Jobs in American Archaeology: Pay for CRM Archaeologists

Posted on September 23, 2015


Maximum advertised pay for technicians in 2007 based on job postings

This is a paper I wrote. As a believer in Open Access I have posted it here (with permission from Springer to wave the year embargo on Green Open Access) .

Here is a PDF version Pay for CRM Archaeologists.

Title: Jobs in American Archaeology: Pay for CRM Archaeologists
Journal: Archaeologies Volume 10, Issue 3 , pp 281-296
DOI: 10.1007/s11759-014-9258-3
Print ISSN: 1555-8622
Online ISSN: 1935-3987


For 20 years, archaeologists in the UK have used job advertisements to track wage growth for professional archaeologists. This paper applies their methodology to cultural resource management archaeologists’ positions in the United States. The results show that wages have kept pace with inflation and confirmed the phenomenon of higher wages for archaeologists working in the western half of the country. The use of job advertisement datasets is shown to be an accurate technique in representing the wages of many archaeology positions.


Depuis vingt ans, les archéologues au Royaume-Uni utilisent les offres d’emploi pour suivre la croissance des salaires des archéologues professionnels. Cet article applique leur méthodologie aux postes des archéologues chargés de la gestion des ressources culturelles aux États-Unis. Les résultats montrent que les salaires ont suivi le rythme de l’inflation et ont confirmé le phénomène des salaires plus élevés pour les archéologues travaillant dans la moitié ouest du pays. L’utilisation d’ensembles de données d’offres d’emplois apparait être une technique précise pour représenter le salaire de nombreux postes d’archéologie.


Durante veinte años, los arqueólogos en el Reino Unido han utilizado los anuncios de trabajo para seguir el rastro del crecimiento de los salarios de arqueólogos profesionales. El presente documento aplica esta metodología a los puestos de arqueólogos de la Dirección de Recursos Culturales (cultural resource management) en los Estados Unidos. Los resultados muestran que los salarios han seguido el ritmo de la inflación y han confirmado el fenómeno de salarios más altos para los arqueólogos que trabajan en la mitad occidental del país. Queda demostrado que el uso de los conjuntos de datos de anuncios de trabajo es un técnica exacta para representar los salarios de muchos puestos de arqueología.

 Jobs in American Archaeology: Pay for CRM Archaeologists

We archaeologists are increasingly turning our research skills on ourselves, as we discover more about who archaeologists are and what we do. The completion of Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe 2012–14 has provided a wealth of data on archaeologists working in Europe ( There is a proposal to undertake a similar project for all of the countries in the Americas (Majewski 2014). The United Kingdom has conducted four censuses of archaeologists (Aitchison 1999; Aitchison and Edwards 2003, 2008; Aitchison and Rocks-Macqueen 2013). We are quickly gathered statistical data on how archaeologists work.

The purpose of these studies was not to indulge curiosity but to shape the future of archaeology. For example, the Profiling the Profession projects in the United Kingdom were funded with the purpose to better understand the skill gaps and shortages in the sector. If archaeologists are not properly trained, then there is serious risk that cultural heritage could be irreversibly damaged. We need to know about the people who deal with cultural heritage to ensure that it is properly looked after.

One aspect of archaeology that is of special concern to archaeologists is the level of pay they receive. If archaeologists cannot make enough money to live, then they leave the profession, potentially draining it of much needed skills and experience. I personally know several archaeologists who work with GIS who have moved out of profession because the pay is better in other areas, ie. city planning, oil and gas. The loss of practitioners can degrade the services available as learned by the previous Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe project, conducted in 2006–08 (Aitchison et al. 2014).

One method for doing this is to examine job advertisements. For close to 20 years, archaeologists have been tracking pay rates for commercial archaeologists in the United Kingdom by analysing job advertisements (Aitchison and Anderson 1995; Drummond-Murray 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008; Malcolm 2000, 2001; Rocks-Macqueen 2011, 2012a, b, 2013, forthcoming; Tuner 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999). These data are accurate when compared against surveys of salaries (Aitchison and Rocks-Macqueen 2013).

