What’s the largest professional archaeology organisation?

Posted on August 15, 2016


A while back there was a discussion on Facebook, BAJR group, about which organisation was the largest body representing professional archaeologists, spurned on by this statement from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) regarding the results of the UK’s referendum to leave the EU (if it will actually happen is for another post)

CIfA is the leading professional body for archaeologists. Its accredited members have agreed to subscribe to the Code of conduct and to follow its Standards and guidance. This obligation applies wherever they live and work, as does their requirement to comply with all relevant legislation and regulations. CIfA therefore operates without national borders: it is not and never has been a UK institute. While the majority of its members practise in the UK, and the attentions of the Chartered Institute are hence focused there, a growing cadre is based elsewhere (we are distributed across 32 countries).”

Instead of looking at Brexit and archaeology the conversation got side tracked into what was meant by the term ‘leading’ and some other observations about the subject,

“(sic) I find the notion that Brexit is ‘discussed by archaeologists all over the world, as people consider how the decision is likely to impact them, their professional lives, and the wider structures of state and society.’ somewhat fantastical. Is it impossible for the British to get over their imperial pretensions and consider that actually worldwide Brexit will have very little impact on archaeological practice? Perhaps this lack of self reflexive approach to the world is part of a wider cultural problem in Britain?

So much to unpack in that statement but the conversion moved on to which organisation was the largest professional body for archaeologist. There was some speculation but no hard data, so I decided to take a hack at answering the question, ‘which organisation is the largest professional body of archaeologists in the world?’ A deceptively simple question that is not so simple.

Largest as in Elephants or as in Ants?

By largest do we mean by number of members? by money brought in? by combined weight of its members? …. I just went by number of members as that is what we discussed on Facebook but you can see how it can be a bit of a weasely term to investigate.

What’s a professional archaeology association?

If we are just counting organisations with people who considered themselves archaeologists than the Society for American Archaeology probably wins with 7000+ members, most of which are “professionals”. But they don’t considered themselves a professional society but a membership society i.e. anyone can join. Professional societies are distinguished by the fact that they limit who can be a member and thus confer onto their membership the title of ‘professional archaeologist’. In most cases they bestow upon their members letters to be used after a name e.g. RPA, ACIfA, etc.

A search found two contenders, though there were many organisations to choose from like The Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. (AACAI) or the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists. One of the two largest was the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), of which 96% of its members are based in the UK. The other was The Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA), which has 97% of its membership from the United States, 2% from Canada and 1% other (based on self-reported member data). As of yet there are no ‘international’ professional societies but country ones with some international members. Though I still greatly appreciate CIfA’s post-Brexit statement of unity with the world.

rpa vs cifa

And the largest is…

Terry Klein for the RPA gave a talk (video coming soon) at the CIfA conference about RPA (it’s a small world and both organisations are very friendly with each other) in which he stated they had 2,909 members at the beginning of this year. However, when searching their online directory I could only find 2,650 members (Edit– Stephen said that the online directory is self-reported, which explains the difference in numbers). So 2900, give or take a few “professional” archaeologists.

As of a few weeks ago, CIfA has 3,288 which simple maths tells us is more than 2,900. So CIfA is the largest? Actually not.

There is only one way to be part of RPA as a registered member. CIfA on the other hand has several non-accredited membership levels i.e. not considered professional archaeologists/full members. They have 440 student members and 534 affiliated members who are not professional grade members and do not have voting rights. So they actually only have 2,314 “professional” members. Which even with different counts of RPA’s membership makes it the larger of the two organisations when counting by professional members.

So the largest is…

You can call it how you want but if we are not counting membership societies, like the SAA, than I think it won’t be fair to count non-professional members of these organisations. As such I would say the RPA is the biggest professional organisation. Given the local/national context that most professional archaeology organisations this is not too surprising as the US has the most estimated number of “professional” archaeologists.






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