So today, as the title suggests I gave an interview about being a commercial archaeologist in Britain.
The interview was for a person who is researching commercial archaeology, it’s people and practices across the globe. SO far they have worked with and interviewed people in Canada, Australia, Japan, UK and next is France.
They asked how I got into archaeology and how I feel about the industry. I surprised myself. At first I thought my most cynical side was going to come forth. Turns out… I’m actually quite optimistic about the future of archaeology and it’s relationship with planning and construction.
A few points I would like to highlight in this are as follows:
I actually think we are at a pivotal point in commercial archaeology in Britain. There are good and bad points to this. The bad points are that archaeology is increasingly having to work to the objectives of large construction companies, I agree with the health and safety measures, however we have very different aims and objectives. They don’t really understand what we do, how we do it or why we do it that way. They don’t really understand the fact that there are questions within archaeology and we have convoluted ways of finding the answers. They see something, either remove it and build something new or add something new to the old. Archaeologists of course answer questions you didn’t know were asked in ways that you could never understand (yes there’ a t-shirt with that quote out there in the stratosphere somewhere). The other problem with working towards construction standards is the amount of micro-management which takes place on site, I can understand why that would be necessary for a huge engineering job, but that doesn’t work in archaeology, in order to do your job properly you A) need to have a wider understanding of the site, you can’t be kept in the dark as a digger just turn up to site and do your slot and go home, that kills off your enthusiasm for it, B) need the comararderie which comes along with being an archaeologist, that sort of thing isn’t really encouraged on a construction site, they need to have trust to know that they’re not going to be squished by a bit of plant but they don’t need to tell geeky jokes to keep trugging along and C) ranking on sites doesn’t work in archaeology, I know they’re trying to introduce it more and more with silly half-ranks like Assistant Supervisor (and don’t get me wrong I understand that they do a great job but they should just be supervisors!) that in turn leads to more micro-management on site because everyone feels they should have their rank known. Don’t micromanage your archaeologist, you’re likely to end up with shoddy work!
The good thing about working with construction now though and not 20 years ago is that now they understand that we’re part of the planning process, they may not understand why we’re there or what we’re doing but they accept that we have to be there. When PPG16 first came in and right up until when I first joined this business which is not show, archaeologists were seen as a nuisance, blamed for delaying a project, cursed for costing them more money blah blah blah. Luckily over the last few years the message has finally begun to sink in that actually due to planning laws it is known well in advance that archaeology needs to take place in one form or another and that that is calculated into time scale and budget well before a scratch appears on the ground. (Granted I know it’s not PPG16 anymore, but we all still say it!)
So although we are moving further and further into the pockets of the big construction companies and working to their hymn sheets, at least its becoming more accepted and easier for us to do so. It’s also good that archaeological units still have a say on the results from their digs. So although the big construction companies control the time frame on site, they have no say in the post-ex work which takes place (minus the fact that they fund it) once the samples have been taken they can’t specify how much research comes from a project, the knowledge is still well and truely owned by the archaeologists. The project I am on now for example (see other posts for details) they will get their report, but the research prospects for after that is just phenomenal, the academic ownership and potential for endless publications is brilliant, should that ever be taken away from archaeological units, well I think we would see the beginning of the end. If construction firms turned around and said you can use the results of the finds and samples for the report and naught else… well… what a dark world that would be.
I also think that we’re at a good time for wages. When I first started a trainee archaeologist would pick up a measly £15.6k a year, an absolute joke of a wage considering the amount of investment in university from archaeologists.
Luckily though, since the end of the recession and the resurgence in building works the number of archaeological jobs has increased, every unit is crying out for digger and that is in turn, driving up wages, we are on a positive move. It is by far no where near a good enough wage for the qualification levels of most of those on site, but at least they’re moving up and not down! Now the Irish archaeologists have striked and agreed to not take low paying jobs, we might see that domino its way across the sea and land on our fair shores.
We just need to stick together and ask for better wages and conditions, granted I am not a unionist, I will not take strike action, I believe that does more harm than good, but I do believe that companies who pay well and support their staff should be rewarded with loyalty, I don’t think we should go without work, if you HAVE to work and there is nothing else then by all means work for the lesser standard company, but otherwise work for the good ones, keep with them and try to only accept contracts with those paying better wages. This idea of better standards and wages for archaeologists should start within the universities, encourage the next wave of diggers before they’re already drawn into commercial the way it is, it should be back by those larger influencing bodies such as CIfA, CBA, Bajr. Just a thought!
Well I shall leave it there.