#271 Free Archaeology - Is it Really?

There has been a lot of talk on Facebook and Twitter lately and it relates back to the #FreeArchaeology discussion that started over a year ago. However, this is taking a slightly different turn than the one that I believe started in the UK.

The basics are, people are tired of being asked to do work after work. They’re tired of working for free and being asked to do too much — or at least more than they expect to do in a normal day.

The term is also called “work creep” by some. 

I’ve been there — I really have. I’ve worked the hard days and been asked to work just a little bit more to finish a transect or to finish a unit. I’ve been there when asked to compile my notes for the day or write up a summary of findings. I’ve been there when asked to finish a report and stay late in the office. I’ve been there when the field crews were dismissed after a 10-day but the trucks still needed to be cleaned, gear stowed, and paperwork filed. I’ve been there.

The differences involved in the examples above center around one thing — what was my position? For some, I was a field technician. For others I was a crew chief. Finally, I was a project manager. That’s the difference.

Field Technicians

In my opinion, as a business owner, field technicians should never be asked to do work outside of their normal working hours. Techs need to remember, though, that your commute is PART OF YOUR NORMAL WORKING HOURS. How many of you have slept in the truck TOO and FROM the field while your crew chief spends hours AFTER work fixing forms, editing, writing notes, whatever? If there is extra work to be done that CAN be done in the vehicle, my crews do it. I do it too because I don’t insist on driving.

That’s another thing - the crew chief shouldn’t drive. You have a job to do and you don’t need to drive. Have a crew member do that. On the way out you should be reviewing the work for the day, making sure you have assignments for everyone, and sometimes navigating and making sure you’re going to the right place.

On the way home, you should coordinate the end-of-day tasks with the crew. Get as much done as you can so you can focus on relaxing after work instead of working after work.

If you’re being asked to do extra work as a field technician then you should be concerned. However, we don’t have a job that is conducive to an 8-hour a day schedule. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to stop recording a site or stop in the middle of a transect. The company should make up for it in some way, though. Whether that means going in late the next day, coming home early one day, or, quitting early on the last day, it needs to be done. Don’t be a dick and keep track of every minute though. When you do that, you’ll find your crew chief doing the same thing and I guarantee you don’t want that.

Crew Chiefs

This is a sticky one. Crew chiefs can be hourly or salaried. Just depends on the company. If you’re hourly, well, the same rules apply as to the field technician. That’s just the truth. Don’t count every minute, but, be willing to give a little for the job you love. 

Doing what you love

So, here is where I lose people. I see archaeology as being more like musicians and artists. You might not be able to make the money you want to make all the time, but, are you happy? Is money the only thing that makes you happy? If so, get out of archaeology NOW. Don’t walk - RUN. You’re unlikely to make lots and lots of money doing JUST archaeology. If you want to have a more comfortable life and still be an archaeologist then you’re going to have to hustle and do other things. That’s just a fact.

There are plenty of people out there that are happy being field technicians. Talk to some of these career field techs, though, and you’ll find that they likely have safety nets and other streams of income. Or, they have a couch they can sleep on whenever they call. Either way, there is an expectation that “stability” isn’t really going to be a thing.

Is all this bad? Is it a reason to get out of the field? Do you not feel like you’re getting paid what you’re worth? Those are all tough, personal questions that only you can answer. The point is, are you happy, overall, with your actual work? Do you enjoy travel, adventure, meeting new people, not being restricted to 1-week vacation every year, and a myriad of other great things?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be treated with respect or paid what you’re worth. What I’m saying is that you just need to have a fundamental understanding of what the field is right now and how to survive in it. Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

That being said, if you don’t like how you’re being treated or how much you’re being paid then CHANGE IT. YOU have the power to alter your own destiny. YOU have the power to change the field for the better. If you don’t know how to do that, you can start by helping out the Archaeology Podcast Network and Professional Certifications for Scientists. I’ve started both of these organizations (with help, of course) in an attempt to make it all better and to improve quality of life for all of us.

If that doesn’t suit you, then find something else to do. Perhaps get a Master’s degree. Having an MA/MS might not equate to a higher salary in field archaeology, but, it will open doors that were previously unavailable to you. For example, you can write a book, start a field school on public land, whatever. Think outside the box! The fact is, people with graduate degrees are taken more seriously by the public and other agencies than people without. I don’t make the rules, but I do understand them.

We’re talking about this on the CRMArch Podcast soon. Check it out and chime in.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!