50 per cent of the archaeological companies that were operating in 2009 had closed by 2014. The surviving companies and professionals have been compelled either to explore new business initiatives to counteract the economic downturn, or to stop their activities. The failure of Spanish commercial archaeology in a mere five-year period is a paradigmatic case study because the same phenomenon currently affects several other countries in Europe, the US and Latin America (Aitchison 2009b; Gnecco and Dias 2015; Schlanger 2010), and also due to the relevance and complexity of cultural-heritage management as an economic activity in a post-industrial context (Alonso González 2014). A large body of scholarship discusses the global economic crisis and heritage management, opening up a debate about the future possibilities of the archaeological profession (Cleary et al. 2014; Mizoguchi 2015; Zimmerman 2018). These studies stress the need to reflect on and discuss how archaeology can generate initiatives and pave the way
... For instance, in 2011, less than 3% of research permits were issued for research purposes in British Columbia (Salle & Hutchings 2016). Four years earlier, 93% of all archaeological reporting in the UK originated from rescue archaeology (Aitchison 2009). When considering the numbers, it is worth noting that in contract archaeology sector, the annual variation in the number of investigations can be considerable (Aitchison 2015) and also, even if it often passes unmentioned, archaeology contractors are occasionally hired to conduct archaeological investigations with the primary motive to enhance research (Huvila 2017). ...
The rapid expansion of contract archaeology as the primary sector of archaeological knowledge-making in many developed countries make it an illustrative example of which effects the organization and re-organization of a particular knowledge-producing sector affects the conditions for how knowledge can be made. The proliferation of contracted extra-mural work in different countries has shown the importance of adequate guidelines and careful consideration of how and what to regulate to reach desirable outcomes. In addition, contract archaeology provides insights into the difficulties of keeping together extra- and intra-mural knowledge-making enterprises even when they share the same outspoken objectives.
... The impact on archaeological practice was considerable. Different approaches to market engagement were central to the visibility of the effects of the economic crisis on archaeological practice in different countries around the world, and the impact was most immediately visible where archaeology was most commercialized and relying primarily on private sources of funding (Aitchison 2009b). Altschul and Patterson (2010) estimated that approximately 11,350 people worked as professional archaeologists in the United States in 2008, with spending on cultural resource management between US$600 m and $1bn at that time, which was just as the crisis was beginning to break. ...
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Applied archaeological practice, as a means of investigating and protecting archaeological sites, landscapes, and material, is a young profession that emerged across the world during the twentieth century. As a practice that has become increasingly linked to land-use change and development expenditure, it has been impacted upon by all of the crises that the global economy has gone through in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
... The KEA project provides a template for public engagement within the wider industry. As the vast majority of archaeological work in the UK is undertaken by commercial firms (Aitchison, 2009: 661; 90% of all investigations carried out in Eng- land since 1990, according to Fulford, 2011: 33), small changes in company culture and procedures can lead to large-scale impact across the sector. project. ...
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A UK national online survey of public engagement in commercial archaeology formed part of a research project (funded by UCL Advances) to examine the challenges which commercial archaeologists face in incorporating public engagement within projects. The survey was conducted between May-June 2013.
... Até este momento, o louvor deste regime comercial era quase universal, com algumas vozes dissidentes. Atualmente, inclusive, os defensores deste fundamentalismo do mercado só tem elogios pra o que vêem como a "idade de ouro" da arqueologia ou, para usar a expressão de um de seus defensores mais apaixonados, a era da "febre do ouro" (AITCHISON, 2009 ROCKS-MACQUEEN, 2013:10). Contudo, o aumento inicial na primeira década da arqueologia totalmente comercial não foi resultado da comercialização e do sistema de competição neoliberal. ...
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A recente crise do capitalismo financeiro (2008-presente) tem tido um enorme impacto nas vidas dos trabalhadores em todo o mundo e também atingiu o maior setor da atividade arqueológica que tem sido chamada de arqueologia comercial ou de contrato ou de desenvolvimento. Apesar de seus efeitos negativos, esta situação gerou uma abertura pra um repensar e uma reflexão radical quanto a questões subjacentes deste setor, suas premissas éticas e políticas, sua viabilidade a longo prazo e, mais importante, a necessidade de alternativas. Neste contexto, este artigo busca demonstrar que a lógica do capital estava presente no processo da constituição moderna da arqueologia, desde seu início. Também demonstramos as operações altamente problemáticas da arqueologia comercial para os arqueólogos, a cultura material e a vasta maioria do público. Propomos que o que deve ser transformado radicalmente é a lógica fundamental da arqueologia moderna que faz parte da estrutura capitalista: a fetichização das coisas e seu tratamento como objetos autônomos, divorciados das relações, fluxos e conexões que levam a sua constituição. O artigo conclui analisando brevemente uma arqueologia alter-moderna que reside nos espaços intermediários, e não em entidades objetificadas, reificadas e transformadas em produtos.
... In almost all participating states, in terms of the number of people employed, archaeology has expanded over the five years prior to the survey and (at the time data were collected, typically in 2007) further growth was anticipated. Since then, the global economic crisis has adversely affected archaeology in many of the participating states (Aitchison 2009b), and the confident perspectives of 2007-08 have to be seen as a snapshot of those times. Interestingly, archaeologists in the two Germanophone states were those with the least optimistic future outlook. ...