Except for a few notable articles on the subject (see Rocks-Macqueen 2012a, b and Wagers and Nicholson 2008), there have been few attempts to use this sort of data to track pay rates of cultural resource management (CRM) archaeologists in the United States of America. Moreover, these attempts have been aimed at the entry-level positions, technicians, and not at all positions. There have been several surveys to gather this data, but they tend to be small, in some cases only collecting a few responses. Or they have been circulated only occasionally making it hard to track changes in the results.

To address these problems, of limited or inconsistent information, I conducted an investigation into wages of CRM archaeologists using job advertisements, with the goal of aiming to better understand the quality of pay conditions to ensure that the sector can retain the best talent.


Borrowing methodology from the job advertisement studies of UK archaeologists, the Jobs in British Archaeology series (see Rocks-Macqueen 2013 for the most recent methodology), online job posting websites were examined as a source of data. Websites were chosen because their data are easily accessible and they tend to preserve old job postings. The primary source of data was archaeology job postings on the websites (Shovelbums) and (AFW), the main job boards for CRM archaeologists in the United States. All job postings were examined from from 1999 to January 1st 2013. The only posts examined from AFW were from 1 January 2011 to 1 January 2013, which was due to the fact that AFW had to periodically erase old postings to conserve space on their web server.

There is no standard terminology or set type of positions for all archaeologists working in CRM. For example, one employer’s project manager is another’s principal investigator. The position of crew chief is seen primarily in the western US. Some companies have only two tiers of workers, junior or senior, while others may have 12 or 15 different levels of employment. To eliminate issues of terminology, and to ensure that there were enough data, general categories were created and posts placed into these categories according to the following criteria:

Field Technician—This category deals with field/lab technicians, ie. the entry-level positions into commercial/private sector archaeology. These positions are the very bottom in terms of experience required.

Crew Chief/Senior Technician—A tricky position to define as it tends to be the equivalent of a senior technician or a junior project manager. The actual title and use of crew chiefs tend to be mainly in the western US. It is primarily used on survey crews when you have to break up a crew into small groups to cover more ground, but it is not practical to have a middle manager overseeing each small crew. Essentially, this was treated as an experienced technician with some management responsibilities and referred to as senior technician throughout the rest of this paper.

Middle Manager—This position has the most variety in naming from project manager to project officer to principal investigator. Essentially, this is a middle management person. They run most crews and projects but are not the top management.

Senior Manager—Positions covered by this category are the very senior positions. This can include regional managers and heads of organisations/CRM sections within larger organisations

Lab Director—As the name implies, the person with the responsibility for managing laboratory duties.

GIS Technician—While work for this position primarily involves GIS and AutoCAD, some job postings also include graphics work as well. As such, this position covers GIS and graphic work.

In searching through job postings, I found that a common occurrence for job postings is for the same job to be advertised in multiple locations and posted several times. All efforts were made to compare postings between shovelbums and AFW to ensure that duplicate postings were excluded. This process involved looking at the wording of the post, eg. salary, location, job requirements, and the employer that was posting and removing entries with this same information. Some employers put out general calls for positions, especially technician positions, every few months regardless of the availability of work. To avoid these reoccurring job calls being over represented in the sample, a minimum of 3 months between posts was observed for posts from the same company in the same area. Posts only counted as a single data point regardless of the number of positions advertised. This is because a large percentage of posts did not specify how many positions were open.

It should be noted that no Federal or State Government level jobs were included in this analysis. The purpose of the exercise was to look at the private sector wages of archaeologists, and government-mandated wages would have skewed the results. While some projects do mandate federal wages for private sector work, it was found that almost no jobs were ever advertised for these rates except for an occasional posting. As such, the results of this analysis represent, almost exclusively, non-federally mandated wages. Federal Government wages are very well documented and do not need to be calculated using job postings. State positions are so rarely advertised with these services that it was not possible to get any sort of data on such positions.

