Crisis in CRM archaeology is actually a changing of the guard, Part 3 2

This is the third and final post in a 3-part series on three articles written by Lawrence E. Moore. These three articles focus on the decline of CRM archaeology, the future of this industry in the United States, and they were published in the SAA Archaeological Record in 2005 and 2006.

All three articles are available for free on the SAA website:

Moore, Lawrence E.

2005     A Forecast for American Archaeology. SAA Archaeological Record 5(4):13–17.

2006a  CRM: Beyond its Peak. SAA Archaeological Record 6(1):30–33.

2006b  Going Public: Customization and American Archaeology. SAA Archaeological Record 6(3):16–19.

Once again, thank you Mr. Moore for writing this article series. It is a difficult task to predict the future of an industry that employs so many passionate professionals. Articles like these open the author up to criticism, but they must be written in order to initiate a dialogue about the future of our profession.

In his article “Going Public: Customization and American Archaeology” (2006b), Lawrence Moore suggest that CRM archaeology should expand into public archaeology and archaeology tourism as a means of fighting off the eminent collapse of our industry due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers. He states that customization of our services is paramount to the survival of CRM. This customization, he suggests, should focus on serving the entertainment needs of the communities in which we work; basically, we should focus on doing work that the public finds interesting. Archaeology should also be a means of promoting heritage tourism. Moore describes several instances where this type of work is already being done– situations where communities have incorporated archaeological sites into their parks and instances when subdivisions included considerations of archaeological resources in their homeowner association bylaws. According to Moore, the expansion into local heritage management and tourism will replace many of the jobs lost by the Boomer retirement and may even create additional jobs for archaeologists.

I wholeheartedly agree with Moore when he says that CRM archaeology needs to expand into local heritage conservation. This is largely an untapped resource (primarily because CRM companies don’t really know how they can capitalize on this market). Who cares more about heritage and historic preservation than the people that live near historic sites? Local communities have, or should have, a vested interest in the protection of their towns and neighborhoods. Historic preservation raises/maintains property values and adds character to cities. Historic sites can be a source of public pride. Locals stand to gain the most from the intangible and tangible benefits of historic preservation.

Just like I did in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I disagree with most of the rest of this article.

The Future of Local Heritage Conservation

While I agree that CRMers should tap into local conservation efforts, I disagree with the idea that this will bring thousands of quality jobs for archaeologists. I do not think local neighborhoods will hire permanent staff to guide tours and give presentations because I don’t think there will be very many people that will pay for an interpretative tour. Most historic neighborhoods and sites are not amazing enough for Americans to go out of their way to visit. Most people won’t want to pay for a tour guide like they do for National Park Service sites. They may pay $1.00 to $5.00 for an app on their phone, but I don’t think the revenue will be enough to pay the salary of permanent staff.

I believe that harnessing the talents and interests of a community and channeling this energy towards a heritage conservation project is the future of CRM archaeology. We don’t need to reach the entire public, just the select few individuals/groups/neighborhoods that are receptive to historic preservation and are willing to put in work and donate dollars.

Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing in conjunction with a social media and friendraising campaigns will play a huge role in funding historic preservation/ archaeological projects in the future. This strategy will also guide heritage conservation in communities across the country. In the near future, small, motivated groups of locals will dictate what gets preserved, how preservation is done, and what the end results will be. These groups will take part of the authority previously held by local governments. It’s already happening in some communities. Archaeologists need to learn how these campaigns can support non-profit organizations that may provide some quality jobs for archaeologists. CRM archaeologists needs to figure out how they can become advisors for this public activism.

Once again, I appreciate Moore for writing these provocative articles, but here are two of the most salient points I disagreed with that I would like to critique:

Heritage Tourism= Watching Archaeologists Dig

Everything recommended [by the author] means substantial increases in excavations, because digging is the best way to keep the public interested. Digging is our leverage…digging safeguards our profession.” (Moore, 2006:19).

Mr. Moore states that “Going Public” means doing work that the general public thinks is interesting. I agree with this, but, rather than asking the general public in a given community what they think is important, Mr. Moore states that we should just dig stuff up because the public seems to be interested in the process of discovery that accompanies archaeological excavations. He says we should diversify archaeology in multiple ways, even if that means blurring the lines between professional and non-professional (implying that we do our best to get volunteers to help us dig up sites).

According to Moore, basically, we should just start digging up sites and invite the general public watch while we dig. We should also invite the public to come out and help us dig stuff up. Moore makes no mention of what we should do with the artifacts or the resultant data. He has no recommendations for research designs for conducting work that may engage the public while still doing justice to the resource.

I couldn’t disagree more with this idea. First, the best way to save archaeology jobs is to establish a guild-like system that differentiates professionals from non-professionals. I advocate hardening the line between the pros and avocationals similar to what happened in the fields of law and medicine. Achieving professional status should involve a significant amount of experience AND education. Only professionals should be allowed to direct, design, and work on archaeological excavations. Volunteers and visitors can be welcomed, but the bulk of the work should be done by professionals. Why? Would you let an avocational lawyer get you out of a DUI? Would you get a root canal from a personal trainer just because the trainer had an interest in dentistry? Would you buy a house designed and constructed by a class of high schoolers because they think they kinda, like, wanna be architects someday? Exactly.