Full-text available
Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe is a major research project that examined the archaeological labour market, qualifications and opportunities for archaeologists to enjoy transnational mobility across twelve European Union member states. The research was carried out in 2007-08 and was primarily funded by the European Commission through the Lifelong Learning Programme (Leonardo da Vinci II strand).
... To date there have been no recorded bankruptcies in the archaeological sector, compared with other sectors that have recorded a total of 8012 bankruptcies in 2009. 28 The Netherlands, in this respect, seems to be in an exceptional position, especially when compared to the dramatic situation in other European countries in which archaeological heritage management is primarily a commercial activity (Aitchison 2009). There may be several reasons for this difference. ...
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As a key part of their professionalization process, creative industries (CIs) including private or contract archaeological firms (AFs) increasingly rely on bundles of technological (product/service and process) and non-technological (organizational) innovation activities. Adopting a complementarity perspective, the study clarifies how technological and non-technological innovation initiatives are combined in an intertwined way. Drawing on a sample of 217 AFs, this study examines and uncovers synergies between innovation strategy and innovation practices and the further effects on innovation performance in AFs. Specifically, results show that successful AFs combine multidimensional service, process, and organizational innovations to generate higher innovation performance.
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Cultural heritage, which includes archaeology, is recognized as serving an increasingly important role in European societal development. But what exactly is the relevance of archaeology to present day citizens? Imprint of Action investigates the sociocultural impact of archaeology through public activities. These activities provide an ideal setting for research, as they represent a structured point of encounter between the public and archaeological heritage; in analysing them, aspects of people’s connections to the past are revealed. As such this research forms an integral part of the NEARCH project (2013-2018). As a basis for analysis, survey data from three large-scale case studies – ‘DOMunder’ (Netherlands), ‘You(R ) Archaeology’ (Cross-Europe), and ‘Invisible Monuments’ (Greece) was used. The analysis and interpretation of the case studies is based on a newly created methodological framework which finds its roots in the broader culture and arts sector. Results shows that activities encourage participation and interaction, which engenders sociocultural impacts on participants, most notably in knowledge increase, skill development, social relations, and happiness. Imprint of Action is the first large-scale study focussing entirely on sociocultural impact in archaeology and, as such, is explorative in nature; it provides unique insights into the workings of interaction and participation in archaeological events, and openly shares qualitative and quantitative research data with the expanding field. In doing so, Imprint of Action lies the foundations for further analysis of the societal impact of both large-and small-scale heritage projects and identifies the incontestable values of archaeological heritage to the public.
Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe: Transnational Report. IfA
  • K Aitchison
  • Aitchison
  • K Aitchison
Aitchison, K. 2009a. Archaeology and the global financial crisis. Antiquity, 83(319). http:// Aitchison, K. 2009b. Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe: Transnational Report. IfA. http:// Aitchison, K. 2009c. Job Losses in Archaeology: April 2009. IfA. modules/icontent/inPages/docs/JobLossesApril2009.pdf Aitchison, K. 2009d. Job Losses in Archaeology: July 2009. IfA. modules/icontent/inPages/docs/JobLossesJuly09.pdf After the 'gold rush' 669 Downloaded by [Uniwersytet Warszawski] at 04:55 08 December 2014
German Infrastructure Stimulus Packages: Necessity Is the Mother of Invention Crisis in Dutch archaeology? Paper presented at 15th Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists Archaeology inside and beside the crisis: current stage and impact assessment from a Romanian perspective
  • Dc M Washington
  • K Waugh
Washington, DC: The SAA Press, Society for American Archaeology. Ashurst 2009. German Infrastructure Stimulus Packages: Necessity Is the Mother of Invention. http://¼4161 Bakker, C., Van den Dries, M. and Waugh, K. 2009. Crisis in Dutch archaeology? Paper presented at 15th Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists, Riva del Garda, 17 September. Bors¸BorsÇ. and Damian, P. 2009. Archaeology inside and beside the crisis: current stage and impact assessment from a Romanian perspective. Paper presented at 15th Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists, Riva del Garda, 17 September. CHL (CHL Consulting Co. Ltd) 2002. The Future Demand for Archaeologists in Ireland. Dublin: The Heritage Council.
Arche´ologie pre´ventive, recherche´scientifique et concurrence commercial
  • J.-P Demoule
Demoule, J.-P. 2004. Arche´ologie pre´ventive, recherche´scientifique et concurrence commercial. In Le nouveau droit de l'arche´ologie pre´ventive (ed. P.-L. Frier). Paris: L'Harmattan, pp. 199-242.
The professionalization of archaeology in the late nineteenth century was linked to the growth of antiquities markets and the development of museums as institutions of education and social reproduction. Professional archaeologists moved into the universities in large numbers after World War II and then increasingly into the private sector after the mid-1970s. In the United States, archaeologists currently confront a highly segmented labor market with significant wage and benefits differentials, and increasing numbers face marginal employment. At the same time, descendant communities and government regulations are transforming the ways by which archaeologists have traditionally conducted their investigations.