National Science Foundation Funding for Archaeology: Surprisingly Good News

Posted on February 25, 2014


Last week, I posted numbers on the National Endowment for the Humanities funding for Archaeology. It has been a complete disaster for Humanities funding of Archaeology in the US. NEH funding for Archaeology is now 1/5th of what it was a few decades ago. However, not all Federal Government grant funding to Archaeology has been so bad. I took a look at the grants awarded to Archaeology, Anthropology (Archaeology in the category before it was split off, more in methods below), Systematic Anthropological Collections  (discontinued but first started in the late 1980s and ran till early 1990s) and Archaeometry grant programs. I go into the methods below but it is important to remember that pre-1976 numbers are patchy at best and even the 1980s appears to have some issues. However, even when adjusting for inflation (2013 dollars) we can see that grants, in terms of money and number awarded, to Archaeoloy/Archaeometry have actually increased. The amount awarded, adjusted for inflation, is up by 25% between 1990 and 2013. Funding is up about 390% between 1980 and 2013, again adjusted for inflation.

Amount of NSF Grants for Archaeology Catagories

Amount of NSF Grants for Archaeology Catagories

The number of grants given have gone up as well:

Number of NSF Grants for Archaeology Catagories

Number of NSF Grants for Archaeology Catagories

When I looked at the NEH numbers I divided that into Archaeology and Archaeology related funding. The former being projects that were not listed in the Archaeology category but mentioned archaeology. The same goes for this NSF data. Archaeology, Anthropology , Systematic Anthropological Collections  and Archaeometry are the NSF archaeology categories. All the numbers show the results of these categories. However, that does not mean that these categories are the only categories a project could be under. Here is an example of all the categories a single project was listed under -AFRICA, NEAR EAST, & SO ASIA, ARCHAEOLOGY, POP & COMMUNITY ECOL CLUSTER. So these numbers are a bit elastic and include some other disciplines. Then there are all the projects that did not list categories, from the 1970s and earlier, which were included in this graph because they were clearly archaeology projects. Finally, there were those projects that during my search had the keywords archaeology, archeology, or archaeomerty in the abstract, title, or anywhere else but the category section. These I will share later as I am still processing the data.


I obtain the data from the NSF at this website-

Issues with older numbers

The NSF says the numbers are good till 1976 but before that they are patchy. I am somewhat skeptical of the numbers from the 1976 to the mid-1980s. Anthropology appears to have almost all the archaeology programs  up to 1986/87 so those numbers were included. Before that the Archaeology category is almost non-existent. It looks like around that time there was a switch from Archaeology as part of Anthropology to its own separate category. Archaeometry starts around 1983/84. I am just not sure how accurate these early 1980s numbers are. Looking at the trends in the graphs it looks like around 1985 is when the data becomes accurate i.e. all projects are record not just some. I think that is what is causing the jump in funding at that time not a change in funding patterns.


The year dates are the year the project started. Projects can, and do, last for years. So this is actually a graph of total award amounts when the grant starts not actual distributions of money ever year.




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