The result of Moore-style digging would be tons of sites looted by archaeologists in order to make a few bucks. Crappy data collection and sloppy excavation. People stealing artifacts. Kind of like what happened in the Depression on most of the CCC projects. Think Savage Family Diggers except the archaeologist throws away the artifacts out of posterity sake.

Second, the American public is not that interested in watching us dig. How do I know? Because for 7 months I worked at a living museum where one of the features was watching a bunch of grad students and field school students dig. I won’t mention any names, but the museum was in Virginia and was at the location of one of America’s forefather’s childhood homes. It was right off a state highway that thousands of people used to go to work every day. The museum saw quite a bit of tourists, but few of them walked the 100 yards to watch the archaeologists digging. There were multi-day stretches where nobody came out to talk with us.

The few that came out asked the most ridiculous questions:

— Where’s the best spot out here for me to metal detect for Civil War artifacts?

— I thought you said George Washington lived here. Why are you guys keeping all those arrowheads? Did George Washington use a bow and arrow?

— Why are you digging right here? There’s a privy in town that has tons of artifacts. You guys should go dig there.

— Did George Washington live underground? Is that why you’re digging?

— Why are you guys writing and drawing? You should keep digging. I want to see you find something cool.

— Why are you guys keeping all those pieces of broken plates and glass bottles? How much do you think that junk is worth?

Not every tourist was an idiot. There were some folks that were sincerely interested in what we were doing (Interestingly, most of them were European). But, the general public seemed less interested in watching us dig than they did about the stuff we were digging up. And most of them had no interest in helping us dig because archaeologists don’t have a monopoly on digging. Just Google “privy digging” and you’ll see that we aren’t the only folks in America digging for artifacts.

I just don’t see too many Americans pulling out their wallets for a chance to be an “archaeologist” for a day. At least, not enough to create thousands of archaeology jobs.

Third, how do you think we will replace CRM archaeology jobs with heritage tourism led by volunteers? According to Moore, as along as we dig Archaeology Channel-worthy sites, the general public will flock to them in droves and pay to watch us dig. Or, better yet, they’ll volunteer and take away the few remaining entry-level positions available for archaeological technicians. Volunteer archaeologists are already causing problems in the United Kingdom. How will more jobs be created when volunteers would be taking away jobs?

Fortunately, I don’t think the volunteer archaeologists will take away too many jobs. I loved my job in Virginia because I got to work on an awesome site and find amazing artifacts from the earliest days of the English colonies in the Americas. The museum had a standing invitation to anyone willing to come out and dig with us. Throughout the entire summer, only two people accepted the invitation. Both had been volunteering there for years. One volunteer had been doing avocational archaeology for over 20 years and had worked on some of the most influential historical archaeological sites in the mid-Atlantic states. He was an excellent archaeologist that did the job because he was a retired banker and needed something to do a couple days each week. Other than these two, nobody else in the entire metropolitan region came to dig (Except for a few elementary school and day care kids that dug in sand boxes. Many of these kids were even bored).

Basically, most Americans aren’t interested in archaeological excavation, even when they are given a chance. Americans are interested in the results of archaeological excavations. They want the Cliff’s Notes version of archaeology, which is why the Archaeology Channel, Archaeology magazine, the History Channel, and the dozens of outlets for distributing archaeological research to the general public are so popular. We shouldn’t bet on Americans paying archaeologists to show them how to dig (Although, DigVentures in the United Kingdom is wildly popular and has the potential to come across the pond to a site near you).

Finally, what would we do with all the artifacts, notes, GPS points, photos, and other data resulting from all this digging? Our repositories are already full. Private repositories aren’t an option either because they are not beholden to any laws and could liquidate their collections without any recourse or punishment. It is irresponsible to just go around digging sites without thinking about where the artifacts will go. We need to save our valuable repository space for the stuff that comes from truly influential sites, not from random, avocational digging.

Are we scientists or what?: Catering to the masses vs. doing significant archaeological research

If it can be presented as an episode on the Archaeology Channel or as an essay in Archaeology magazine, then it is a popular theme. This use of popular culture themes is commercial, an essential trait of the new Public Archaeology” (Moore, 2006:18).

Archaeology does not exist for the entertainment of the masses. We cannot dig all the coolest sites so the American public has one more thing to watch on television or visit on vacation. Conducting work solely to please average Americans would also stunt the intellectual growth of archaeological exploration and research because the questions asked by archaeologists are different than the ones asked by the masses. Because we are on the inside track and understand how results are generated, archaeologists can interpret sites to the general public and explain why a site is or is not important in a manner that the average layperson cannot. For the most part, the public tends to agree with our determinations.

