The Actual Amount of National Science Foundation Funding for Archaeology

Posted on March 6, 2014


Early this week I published data on National Science Foundation funding for archaeology. This is what that data looks like:

Amount of NSF Grants for Archaeology Catagories

Amount of NSF Grants for Archaeology categories

These numbers were based off of the Archaeology, Anthropology (Archaeology-related), Systematic Anthropological Collections and Archaeometry programs of funding. It shows an increase in funding for archaeology by the NSF. However, this does not capture the complexity of funding for archaeology. For example, take this abstract from grant 0434280:

“This is a Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER) to do an archaeological survey of the first discovered Russian American Company shipwreck, Kad’yak, in Alaska. The Kad’yak sank in 1860 and was rediscovered in 2003 off Spruce Island near Kodiak, Alaska.”

Sounds like archaeology, right? Well it is not even listed under the archaeology program. If you searched the funding for the NSF archaeology or archeometry programs you would not find any information on this ‘archaeological survey’. That is because it is listed under the Arctic Social Science program. Archaeology covers such a wide range of topics that it is possible to fund archaeological work through different programs, not always listed as archaeology. When you include these other archaeology projects listed in different programs (definition discussed below) then we find that archaeology projects received $16.5 million in funding in 2013, not the $7 million that one would have found only looking at NSF archaeology programs. That results in a very different level of funding for archaeology:

Count of NSF grants for Archaeology

Count of NSF grants for Archaeology

Amount of NSF grants for Archaeology

Amount of NSF grants for Archaeology

There is significantly more money going to archaeology than what one finds from cursory examinations of funding in the archaeology categories. However, that is still peanuts compared to the $1 billion spent annually for CRM in the US. In fact, more is spent on CRM in one year than all of the funding given by the NSF and NEH for the last 40 years.


Here is how I got those numbers. I described how I found the data here and why the mid-1980s and earlier data is not the best. I broke down non-archaeology category grants, thus not included in my first look at the numbers, into two types of grants. One was those grants that are clearly archaeology projects, listed in the graph as archaeology + archaeology related. These were projects in the abstract or title stated something along the lines of, “this is funding for an archaeology project”. It gets more tricky with some projects listing archaeology as receiving a benefit. For example, a geology department might get a ground penetrating radar system and say that archaeologists might benefit from it, and they could. If the project was shared between archaeology and only one other discipline than it was counted as being archaeology related. These grants are counted in the archaeology+ related grants.

However, many projects would list a bunch of areas that could benefit from it e.g.

“This Engineering Research Equipment proposal is for funds for a scanning acoustic microscope to conduct a broad range of studies in materials engineering, precision machining, physics, archaeometry, and fiber and polymer science. “

When projects counted archaeology as only a small area among many that might benefit than it was counted as loosely benefiting.  Thus the graph has archaeology + loose relation. To be honest, I don’t really consider these grants going towards archaeology but that is an issue of semantics. If I were to put 100 archaeologists into a room and ask them to list the grants, like I have, we would end up with 125 different versions (yes, some archaeologists would have more than one version). That being said I believe most would be similar and the ranges might differ by a few thousand but it is unlikely to differ by millions.

I had to go through more than 3800 grants and hand code them as archaeology related or loosely related. A total of 88 of these I could not find any relation to archaeology, even loosely, and were excluded. Though given so many abstracts there is a chance that I made a mistake or errors have crept into the data. As such, I have included all of the data here so anyone can repeat my findings or make their own: NSF Archaeology Awards


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