With Archaeology and Science Under Assault How Many Allies Do We Have? – Number of People with Archaeology Degrees

Posted on October 27, 2014


A few months ago I posted an estimation of the number of people with Archaeology degrees from US Universities. I have since done quite a bit more research on the subject. My initial estimates are probably too high for undergraduate degrees. But, I also found some associated degrees i.e. CRM, and pushed the data back to 1894- the year the first Archaeology PhD was given out (Add that question to the Antiquity quiz at this year’s TAG conference).  I have compiled it all together into a piece for the SAA Archaeological Record (SAAAR) and submitted it last week. I am posting in here for several reasons. One, if you would give feedback I would greatly appreciate it- open peer review as it were – it can only make the final piece better. So please comment below. Also, last time I put something into SAAAR it took a year to be published and I think the reason why this data is important needs to be discussed much sooner than a year from now. If you read the first paragraph you will understand what I mean. So here it is-

 With Archaeology and Science Under Assault How Many Allies Do We Have? – Number of People with Archaeology Degrees

Doug Rocks-Macqueen

ScienceInsider has reported that Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), current chair of the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is actively looking to cut National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to certain fields by examining grant applications for issues (Mervis 2014). A disturbing trend is that 11 (23%) of the 47 grants receiving the congressmen’s attention were for Archaeology based projects (8 from the Archaeology funding stream and 3 projects that use Archaeological resources).  Whether we like it or not, Archaeology is now on the front lines of the War on Science.

I think it would be a mistake to treat this as a war, with a mentality of us versus them. Instead we should look to both strengthen our message as to why Archaeology and Heritage is important to society, and involve more people with it. The more people involved in Archaeology the less likely it is to receive the negative attention of politicians. Public Archaeology is the natural path to obtain that. But, I wondered if we are missing out on a key demographic, those between profession, served by organizations like the SAA or RPA, and the general public, the focus of Public Archaeology efforts.

I am talking about those with Archaeology focused degrees but who are not professionals. They are people who were interested to spend 2, 4, or 10+ years of their life and possibly thousands of dollars earning an Archaeology related degree. They would be a natural group to get involved in the lobby and education of Congress and the wider public about Archaeology and Heritage. We already know they are interested in the topic.

We have long suspected that our Universities produce more people with degrees in Archaeology than there are jobs, but we have no idea how many people have gotten Archaeology focused degrees. Is it 10,000 or 100,000? In this article I will take you through my attempts to determine the size of this group and what the interesting results might mean for Archaeology.

Data, Data, Data, Data

In my search to answer this question I came across three datasets on degrees granted in the United States. Apologies to Canadian, Mexican and archaeologists from other parts of the Americas, this first attempt was aimed at US Universities but I hope to expand the results in the future. Here are the sources:

The American Anthropological Association

The AAA has been tracking the number of undergrad and graduate Anthropology degrees given through their AnthroGuide since 1975. They also have data going back to 1948 (D’Andrade et al 1975). The AAA provided me with data from 1948 to 2009.

The National Science Foundation

The NSF conducts an annual survey of PhD awardees. Some of this data is available online, from 1966 onwards, at WebCASPAR (https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/webcaspar/) and data from 1920-1965 can be found is the report, ‘U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century’ (Thurgood et al 2006). But that report states that for the years 1920–57 the dataset unreliable.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Schools that receive federal funding are required to contribute statistics to the NCES and this data can be found online at WebCASPAR, from 1966 onwards. This data, like the AAA data, covers all undergraduate and graduate degrees but also covers associate degrees, certificates, etc. and those degrees that list Anthropology as a second major.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff, Archaeology from Anthropology

The ‘Four Field’ approach to Anthropology in the United States caused problems when gathering accurate statistics. All of these datasets had Archaeology degrees, or as is the case with most US Universities Anthropology degrees with a concentration in Archaeology, classified as general Anthropology degrees and need to be separated out. This was done by taking the percentage of Archaeology students out of all Anthropology students and multiplying it against the datasets.

The American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Department Surveys has information on Archaeology student percentages going back to the early 1970s (Table 1). Archaeology students make up about 20% of Anthropology undergraduates and 37% of postgraduates. It took some time to figure out why Archaeology majors/concentrations made up a higher percentage of Anthropology postgraduates. Separating out PhD level departments (34% Archaeology) and terminal MA/MSc departments (42%) revealed that there is a much higher demand for MA/MSc degrees in Archaeology. Given the Secretary of Interiors requirement for an MA/MSc to manage CRM projects on government land these percentages make sense, at least for recent numbers.