Why are we the ones that tell the public what is important? Primarily because most people do not have enough background to think about the past like archaeologists and historic preservationists do. It’s not that they’re stupid, especially the folks interested in archaeology. It’s just that the general public looks to archaeological professionals for site interpretations and analysis. We spend all day thinking and working on this stuff. The average person spends about 2 hours per year, at most, visiting archaeological sites and thinking about archaeology (unless they’re watching an Indiana Jones marathon).

Carol McDavid’s research in community archaeology revealed that most of the general public defers to the interpretations created by archaeologists because of our perceived authority (McDavid, Carol; 2002; “Archaeologies That Hurt; Descendants That Matter: A Pragmatic Approach to Collaboration in the Public Interpretation of African-American Archaeology.” World Archaeology 34(2):303–314). For most sites, archaeologists are the ones that provide the information explaining a site’s significance and importance and what we can learn from this information. This is just how it is.

Additionally, most of the most important archaeological results come through techniques and technologies that would make for boring T.V. I can imagine the excitement the average Joe feels when I describe how I calculate artifact density and distribution from a historical artifact catalog in order to make inferences on site creation or past behaviors. Or, explaining how I determine aggregate median manufacture dates from the hundreds of makers’ marks in the assemblage from a given site and why that matters. I can also envision the excitement that the everyday person gets from transcribing the results of a mass spectrometry scan conducted on artifacts in order to determine the ingredients in a historical medicine. All of these results matter for site interpretation, analogies on past behavior, and for furthering archaeological research, but they are extremely boring to anyone that isn’t interested in the science of archaeology. And that boring stuff usually doesn’t make the cut on the Archaeology Channel.

Moore also suggests we turn our attention toward recreation archaeology (i.e. creating adventure or heritage tours for vacationers). These programs are supposed to be staffed largely by volunteers and will cater to Baby Boomers. I think this is important and has potential for CRM companies to capitalize, but they will have to be conceived and created with input from local communities and should be oriented towards all demographics, not just Boomers.

I think our best bet is not to create tourist traps like the Mesoamerican pyramid jungle tours, but, rather to accentuate the unique historical amenities that make each community and neighborhood special. This can be something as simple as a walking route created on Everytrail or another travel app. Or, it could be an elaborate cooperative venture between local business, government, and neighborhood residents. I can see how there is potential for archaeologists to get paid designing and giving tours, but I think it would be even easier for archaeologists to highlight important archaeological resources using an app with links to several historical guides created for the general public for sale or free distribution as Kindle eBooks or on a CRM company’s website.

In order for recreation archaeology to work, we need to focus on reaching all demographics, incorporating readily available technologies, working with communities, and local businesses. CRMers are in a good position because of our intimate knowledge of the places in which we work and our familiarity working with disparate government, business, and private citizen groups.

We, archaeologists, also need to stick with science. It is our job to do archaeology and interpret the results to the masses. That is our unique place in society. We have not done a very good job explaining why archaeology is important, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t start trying in earnest. Online connectivity, social media, and applications are giving us myriad means to reach the general public. All we have to do is seize the opportunities placed before us.

Baby Boomers are Part of the Whole

Boomers are a large and important part of our society, but they are not the only part of society. If CRM is going down the toilet, which I don’t believe, it is because the Boomers didn’t do a good enough job creating a sustainable industry that could last for generations. Archaeology will not die with the Baby Boomer generation. CRM archaeology will continue as long as there is a United States with labyrinthine cultural resource laws. Every day, some Baby Boomer’s childhood neighborhood becomes potentially eligible historical district. The number of historic sites in the U.S. is exploding exponentially, which means the CRM industry will continue for the foreseeable future. It may not be like the halcyon days of the early 2000’s, but it will remain a viable occupation (despite what Forbes magazine says).

Rather than making archaeology interesting to Baby Boomers, we should be discussing ways we can make it interesting to everyone— devising and field testing methods for getting local citizens and governments to take an active role in historic preservation. There is already a powerful historic preservation community that is willing to go to blows over places they value. All we need to do is tap into this community and show what CRM can offer (management, collaboration, ingenuity, regulatory familiarity, research skills, technology, infrastructure, and other attributes). This may have to be conducted by former CRMers working through non-profits, but it is possible.

I agree with Moore’s idea that we need to incorporate the masses in historic preservation. I disagree with how he proposes we accomplish this mission. The best way to provide for public archaeology is by creating local groups that include all generations, the business community, and local governments in decision-making and activism.

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2 thoughts on “Crisis in CRM archaeology is actually a changing of the guard, Part 3

  • Larry Moore

    Bill, thanks for covering my essays. I just came across them. BTW, I was at the Austin SAA meeting, in the blogging session. Good luck!

    My now defunct blog is

    Larry Moore

    • SuccinctBill Post author

      Mr. Moore, thanks for reading and showing up to the blogging archaeology session. I was sure you wanted to hurt me for the things I said about your essays. If you want, you can guest-post a rebuttal on my blog. I would love to hear your response.

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