How Many Archaeologists are in the US?: More than a couple, less than there should be.

Posted on June 18, 2014

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How many archaeologists are there in the US? I received a request for this information from a reader.

Surprisingly, it is a very difficult to track down an answer to this question.  Unlike the UK, Japan, Australia, and most of Europe there has yet to be any sort of project like Profiling the Profession to tell us. Though there is talk of running a Discovering the Archaeologists of the Americas project to find this information out but that may not happen for a while, or at all. Until then, there has been some work done by others and myself to track these numbers down. Here is a quick run down of the number of archaeologists we think are working in the US.

Never Trust the BLS

A lot of people like to cite the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which depending on the year, give numbers ranging from 6-7,000 archaeologists AND anthropologists. Considering that the American Anthropological Association has 10,000+ anthropologists and the Society of American Archaeologists has 7000+ archaeologists, (there is very little overlap between these two organizations, AAA has roughly a 1000 members in its archaeology section), it would seem that these numbers don’t add up. Not to bore you with the details but the BLS numbers are off because of how they sample numbers. Because there are so few archaeologists and anthropologists, relative to other occupations, the BLS has trouble accurately capturing them.

Federal Archaeologists

It is relatively easy to track the number of archaeologists working for the US government as the Feds keeps track of their employees. As far as I can tell the first person to use these numbers was Childs (2009) in his brief SAA article. Although he only uses the 0193 archaeologists designation and does not include the 0102 technician positions. I describe the difference between the two positions in this post and after looking at the numbers I found about 1200 permanent and 350 seasonal positions in 2013. Which means the federal government employees roughly 1550 people to undertake archaeological work.

Academic Archaeologists

In 2006 there was a snapshot survey by the SAA to try to determine the number professional archaeologists in the US. I have not personally seen this report, nor can I find it online but others cite it (the report is Snow 2006). That survey puts academic archaeologists at around 1500. I did a hand count of academics based off of University websites and came up with a number of 1636, as explained in this post. My numbers include adjuncts and archaeologists who teach out side traditional departments e.g. Anthropology and Archaeology. I would say the that there are roughly 1600 academic archaeologists in the US.

State and Tribal Archaeologists

Altschul and Patterson (2010) have run rough estimations of the number archaeologists working for SHPOs (State Historical Preservation Offices) and THPOS (Tribal Historical Preservation Offices), about 850. Actually they don’t. They estimate the number of CRM workers. Archaeologists are CRM workers but not all CRM workers are archaeologists e.g. archivists, historians, etc. Based on their estimate of public sector archaeologist and CRMers I have converted their CRM SHPO and THPOS numbers, 1430, to archaeologists i.e 850. They got those CRM numbers by sampling a few SHPOS and THPOs then multiplying the averages by the rest of the offices.

Private Sector CRM Archaeologists

Altschul and Pattrnson also made several estimations of the number of private sector archaeologists. One was based on an estimation that for every $100,000 spent on CRM a person is employed. Another was based on a previous observation that for every public sector employed archaeologists there are three private sector archaeologists. Both came up with around 7,350 archaeologists in the private sector. Sarah Herr and Chris Dore did some work and presented it at the 2009 SAA conference, in which they found that there was 1,624 listed CRM firms in the US (WV, NY, Mass, did not have lists and so the number is actually higher). It is quite conceivable that there are at least 7,000+ private sector archaeologists employed by 1600+ CRM firms (and an unknown number of non-CRM firms that employ archaeologists too).

When is a Archaeologist actually a Archaeologist?

Here is something I said when I was examining the number of Federal Archaeologists-

“Archaeologists are employed in two primary positions in the US Federal Government to undertake archaeological related work. I say primary because we archaeologists tend to be flexible in the sort of employment we carry out. An archaeologist might as easily be employed as an architectural historian, a curator, a researcher, an anthropologist, and so forth. I was at one point employed by the Federal Government as a Museum Aid working on the Chaco Canyon and related collections. All of us employed, at that time, in the collections had degrees in archaeology and considered ourselves archaeologists though we were employed as collections specialists. At best these numbers only represent those with the title of archaeologists”

Basically, all of these numbers are based are arbitrary definitions and may not represent what people actually consider themselves as, archaeologist or not.

Totals

Except for the Federal archaeologists and my personal count of academics these estimates all occurred pre-2008 crash. Which means we have no idea how the recession has affected the number of archaeologists employed. Work has since bounced back since the recession ended so it is possible that the numbers are back up to the pre-recession levels. Until there is a comprehensive study this is how many archaeologists we think, in some cases know, are in the US:

Academic- 1630+ (2012)

Federal- 1550 (2013)

States- 850 (2008)

CRM private sector- 7,000 (2008)

Total 11,030? (give or take those in the private sector and working for states currently)

References

Altschul and Patterson 2010 Trends in Employment and Training in American Archaeology. In Voices in American Archaeology. Edited by Wendy Ashmore, Dorothy T. Lippert, and Barbara J. Mills ISBN No. 978-0-932839-39-8

Childs, S. Terry 2009 Commentary. The SAA Archaeological Record (January 2009) Volume 9 (1), 37-39. http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/Publications/thesaaarchrec/Jan09.pdf

Herr, Sarah and Dore, Christopher D. 2009. Measuring CRM. Presented at the 74th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Atlanta, GA.

Snow, Dean 2006 Snapshot Survey to Estimate Number of Professional Archaeologists in the United States. Report Submitted to Board of Directors, SAA. Wahsington D.C.

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