4 Unwritten Rules of Professional Archaeology

Posted on June 25, 2014


The Archaeology in Tennessee Blog has put out a call to collect the unwritten rules of professional archaeology. Here is a brief blurb on it-

“It occurred to us that similar sets of unwritten rules are probably operative on a conscious or unconscious level in the world of professional archaeology.  These are rules that no one has written down on paper and said, “See this!!!  It’s a rule!!!  You must abide by it stringently at all times.”  Nonetheless, just from working in the discipline of professional archaeology for many decades, archaeologists have picked upon or sensed that such unwritten rules are nonetheless there, and many archaeologists expect other archaeologists to know what those unwritten rules are and to abide by them.  While these unwritten rules may exist, some archaeologists might not be aware of them, some might not subscribe to all of them, and their application may vary somewhat with regard to particular social and situational circumstances.”

It would be great to have lots of participants so head on over to this link at the A in T blog to find out more- http://contextintn.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/unwritten-rules-in-professional-archaeology-part-1/

Here are my four unwritten rules of professional archaeology, a mix of UK and US social norms:

1. The Marshalltown Trowel

Every archaeologist needs a trowel, but not every trowel is consider professional quality. This is a US rule and may be limited to the southwest but I am pretty sure it covers all the states. When we say bring your own trowel what we really mean is bring a Marshalltown trowel. Why? I don’t know. There is something to say about quality, but there are other brands that are quality too. For some reason the gold standard in trowels is the Marshalltown in the US. If you don’t have a Marshalltown expect to hear something about it from your colleagues.

Non-Marshalltown trowel from Pasthorizons.

2. Snitches Don’t Dig Ditches

Professional Archaeology is a small field. Many employers will call around to see what sort of worker you are. This is a good way to keep the bad apples out. Unfortunately, this means that some people get unfairly blacklisted or keep silent about less than desirable activities for fear of losing their job. No one names names in public. In private is another matter.

3. Driver’s License > PhD

This is mainly a UK thing but starting to matter in the US too. A Driver’s License is worth more than a PhD to get a job in commercial archaeology. Seriously, you could probably just send in a copy of your driver’s license as a CV, it would save everyone some time.

4. Everyone Digs in the Field

So this might not be true of every company but in my experience, when you are out in the field everyone digs/surveys/whatever. PhD or high school diploma, 30 years of experience or 3 months, project manager or lowly tech, it does not matter everyone does every job, sort of. Of course some people might be more skilled in one area than another and so might do that more often. However, everyone is expected to do every job regardless of your background or position (physical disabilities preventing some work aside). If you don’t do, or attempt to do, every job you will not be asked back to work.

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