Pay was based on an hourly rate. Some positions gave yearly rates, and these were converted to hourly rates on the assumption of a 40-h work week for 52 weeks of the year. This may or may not reflect the actual working conditions of a position, but almost no job adverts gave information on exactly what the yearly rate was based. Furthermore, part-time jobs were converted based on the percentage of a 40-h work week the person would have worked.

Some postings gave ranges of possible pay that an archaeologist could receive, while others only gave a single possible rate of pay. Those job postings with ranges of pay had these ranges averaged to create the average pay for that position. All pay rates, single and the average of ranges, were then combined to get the overall average for that position. At the same time, lowest and highest advertised rates were identified from all the job postings to find the lowest and highest advertised pay rate for that year. These highs and lows were not averaged but kept as absolute numbers.

Job Posting Results

In total, 5,907 individual job postings were recorded from 15,000+ job advertisements examined. The roughly 10,000 advertisement that were not included in this examination were the duplicate posts between shovelbums and AFW or multiple postings of the same job. Of the 5,907 individual job postings, only 2,279 actually contained information on pay. Tables 1, 2 and 3 show the average pay for each position by year and the numbers of data points used. Moreover, average starting pay is included. These numbers are derived by averaging the lowest advertised pay, which would usually be the starting pay for most positions. It cannot be stressed enough that these are averages and may not reflect an individual’s actual pay. The raw data tables for these numbers have been archived in tDAR at dataset/380672.

Archaeology Technician
Year N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
1999 16  $   17.60  $    8.00  $   11.45  $   11.34
2000 35  $   17.00  $    7.00  $   11.16  $    10.57
2001 105  $   20.00  $    8.00  $   11.39  $    10.92
2002 95  $   21.00  $    6.50  $   11.65  $    11.07
2003 124  $   20.00  $    8.00  $   12.04  $    11.47
2004 186  $   20.00  $    8.00  $   12.15  $    11.55
2005 201  $   25.00  $    7.00  $   12.41  $    11.78
2006 216  $   25.00  $    9.00  $   12.69  $    12.07
2007 235  $   21.00  $    9.00  $   12.95  $    12.37
2008 196  $   25.00  $    7.50  $   13.44  $    12.69
2009 103  $   24.00  $   10.00  $   14.06  $    13.13
2010 92  $   24.00  $    9.00  $   13.54  $    12.90
2011 102  $   25.00  $    7.25  $   14.47  $    13.74
2012 119  $   25.00  $   10.00  $   14.74  $    14.09
Senior Technician
N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
4  $   15.00  $   10.00  $   12.94  $    11.75
6  $   15.48  $   13.00  $   14.71  $    14.58
5  $   20.00  $   12.00  $   17.48  $    17.04
12  $   20.00  $   13.00  $   16.55  $    16.22
14  $   20.00  $   12.00  $   15.66  $    15.13
8  $   18.40  $   13.00  $   15.90  $    15.22
11  $   18.00  $   10.00  $   13.66  $    12.55
11  $   16.00  $   11.00  $   12.86  $    12.05
10  $   25.00  $   14.00  $   17.57  $    16.30
2  $   24.00  $   15.00  $   19.50  $    18.50
6  $   25.00  $   14.00  $   17.07  $    16.42
10  $   32.53  $   10.56  $   19.31  $    17.53
10  $   21.00  $   12.00  $   16.03  $    15.28

Table 1 Summary of advertised salaries for archaeology technician and senior technician posts, 1999–2012. n count of positions used to calculate pay, Hpay highest pay listed, Lpay lowest pay listed, Avg. average pay, Avg. St average starting pay

