Crowdfunding and community archaeology

Thanks to thankless activism on the part of a dedicated Congressional lobby, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States just approved crowdfunding for small businesses. This privilege is enshrined as part of the recently signed JOBS Act. I read the Entrepreneur magazine article (June 2013:32–40) about how a small team of dedicated entrepreneurs convinced the SEC to allow crowdfunding, overcoming the commission’s fear that unscrupulous fraudsters may try to fleece the public. They even rammed it through a stagnate Congress in less than 5 years.


Immediately, I started thinking about how archaeologists could use this to keep/create jobs. The most obvious way is:

1)   Think about a way you can serve local business and community interests by doing archaeology

2)   Create a plan of action

3)   Create a 501(c)(3) corporation

4)   Start raising money on kickstarter or through private donations

5)   Go do archaeology

But, right away I realized several problems with that plan. If you aren’t a 501(c)(3), how will you pay back investors?  How can you make it sustainable? (People will get bored if you can’t come up with something awesome to dig up every month/year) Where will you put all the artifacts? How can you do justice to the resource AND the investors? How can you keep investors flocking to your cause?

It seems daunting, but there are several organizations that are crowdfunding their archaeological projects.

Archaeology in the Community is a non-profit in Washington, D.C. started by Dr. Alexandra Jones. The organization was originally dedicated to helping teach young people about the importance of archaeology, but it has morphed into a much more substantial cultural institution that is helping future archaeologists build careers and conducting extensive community outreach. You can hear more about the mission of AITC in Dr. Jones’ interview on the CRM Archaeology Podcast.

Digventures, Ltd. is a community archaeology company in the United Kingdom that, somehow, convinces members of the general public to come out and PAY to dig at archaeology sites throughout the country. I don’t know about the heritage conservation laws in the U.K., but I’m sure that what Digventures is doing is legal. This business model could easily work in the United States and I’m surprised that nobody has done something like this yet here. Perhaps it’s because we’d rather watch digging on shows like Savage Family Diggers.

There’s something about what Digventures is doing that is shocking to me for some reason. I guess I feel kinda like an old lady that see how short the young girls’ shorts are and starts lamenting about how, when she was a girl, “proper” young ladies didn’t wear such risque clothing.

Here’s a pretty cool video about their most recent Digventure:

In a less dramatic fashion, other archaeologists in the United States are getting on the crowdfunding bandwagon. Check out how Mark Henshaw is trying to bootstrap industrial archaeological investigations at the John Snowdon and Son’s Vulcan Iron and Machine Works.

I can imagine how archaeologists today might be a little surprised with the idea that archaeologists have more means to fund and execute archaeology projects on their own using private funds. No need for government funding. CRMers can stick to compliance work. “We the People” can choose to dig the cool stuff and have the experience of a lifetime doing it.

On the other hand, I can also see this going in a very bad direction. Inexperienced newbies plundering sites in order to look good on YouTube. Inappropriate human burial photos that will piss off Native American tribes and other indigenous communities. Major sites in Third World countries pillaged by Westerners and local accomplices with most of the money going back to fund archaeology companies in Europe and the U.S. A boom in antiquities trade due to the proliferation of artifacts excavated without a curation agreement. Tourists paying a few hundred dollars to bring home bags of artifacts as souvenirs because there are “redundant” samples.

This can go very wrong or, like in the case of AITC, very right. What’s the best way to handle the fact that crowdfunding archaeology is here to stay?

If you have any questions or comments, write below or send me an email.


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