Year 75-76 76-77 77-78 77-78 77-78 79-80 80-81 82-83 84-85 86-87 88-89 97-98
Anthropology students taking Junior & Senior/ Advance level classes in Archaeology 26% 23% 13% 17% 14% 17% 17% 17% 16% 16% 15% 15%
Graduates in programs with terminal Masters 47% 48% 39% 44% 39% 47% 43% 43% 36%
Graduates in PhD level programs 31% 55% 28% 31% 28% 35% 33% 34% 32%

Table 1: Percentage of Archaeology students in Anthropology departments. From the AAA Departmental Surveys .There are three different datasets for 1977-78

How accurate are these numbers? Other surveys have found that Archaeologists make up 25-30% of those receiving Anthropology PhDs and working in Anthropology departments (Table 2).

Archaeologists as percentage of Anthropologists Sources
29% (1971-72), 20% (1976-77), 26% (1981-81), 29% (1983-84), 27% (1985-1986), 31% (1987-88), 24% (1989-90), 24% (1995), 24% (1997) of PhDs surveyed from multiple PhD surveys in 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990 American Anthropological Association 1990. Survey of AnthropologyPhDs, Departmental Services Program Report. AAA, Washington DC.Givens, David B., and Jablonski, Timothy 1995. Survey of Anthropology PhDs, American Anthropological Association.



Givens, David B., Evans, Patsy, and Jablonski, Timothy 1997. 1997 Survey of Anthropology PhDs, American Anthropological Association.


From 1966-67 to2000-2001PhD dissertations in Archaeology24%        total average

27%        1990s Average

24%        1980s Average

21%        1970s Average

Boites, Salvadore Z., Geller, Pamela, and Patterson, Thomas C. 2002. The Growth and Changing Composition of Anthropology 1966-2002. American Anthropology Association. http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/Changing-Composition-1966-2002.pdf
18% of Academic Job postings in 2009 Terry-Sharp, Kathleen 2009. 2009 Anthropology Faculty Job Market Report. AAA Academic Relations Dept. http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/Job-Survey-_For-web-1.pdf
29% (1971-72), 20% (1976-77), 26% (1981-82), 29% (1983-84), 27% (1985-86), 31% (1987-88), 24% (1989-90), 24% (1994-95), 26% (1996-97) faculty at surveyed Anthropology departments American Anthropological Association Departmental Surveys1977- http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/1977-Department-Survey.pdf1978- http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/1978-Department-Survey.pdf

1979- http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/1979-Department-Survey-1.pdf



1996- http://www.aaanet.org/resources/departments/96Survey.cfm

1998- http://www.aaanet.org/resources/researchers/upload/1998-Dept-Survey.pdf

Table 2: Different sources of the percentages Archaeologists make up of Anthropologists.

With the Departmental Surveys giving different results from year to year it was difficult to settle on the exact percentages to use. Eventually, 20% for undergrads, 38% for MA/MSc and 30% for PhDs were used. With pre-1970 MA/MSc being reduced to PhD levels of 30% on account CRM is likely driving this need and it would not have been there before the 1970s. Even then that change only makes a minor difference in overall numbers.


Taking the three different datasets, and the percentage archaeology majors/concentrations we end up with these results:

Estimated number of US Archaeology degree- undergraudate

Estimated number of US Archaeology degree- undergraudate

Figure 1: BA/BS Archaeology degrees given per years by data source.

Estimated number of US Archaeology degree- postgraduate

Estimated number of US Archaeology degree- postgraduate

Figure 2: Postgraduate Archaeology degrees given per year by data source.

Estimating 1894-1947

It is believed the first Archaeology PhD from a US University, Harvard, was given out to George A. Dorsey in 1894 (Christenson 2011).  Unfortunately, between 1895 and 1948 there is poor data on PhDs and no information on Undergraduate and Master’s degrees. We do have the NSF data on PhDs back to 1920 and the number of Anthropology PhDs to 1900 (Rogge 1976). Taking the ratio, in the 1950s, of PhDs to MA/MScs (1 to 2) and BAs (1 to 6) it was possible to estimate the total number degrees from the known PhDs. This added roughly 1000 extra degrees to the final tally, which is actually not that significant in the grand scheme.

Which Numbers Are the Right Ones?

The different data sources line up close to each other but are not exact. You will notice that the AAA numbers tend to differ from the other two sources from the mid-1970s onwards. That is because they include non-US Universities from that point awards, skewing the numbers. Because of this the US government numbers are the more accurate because they cover only US schools. But, the AAA numbers, based on government data pre-1975, go back further. Using a combination of NCES data from 1966 forward (including 2nd majors and other degrees/certificates), the AAA data from 1948-1965, and the estimated numbers from 1894-1947 we get the following results:

PhD         5,848
MA/MSc       16,973
BA/BS       52,896
Other Degrees         1,109
2nd Major         1,789
All Degrees       78,615

Table 3: Estimated number of Archaeology degrees given by US Universities. Unfortunately, there is no information on ‘other’ degrees/certificates before 1983 and no data before 2001 for second majors.

