I’m piggy backing on a couple of archaeology blog posts I read earlier this week about unwritten rules of professional archaeology. The topic was started by Tracy Brown, webmaster of the blog Archaeology in Tennessee. Mr. Brown started a thread asking about the Unwritten Rules in Professional Archaeology and has solicited additional rules from the readers of that post. This morning, I read Doug Rocks-MacQueen’s response on his blog.
This conversation addresses a pretty important aspect of doing professional (specifically CRM) archaeology in the United States. We learn about archaeology from books and college classes, but nobody really addresses the unspoken “rules” that guide our profession. We never think about why we’re doing what we’re doing, what it takes to survive in this profession, and why we think folks from other states are less adequate (FYI: Tracy, there’s still huge discrimination against archaeos from other states in Arizona and New Mexico. If you want to work in the Southwest, you’re going to have to have Southwest experience or get extremely lucky [or, say you’re a historical archaeologist]. Otherwise, you’re going to be unemployed for a very, very long time.)
Understanding the unspoken rules of archaeology is a lot like knowing the rules to Fight Club. In fact, sometimes professional archaeology feels kinda like you just left Fight Club.
I’ll be the first to admit there really aren’t any rules to professional archaeology. It’s like any other industry. Some companies succeed. Some archaeologists succeed. Many do not. If you make money, you live to dig another day. If you don’t… I’ll see you at Starbucks.
Here are My 10 Unspoken Rules in Professional Archaeology:
1. Everybody busts ass, every day, all of the time— Ever wonder why your boss is already in the office when you get there and stays long after you’ve left? Or, why the best crew chiefs spend a few hours in their hotel rooms going over the crew’s notes each night? What would motivate professional archaeologists to volunteer on community archaeology days even though they’re not getting paid?
This should be a general rule for life, but it seems like most young Americans have forgotten this one. Go all out. Don’t leave anything left on the table. You’re always all in on every project, every time. If you want to be an archaeologist you’re going to need to commit to it.
2. Your network is your resume— It’s strange to say this out loud even though I wrote a book that attempts to show archaeologists how to write a resume, but, if you want to stay employed in archaeology you’re going to have to do more than write a good resume. Great resumes can get you in the door, but your network can get you in there without even having to write a resume. Click here if you want to learn the basics of networking for archaeologists (I call it friendraising).
3. There is no right or wrong way to do professional archaeology— Don’t get me wrong. Professional archaeologists make mistakes. Lots of them. Some more than others.
There certainly are unethical ways of doing archaeology. Some archaeological techniques may go against your morals. Some people think CRM in itself is immoral. (There’s something about profiting from the destruction of non-renewable archaeological resources that makes some archaeologists queasy) And, there is definitely sloppy work out there. But, there is no 100%, always right, never wrong way to approach doing archaeology.
Some archaeologists think it’s okay to hire unskilled laborers for third world wages in order to dig a site. In some foreign countries, the project sponsor is always the first author on any article that’s written about “his/her” site, even if they didn’t participate in the project. Sometimes we use backhoes to dig off the “overburden” in order to get to the part of the site that is from a specific time period, discarding this sediment without even looking for artifacts. Don’t get me started with bare-bones compliance reports with almost no archaeological value.
Despite these problems, archaeology is about collecting and interpreting data. The methods employed on each project vary depending on the research questions, where the project is conducted, the archaeologists’ experience and training, and the project’s goals. There are myriad ways of approaching this issue of data collection, which is why I say there is no right or wrong way to do professional archaeology (Although I have some very strong opinions on how it should be done. Just read my blog for a few weeks).
4. You need to be a T-person— A T-person is the most desirable kind of archaeologist. They have a depth of knowledge on a specific topic (that’s the vertical axis of the “T”) and know a little bit about a broad range of topics (represented by the horizontal “T’s” axis). Specialists are pretty much dead meat in CRM archaeology because, while they’re knowledgeable of a very specific topic, they don’t know much else. What company needs a full-time artifact illustrator? Not too many.
Click here to read my post on why CRM archaeology values T-people.
5. A degree is like your archaeology driver’s license— A college degree is almost necessary to be a professional archaeologist. I know a couple archaeos without degrees and they spend a lot of time bitching about how they keep getting passed up for jobs and promotions by people with degrees. A degree isn’t mandatory, but it sure helps…a lot.
Some archaeologists, especially those with PhDs, tend to think that their degree says to the world “This person knows archaeology.” They’re wrong. A college degree just shows the world that you know more about archaeology than the average bear. A driver’s license says you know the basics about driving a car, but that doesn’t mean you can go “Ice Road Truckers” or challenge Jeff Gordon to a race. A license just says, most of the time, you can drive a car without crashing into something.