Middle Manager
Years N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
1999 2  $   21.00  $   15.15  $   17.82  $   16.33
2000 6  $   25.03  $   15.00  $   18.41  $    17.21
2001 15  $   24.57  $   11.00  $   15.19  $    14.04
2002 15  $   24.04  $   12.50  $   17.20  $    15.45
2003 26  $   33.36  $   11.54  $   17.27  $    15.49
2004 18  $   24.04  $    9.62  $   16.81  $    15.36
2005 19  $   22.50  $   13.46  $   16.88  $    15.73
2006 27  $   30.00  $   13.32  $   18.17  $    16.62
2007 17  $   32.00  $   15.00  $   18.11  $    16.81
2008 26  $   30.05  $   13.00  $   19.26  $    17.70
2009 12  $   32.21  $   13.33  $   21.24  $    19.36
2010 2  $   21.15  $   17.00  $   18.98  $    17.88
2011 27  $   48.08  $   11.96  $   21.79  $    19.68
2012 21  $   38.46  $   14.90  $   23.92  $    21.65
Senior Manager
N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
6  $   21.63  $   14.42  $   17.51  $    15.30
4  $   25.00  $   14.42  $   19.83  $    17.67
1  $   15.23  $   15.23  $   15.23  $    15.23
4  $   30.00  $   14.42  $   19.47  $    17.02
5  $   20.19  $   14.42  $   17.93  $   17.31
7  $   36.06  $   14.42  $   22.47  $    18.94
7  $   38.46  $   16.35  $   24.14  $    19.99
11  $   38.46  $   16.35  $   23.94  $    21.46
7  $   32.69  $   14.42  $   24.86  $    22.85
2  $   24.04  $   16.83  $   21.52  $    18.99
13  $   40.87  $   19.23  $   31.04  $    26.47
4  $   40.87  $   28.85  $   33.66  $    30.65

Table 2 Summary of advertised salaries for middle manager and senior manager posts, 1999–2012. n count of positions used to calculate pay, Hpay highest pay listed, Lpay lowest pay listed, Avg. average pay, Avg. St average starting pay

Lab Director
Year N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
1999 0
2000 0
2001 3  $   14.90  $   10.58  $   13.30  $    13.30
2002 2  $   16.83  $    8.65  $   11.18  $       9.62
2003 1  $   14.42  $   12.02  $   13.22  $    12.02
2004 0
2005 2  $   14.42  $   11.64  $   13.49  $   13.03
2006 0
2007 1  $   26.92  $   24.52  $   25.72  $    24.52
2008 2  $   24.04  $   14.42  $   20.43  $    19.23
2009 1  $   25.00  $   21.00  $   23.00  $    21.00
2010 1  $   23.08  $   18.27  $   20.68  $    18.27
2011 1  $   31.09  $   22.21  $   26.65  $    22.21
2012 0
GIS Technician
N Hpay Lpay Avg. Avg. S
2  $   19.23  $   12.64  $   15.60  $   13.00
1  $   16.35  $   12.50  $   14.42  $   12.50
2  $   13.94  $   13.46  $   13.70  $   13.70
4  $   19.23  $    9.52  $   15.28  $   13.68
2  $   12.69  $    8.65  $   10.36  $    9.09
2  $   19.23  $   11.00  $   14.17  $   12.23
5  $   24.00  $   14.42  $   17.83  $   16.33
1  $   20.19  $   17.31  $   18.75  $   17.31
3  $   17.79  $   14.42  $   15.68  $   15.27
5  $   27.74  $   13.00  $   18.54  $   16.00

Table 3 Summary of advertised salaries for lab director and GIS technician posts, 1999–2012. n count of positions used to calculate pay, Hpay highest pay listed, Lpay lowest pay listed, Avg. average pay, Avg. St average starting pay

Some positions see changes in pay rates when AFW data is added (circa 2011), while others do not. For those positions that do see some fluctuation in numbers with the addition of AFW data, it is because they begin with a low number of data points. Any influx of new data into a small sample is likely to cause fluctuations. When that AFW data are added, it tends to raise the averages for these positions. Given that these higher wages are more in line with data seen from other sources, it is probably that earlier shovelbums data under-represent this sort of data.

Figure 1 represents the change in pay across different positions since 1999. A noticeable fluctuation in pay can be seen across most positions except field technicians. That is because the field technician data are based on dozens, usually hundreds, of job postings which caused less swings in the averages.

Figure 2 presents pay after it has been linearly graphed out, which shows a less haphazard increase in salaries over the years. In my opinion, this is the more accurate depiction of salary trends for CRM archaeologists. It adjusts for the haphazard nature in which the data were gathered.