That is a rounded to 79,000 Archaeology majors/concentration degrees given out. At the very least there are roughly 56,000 people with an Archaeology degree. The total number of people with Archaeology degrees is somewhere between these numbers depending on how many people hold multiple archaeology degrees e.g. one person has three Archaeology degrees – a BA, a MA, and a PhD or have only one archaeology degree out of several – BA in chemistry, MA in Archaeology. These are all estimations and the actual number will vary, but I believe with the current knowledge we have about Archaeology as part of Anthropology these estimates are pretty close to the real number.

Archaeology is Anthropology or it is Nothing… or Classics or Art History or Geo-Sciences or….

Anthropology is not the only field that Archaeology can be attached to. At some Universities Archaeology is attached to Art History, Classics, Geosciences, etc. It was possible to get some numbers for Classical/Ancient Studies/Archaeology degrees and Cultural Resource Management (CRM) degrees too (Table 4). Though as Tom King has said many times ‘Archaeology ≠ CRM’. Archaeology is only a component of these degrees and this information is included as a point of interest. At best these associated fields only add a few hundred ‘possibly’ Archaeology-focused degrees to the profession.

2003-2013 Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis Classical, Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology
Doctorate Degrees 3 59
Master’s Degrees 236 51
Bachelor’s Degrees 16 1159
Post-Master’s Certificates 8
Post-Baccalaureate Certificates 32
2 But Less Than 4 Year Certificates 1
2nd Major BA 1 275

Table 4: Other associated degrees. Data only from 2003 onwards.

What Are We Going to Do About This?

These are estimates and changing the percentages up or down will add or subtract a few thousand from the total. Still we are looking at 2-3,000 people graduating with Archaeology focused degrees every year and rising. There are an estimated 10-12k professional archaeologists currently working in the US (see Rocks-Macqueen 2014 for discussion on estimating number of Archaeologists) which means that most of these recent graduates will not be able to get a job in professional archaeology. Moreover, the SAA, at 7,000 some members, is not capturing this group. This begs the question: what are they doing and how can we engage with them?

I remember when I graduated from undergrad I had almost no connection to Archaeology until I got a CRM job. From talking with many other graduates I know my experience is not unique. Yet, about half of all BA/BSc Archaeology degrees have been earned since roughly 1996 and half of all PhDs and MAs have been earned since 1992. The majority of Archaeology focused degrees have been earned in the last two decades, decades in which we have had email and the Web. Many new students are broke and cannot afford memberships in societies but surely that can receive an email.

A modest proposal to engage with highly motivated group would be to create a digital community – list server, monthly email of news, etc. Beyond the current gaggle of Facebook groups and specific list serves we currently have. It does not have to be elaborate – simple communication every few months. We could get Universities to sign-up students before they graduate and within a few years have a 10,000 strong community.

This is not the only solution and all other ideas are welcomed. But, we need to start discussing that in the next few decades we will teach more people about archaeology through Universities than we have in the last hundred years. What are we doing about this fact to make archaeology better?


Thank you to the AAA for providing me with some of the data used here. Thank you also everyone who reviewed this piece and gave me feedback.


Christenson, Andrew L. 2011. Who were the Professional North American Archaeologists of 1900? Clues from the Work of Warren K. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, Vol 21, No 1 2011. http://www.archaeologybulletin.org/rt/printerFriendly/bha.2112/3

D’Andrade, R. G., Hammel, E.A., Adkins, D.L., McDaniel, C.K.. 1975. Academic Opportunity in Anthropology, 1974-90. American Anthropologist 77. pp 753-773

Mervis, Jeffrey 2014. Battle between NSF and House science committee escalates: How did it get this bad? ScienceInsider. http://news.sciencemag.org/policy/2014/10/battle-between-nsf-and-house-science-committee-escalates-how-did-it-get-bad Last Accessed 10/4/2014

Rocks-Macqueen, Doug 2014. How Many Archaeologists are in the US?: More than a couple, less than there should be. https://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/how-many-archaeologists-are-in-the-us-more-than-a-couple-less-than-there-should-be/ Last Accessed 9/30/2014.

Rogge, A.E. 1976. A Look at Academic Anthropology Through a Graph Darkly. American Anthropologists 78 pp 829-843

Thurgood, Lori, Golladay, Mary J. and Hill, Susan T. 2006. U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century. National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA

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