Similarly, a college degree says you’re booksmart, dedicated to archaeology, and have the potential to learn. It doesn’t mean you’re Brian Fagan, Julian Steward, or Janet Spector.
6. Jobs don’t always go to the most qualified or best archaeologists— This is another life rule that seems to go unacknowledged by archaeologists. Sometimes your boss will be inept. Sometimes the worst crew member gets hired permanently at the end of a temporary project. Sometimes archaeologists that don’t even care about CRM keep getting promoted and make life-long careers in the industry.
Life isn’t fair and neither is archaeology. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or how “good” they are at their job. You just need to keep doing what you’re doing, keep your nose to the grindstone, and looking for things about archaeology that you find interesting. Your dedication and accomplishments will speak for themselves.
There is one caveat: Archaeology is an extremely small field and word gets around quickly. The people that get hired are usually the ones that get good reviews from other archaeologists. You aren’t going to get hired if every time someone asks another archaeologist about your skills and they say, “She’s a pretty smart person, but…” Your career will always be difficult if there’s always a disclaimer when people talk about you.
7. Safety is your responsibility— Last year, I started a one-man crusade to improve workplace safety in professional archaeology (Check out the health and safety resources on my blog). I have helped at least one company prioritize workplace safety and have helped a few more. It’s tough work, but I think this is important and will keep marching on about this topic because I can count on one hand the number of archaeologists that can bend over or squat down and lift a 30-pound box after they’re 60-years-old. Our backs and knees are usually blown by the time we’re 35.
There is no way we can create rules of conduct to keep us archaeologists safe in every, single occasion. However, there is much we all can do to improve safety in our industry. It all starts with recognizing your own obligation to work safely and encourage others to do the same. The main problem with health and safety in archaeology is the tough-guy culture that thinks risky work is okay. We can break that down by refusing to do unsafe activities and making sure we know how to work safely. Occupational safety begins and ends with individual employees. It is your responsibility to make sure you are safe at work.
8. Making your company money is your responsibility— Principal Investigators and company owners are simply one link in the chain of a successful business. These folks are important, but it takes a whole team of employees to make a company successful.
We can all contribute to profitability in a lot of different ways. Principals and owners can look to create partnerships, diversify the company’s income streams. Mid-level managers can strive to be efficient and keep the synergy between crew members copacetic. Field techs can take the initiative to learn about their craft and try to help less knowledgeable crew members. Keeping clients happy, within reason, should be the goal of all employees. I know a lot of us feel left out of the party when it comes to profit sharing, especially the lowly techs, crew chiefs, and project directors that actually do the archaeological work, but it takes all employees to keep the income stream flowing. Companies survive and fail because of the attitudes of their employees.
9. The research design and SHPO regulations are the bare minimum— Most companies and archaeologists act like doing what’s written in the project research design and fulfilling the SHPOs guidelines means they’re doing archaeology. They are and they aren’t.
Professional CRM archaeology means we do what we said we were going to do (the research design) in accordance with environmental laws (the regs). But, this should be considered the bare minimum of what it takes to do archaeology. The best projects I’ve worked on went the extra mile. These projects tried to use the project as a launch pad for deeper exploration with the intention of making a significant contribution to the field of archaeology. While these projects are rare, we all should be thinking of ways we can contribute to the field with every project.
We don’t have to act like milquetoast Wall Street bankers. While it’s difficult to enforce accountability in archaeology, we should aspire to do more than the bare minimum.
10. Don’t think this job is going to last— Plan to get laid off, fired, or otherwise be without work. The folks that can survive in archaeology are the ones with the best networks and the ability to find work when their current job flames out. Nobody is immune. Government archaeos can get fired when administrations change. CRM PIs can get laid off if they fu*k up a project or can’t bring in money. Sometimes, professors don’t get tenure. Most don’t even get a shot at the tenure track. The rest of us can get tossed in the dumpster for any number of reasons. Finally, you can just get bored and switch careers.
All archaeologists need to be prepared for the inevitable. Always be able to find a new job if you have to.
I just stream-of-conscious wrote this post, jotting down the unspoken rules I could think of. If you’ve got any more I encourage you to email Tracy Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on the post on Archaeology in Tennessee: http://contextintn.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/unwritten-rules-in-professional-archaeology-part-1/
You’ve also got to read Doug’s response to this query: http://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/4-unwritten-rules-of-professional-archaeology/
As always, you can comment below or send me an email.
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