Average hourly pay rates for CRM archaeologists based on job postings

Figure 1. Average hourly pay rates for CRM archaeologists based on job postings

Average hourly pay rates for CRM archaeologists based on job postings with linear trend lineFigure 2. Average hourly pay rates for CRM archaeologists based on job postings with linear trend line

All positions show a noticeable drop in rates with the onset of the most recent recession, which many now refer to as the ‘Great Recession’. This does not occur until 2010 which shows that there is some delay in economic shocks affecting wages, which is probably due to the fact that CRM is tied to construction and development projects which can take years, if not decades, to start and finish. It will probably be several years (and perhaps another recession) before we can determine if this is the normal trend for CRM or a one-off event due to the severity of the Great Recession. The data following the earlier post-9/11 recession form too small a sample to determine if that recession had any impact on wages.

Comparing Data

As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, several small surveys have been conducted over the years on wages. Comparisons were made between these data against the job advertisement data to see if they correlated with each other. The Grapevine Newsletter ran three salary surveys in 1993, 1995 and 1999 that queried the paying practices of CRM firms (Armbruster 1993; Gray and Pape 1996; Wilson and LaBlanc 1999). While those were surveys of companies, there were other surveys of individuals. An Underground survey in 1993 received 21 responses from field techs and found that their average pay was around $8 an hour and that for crew chiefs was $10 (McGuire and Walker 1999). Another informal survey of field techs in 2001 found that about 45% (out of 33 responses) made $10 or more an hour (Wilson 2001a, b).

The largest survey of individuals to date was the 2004 Society of American Archaeology (SAA) and Society of Historical Archaeology (SHA) salary survey which received over 2,000 responses (ARI 2005). However, Technician was not listed as a position and the wide range of titles makes it very hard to determine what the actual requirements are of individual positions listed. It is a possibility to observe that some positions are primarily dominated by CRM staff, but still significant numbers of government and academic archaeologists could have skewed these numbers. Finally, it appears to have surveyed a large portion of SAA and SHA members, some of which may not have been based in the US. Some of these wages could be reflective of wages in Canada or other countries.

More recent surveys conducted by American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) of CRM firms have provided some data on wages for different positions in 2006 and 2008 (VRG 2009). A 2013 ACRA salary survey was also conducted, but the data were not yet available for inclusion in this work. Again, the sample size is small for each position, and moreover, outliers do appear to drag these averages up. For example, pay of $160 an hour for some people is more indicative of freelance work or self-employed work, where the hours of work are less frequent and require higher chargeable (rather than typically earned) rates.

Even with the problems of low response rates and unclear definitions, it is possible to compare these data with the job posting data to see if the results are similar. For entry-level positions, such as technician and senior technician, surveys and job postings data correlate nicely (Figure 3).

Salaries (per hour) for technicians and senior technicians from different sources. The trend lines are the job posting data altered to including rolling averages to smooth out the fluctuations in job posting data

Figure 3. Salaries (per hour) for technicians and senior technicians from different sources. The trend lines are the job posting data altered to including rolling averages to smooth out the fluctuations in job posting data

Higher positions do not correlate as well. The results of the survey based results versus the job postings indicate that for middle management, job posting data is on the lower end of the survey data but still close. However, the pay for senior management appears to be significantly under-estimated by job postings. This is not surprising as the sample size for job postings in senior positions is very low, for some years there are no job postings indicating pay levels. A larger sample of job postings with advertised pay rates might bring these numbers into line with those found by surveys (Figure 4).

Salaries (per hour) for middle and senior CRM positions from different sources. The trend lines are the job posting data altered to including rolling averages to smooth out the fluctuations in job posting data

Figure 4. Salaries (per hour) for middle and senior CRM positions from different sources. The trend lines are the job posting data altered to including rolling averages to smooth out the fluctuations in job posting data

Discussion of Job Posting Data

Analysis of geographic distributions finds that pay is generally higher in the Western United States than in the Eastern half of the country. The average given is from all of the US which means a person in Nevada is more likely to be making several dollars an hour above the average, while those on the East coast might be making a dollar or two below the average. A trend noticed in previous surveys of archaeologists’ pay (Armbruster 1993; Rocks-Macqueen 2012a, b; Wagers and Nicholson 2008) and illustrated with the maximum advertised pay in Figure 5.

