Why do we need the Archaeology Careerist’s Network?

In case you didn’t already know, I started a Linked In group called the Archaeology Careerist’s Network (ACN). There are already over 140 archaeology-related Linked In groups, so you may ask, “why did I feel the need to create yet another archaeology group?”

The ACN is dedicated to increasing the flow of information between cultural resource management archaeologists, government agency archaeologists, archaeology/anthropology professors, and anthropology students. Communication and information are the principal reasons why the internet exists and why it has so quickly penetrated modern human societies. Communication and interaction are at the heart of what it means to be a human being. Since its inception, social media has rapidly permeated modern society in a way no other form of communication has. An increasing number of westerners have social media accounts and use them daily as a means of keeping in contact with friends, relatives, peers, and co-workers. Social media use is highest amongst the Generation X and Millennials, but is growing even more quickly among the Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation. Few people are not “linked into” some sort of social network.

Linked In is the largest professional social networking site in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. Despite the fact that, as a whole, the field of archaeology lags behind other science fields in their online presence, there are thousands of archaeologists on Linked In. The largest archaeology-related Linked In group (Professional Anthropology/Archaeology Group) has over 5,100 members!

I started the ACN because I felt like there has long been a lack of communication flow between the multiple archaeology communities. The longstanding divide between university/academic and CRM archaeologists is well-known and well-documented. As I’ve written about before, there is also an unfortunate lack of communication between archaeologists at different companies and, sometimes, even within the same company. It’s as if our work as CRM archaeologists is being conducted in a vacuum.

We CRMers are also expected to learn on the job from the numerous mistakes we all make as newbies. Oftentimes, there is much a company’s management could have done to prevent these mistakes with a few hours of simple mentorship. But, principal investigators are extremely busy and many field directors and crew chiefs are not good teachers or believe in a “trial by fire” for all new techs. The end result is wasted money (usually tax dollars), inefficiencies that make it more difficult to land new contracts, and risking the company’s reputation just because somebody didn’t take 2 hours to train to a new hire in the company’s philosophy and field techniques. Most companies have no training materials (other than sexual harassment videos) and simply expect new hires to just know what to do from the get-go.

The ACN is a tool we can use to help banish the “sink or swim” mentality in CRM archaeology and the rest of the profession. We can all learn from each other. We can improve our career field by sharing our collective knowledge.

Another reason I created the ACN is the fact that archaeologists rarely learn the skills they’ll need to survive in “the real world” from their university training. This is not the fault of university anthro programs because most are not oriented toward teaching a trade, but, rather, are aimed at conveying the important theoretical aspects that are the foundation of archaeological interpretation. The theories that guide what archaeology can teach us about the past, how we understand and interpret past behavior, and how we derive our interpretations are absolutely essential to the entire archaeological process. However, these theoretical underpinnings take a close second to the business reality that is cultural resource management. CRMers apply theory to their work, but it is only part of what they do.

Cultural resource management was created to provide professional advice for government agencies that are tasked with managing the vast number of cultural resources around the country for the general public. We are legal advisors AND archaeologists, or architectural historians, or ethnographers, or anthropologists. CRM archaeologists are trained in archaeological method and theory, but we use those skills in order to help government agencies with their mandates. We also provide advice that helps private companies fulfill their legal obligations. In this milieu, it is important to understand that the title “archaeologist” is different than its dictionary meaning, which is similar to the purist definition taught in universities.

There is a steep learning curve for anyone that wants to be a CRM or government agency archaeologist. In order to bridge the gap between your college education and your vocation, you will have to learn the skills that will turn you into a skilled advisor that is well-versed in the application of historic and environmental preservation laws. This is rarely taught in school, which is why I created the ACN– to help fill the gap between theory-based university education and the “real-world” skills needed to be a good CRM archaeologist.

The third reason why I developed this Linked In group comes from a 2007 article written by Timothy L. McAndrews in the SAA Archaeological Record (7[3];39–42) called “Bridging the Great Divide: How Academic Archaeology can Serve the CRM Industry”. McAndrews explains how, upon being tasked with researching the feasibility of creating a CRM archaeology M.A. program at his university, he created a questionnaire for members of the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA). This article was the results of this survey, which was mostly answered by the higher management of a number of large CRM companies.

He sought to solve a problem he faced in his previous career as a CRM project manager. McAndrews recalls: “I would cringe every time I received a resume from a recent graduate–especially an M.A. or Ph.D.–who had never done archaeology in a CRM context and had little if any relevant experience.” His goal was to get an understanding of the educational requirements necessary for a successful career in CRM archaeology so he could create a academic program that would fill that void.

The resulting questionnaire included open-ended and multiple choice questions designed to get a range of qualitative and quantitative responses that sought to answer three implicit questions:

  1. What is type of curriculum is relevant for CRM archaeology?
  2. What “real-world” experience is required?
  3. How can you learn what you need to know and get “real-world” experience from a college major?

Open ended question answers indicated that CRM supervisors want graduates to have: 1) a firm grasp of historic preservation legislation, 2) strong technical writing skills, 3) an understanding of CRM archaeology as a business, and 4) CRM experience. Multiple choice question answers indicated that recent graduates must have: 1) an understanding of legislation, 2) GIS skills, 3) experience with quantitative methods, and 4) familiarity with public outreach.

Basically, graduates must understand the laws and be familiar with the mechanics of CRM archaeology.

More specifically–CRM management wants graduates to have experience in CRM.

The best way for college graduates to learn about CRM is not in a classroom. It can’t be learned from a book either. It’s also not learned by making a series of career-ending, contract-killing mistakes that could make your entire education a waste. The best way for us to learn about CRM is by doing CRM; however, we can learn much by interacting with people that work in CRM.

Human beings are social animals that learn extremely well through stories and from experiences. McAndrews’ article clearly states that CRM supervisors want their new hires to know about the industry and how it works before they get hired. While there are whole libraries on CRM archaeology, the only way you can really learn how to do CRM is by doing CRM. This is the same with every area of archaeology. The second best method is by hanging out with CRMers and learning from their mistakes– especially the mistakes made by today’s experienced supervisors.

I created the ACN to help all of us learn about our career field by interacting with each other. It is free to join for anyone that is an archaeologist or anthropology student interested in becoming an archaeologist. The network is devoted to helping all of us improve our careers and businesses by interacting with each other. I envision the ACN as a forum where questions can be asked and answered and problems can be solved.

Join the conversation today.

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


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