Hitting the Wall- the loss of archaeology students

Posted on September 15, 2011

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Many long distance runners will experience a phenomenon, known as hitting the wall, during a race. This is were their bodies reach the limit of their abilities and they can no longer keep up their current pace.

Academic archaeology is in the middle of such an event. The graph below shows the number of archaeology students enrolled in UK universities and the number of archaeology students graduating from US/Canadian universities.

Archaeology Student Trends

Archaeology Student Trends

These numbers are not exact but comparable as the number of student graduating is dependent on the number of students enrolled.  The US/Canadian data was provided by the American Anthropology Association and archaeology numbers are based off the ratio of archaeology PhDs out of Anthropology PhDs, 25%. The UK data is provided by the Higher Educations Statistics Agency.

This trend in dropping numbers has been occurring since the early to mid-2000s. A similar trend is seen in the US during the late 1970s-1980s. If the patterns repeat then archaeology is looking to lose about 40% of their students before bottoming out.

The UK is currently 23% off the peak and the US/Canadian schools are off by about 22%. This would indicate we still have a ways to go before we hit the bottom of this slope.

What does this mean for archaeology? Hard to say. Fewer students could mean less funding for academics and thus less academic positions. This could also mean less competition for commercial jobs but that is harder to estimate. It is unknown if these numbers represent those with peripheral interest in archaeology or not. The total numbers could be going down but those looking for a career in archaeology could stay the same.