Archaeology or Cultural Resource Managment? Real Archaeologists or Fake Archaeologists- Does it even matter?

Posted on February 12, 2014


My post yesterday was inspired by Bill’s post, When archaeology field techs have to teach PhDs how to do archaeology. If you scroll to the bottom you will see a lively discussion occurring in the comments (just like most Archaeology Bloggers wish they had on all their posts). There are a few comments that I would like to discuss:

“First, one must remember that cultural resource management (CRM) is not so much about archaeology, but all about completing a process and making money. CRM, above all, is a business.”-Drew

“I think that, yes, there is a disjunction between academic and field/crm archaeology”- Lindsey

I would say these views might be the consensus among archaeologists, maybe? Tom King has also mentioned on the CRM podcast that CRM is not archaeology, or that is at least my impression of what I thought he said (apologies Tom if I misquote you). You find statements all the time about how “Academic” archaeology is not “Commercial/CRM”. My personal favorite is how your not a real archaeologists unless you can dig. Sara Perry tears that last notion apart better than I ever could.

To be fair, people are right there is a difference between “Commercial/CRM” and “Academic” archaeology. Tom is right CRM is about management of cultural resources, not all of which are material culture, and not about “the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind”, as Wikipedia defines archaeology.

My problem is that these are imaginary lines we have created, CRM or Academic. Yes, there are differences but are they so great we need to treat them alien entities. Look at the current definition of archaeology according to wiki. That definition has only applied for maybe the last half century. Before that the definition of archaeologist might has well have been the description of Indian Jones- collector of rare antiquities”. Archaeologists were at best enthusiastic amateurs (rich of course) and at worst cultural thieves and looters of other people’s pasts for far longer than we have been students of the past through material culture. Talk to collectors now and they can’t understand why archaeologists hate them now but when they were kids (in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s) they were all one in the same. The simple reason is because we have evolved and changed with the times. Though we haven’t evolved to be more inclusive, instead we seem to become more and more narrow in our focus. Is this for the better?

Now you can get a degree in CRM, not archaeology but CRM. WHY? Why do we need a separate degree or as it is turning out to be a separate discipline. (Note- I am not saying we need to not teach the skills or concepts of CRM. What I am asking is why do we need to divide it up?). Why can’t it just be studying the past. Why do we have separate Classics, History, or Museum Studies departments? Which according to definitions would mean historic archaeologists are not real archaeologists because they use historical records. At the same time they are not historians because they also look at material culture. Why can’t we all just be called students of the past?

Of course we know the reason for that, the past (not trying to play on words). Universities, guilds, and “professionals” have dived up disciplines which are then transferred to future generations. We emulate the structures of 18th and 19th Century Universities and Medieval guilds. Yet, we don’t ask if there is a better way.

My question for you is, are these artificial barriers helpful?

I personally think they are not. For example, in the debate on Bills post it has been mentioned that a PhD does not train one for CRM. However, what seems to be completely missing is the lack of skills training for the artificially created “academic” side of archaeology. The criticism/excuse I hear a lot is that PhD programs are meant to create other academics/professors. THEY DO NOT. Look at the three things required to obtain tenure in the US:

  • Service- usually means serving on a university committee not serving the public
  • Publication- technically this is called research but in reality it is the act of publishing
  • Teaching

Most PhD programs give no training on how to be a teacher. Nor do they teach one how to publish anything other than a dissertation, like an article or book, or how to be a productive member of a group. I say most because there are of course exceptions to this and I don’t want to paint all programs the same. My point is not to bash Universities and those that work in them. My point is that by separating out CRM from academic archaeology we completely ignore the problem of a complete lack of skills training at Universities, even for University jobs. Then the argument becomes about what is best for only CRM archaeologists, not all archaeologists.

Divided we fall or at least that is how I see it. Maybe you have a different opinion about how we divide ourselves up and what makes a archaeologist an ‘archaeologist’.

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