Maximum advertised pay for technicians in 2007 based on job postings

Figure 5. Maximum advertised pay for technicians in 2007 based on job postings

It is also worth mentioning that these are average wages derived from ranges, and as Figure 6 shows, there are distributions to those ranges. Moreover, many technicians move from job to job. Very few technicians probably stay in one job long enough to get the higher wages advertised. The average starting salary listed at the beginning of this paper is probably more indicative of actual pay conditions for the majority of technicians.

Distribution of technician salaries from job postings over time

Figure 6. Distribution of technician salaries from job postings over time

There are some positive results from the pay rates of technicians. Using the consumer Price Index to measure inflation, we can see that wages have improved significantly from the average salaries of $8 an hour found in the early Grapevine and Underground surveys (Figure 7). If those wages had followed inflation, then the average wage in 2012 would be close to $13 an hour instead of the latest figure that is closer to $15. But these surveys are probably not the most accurate because of the low number of responses; taken from when there was a larger job positing dataset, such as 2001, it can be seen that wages for technicians have kept pace with inflation, neither gaining nor losing significantly. In fact, looking at most of the later data, they all fall along the same line of growth—wages keeping pace with inflation.

Technician wages and inflation

Figure 7. Technician wages and inflation

The data for middle management positions appear to show the same general trend of wages keeping pace with inflation (Figure 8). Wages based on job postings tend to fluctuate much more as already discussed. But when those fluctuations are averaged out, we see that these types of positions have been following inflation. People in these positions have not gained or lost income when adjusted for inflation.

Middle manager wages and inflation

Figure 8. Middle manager wages and inflation

With senior positions, we see a similar trend as well, but the picture is more complicated. With all the different titles, it is hard to discern which title is most appropriate to match with the right corresponding category. That being said, the Grapevine senior manager wages in 1999, if adjusted for inflation, fall between the ACRA Principal Investigator and Project Manager in 2008. Those positions are only a few dollars apart. Again, it is hard to draw a strong conclusion about pay rates, but it does appear that like other positions wages have kept up with inflation. In other words, the data we have for the last 10–15 years show that archaeologists have neither gained nor lost significantly in the last few years when it comes to pay.


There are caveats to these results. Some company owners were making $8 an hour in 1993, while others were making $50+. Twenty years later, some business owners are only making $10 an hour and some $160. Averages do not fully capture the complexity of pay conditions. Some archaeologists make very little, while others make six-figure salaries. All of the gains and losses in wages, or as we have seen the lack thereof, may not be relevant to particular individuals, companies, states or even regions. An individual could have seen their wages stagnate over the last decade or they could have seen them increase fivefold. These are all averages and as such may not reflect everyone’s working conditions.

Final Thoughts

Most of the data sources for CRM archaeologists’ wages have some sort of issue with low sample size. Still, some of the data are very good, like the job posting data for technicians. Moreover, even for the small sample size, they all tend to line up on a growth line that follows inflation. Multiple sources, using different methods, all indicate the same thing; wages have stabilised in the private sector in the last 10–15 years. They all tend to be following inflation rates, gaining enough each year to neither increase nor decrease real wages.

In terms of the goal of understanding the ability of the sector to retain talent, the results are mixed. Certainly, some positions pay well. Moreover, the fact that wages are keeping pace with inflation means that we will not be losing wages. However, with the potential for the minimum wage to rise to anywhere from $10 to $15 per hour, it is possible that in the future Technician wages will be the same as the minimum wage. Given the already precarious nature of their work, such a move could greatly restrict the recruitment of technicians. CRM archaeology in the United States has work ahead of itself to ensure that it can recruit people for entry-level positions with competitive wages.


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