#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!!

#269 Giving it 110%


Recently, I was involved in what's known as a "near miss" in aviation. I still don't understand what this means since it was ACTUALLY a miss. A near miss sounds more like a collision to me. Either way, that's what it's called.

We were flying in a Cessna 206 and doing maneuvers at around 1500 - 2000 ft above ground level. There were four of us in the plane and I was in the front right seat. Since we were paying attention to the ground for these particular maneuvers, we weren't really looking around for traffic. Our pilot was looking for traffic, and, reporting our position on a general frequency so others would know as well. However, he couldn't see everything. I didn't see the other plane until it went UNDER us by about 50-100 ft. In the world of aviation, that's pretty close.

After the incident, I didn't think much about it. I got over it and kept doing my job. That evening, and now today (the next day), I thought about it a lot more.


For about the past 10-12 years of my life I've been working very hard. At some point I realized I pretty much wasted my 20s and just worked. Sure, I was in the Navy and contributed that way, but when I came home I focused on selfish activities that didn't even really improve me, let alone anyone else.

Now, though, I'm more interested in doing things that help others as well. Part of the reason for this is that I don't believe in an afterlife. If there IS an afterlife I certainly wouldn't be able to help anyone in this world anyway. So, I try to do things that not only satisfy myself, but, can be a benefit to anyone else. In recent years, this imperative has become much more real and much more important to me.

Over the last four years I've seen several people die WAY too early. They never even saw it coming and they weren't ready for it. I've seen relatives die, some old, some not, and I've heard of others that died way too young and without warning or preparation. At 40, soon to be 41, I figure I'm on borrowed time. Sure, I might live until 80, but, there is certainly no guarantee of that and no way to prevent accidents caused by others. So, I do the best I can to be helpful and to contribute to the greater good.

Being a Good Citizen

I've got some friends, and some really close friends, that are die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters. I myself am one. Bernie is known for being a Democratic Socialist. The basic idea here is that we do things for the greater good. We do things that help and benefit not just ourselves but our communities as well. These friends go out and vote, they do some things in their communities, and they also tell me that I'm going to die if I don't slow down.

How can I slow down when there is so much to do? What if I'd have died yesterday in a fiery plane crash with so many projects left unfinished? That thought, much more than death, scares the crap out of me.

To me, "being a good citizen" means that I contribute my skills and abilities to the greater good. First, I had to find out what I'm good at, or at least passionate about. Now that I've figured that out, I want to share what I can with others. There isn't really an end point or goal in mind. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing for as long as I can. I'll probably stop when I get cancer and have six months to live. That's when I'll pull off my complicated, high-tech, art heist with a team of professionals. It's really the only thing on my "bucket list".

What's the Point of All This?

I guess my point here is that I'm right. Ha! No, really. That "near miss" was just one more wake-up call in a series of wake-up calls over the last few years. Sometimes you need that sort of thing to wake you up and get you moving again. I hope you're happy doing what you're doing. If you're not, change it. There's no time to waste. You likely won't live until retirement, or at least, live like you won't. Do at least one thing in your life that benefits someone else. If we all did that, the world would be a pretty amazing place.

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

#104 Per diem, Latin for Passion

So I was having a conversation with a few colleagues the other day about per diem rates and what we can do to make retention higher.  The short answer, of course, is to give people more money.  That is followed by give them a guarantee of work that will last longer than a couple of sessions.  

Do you disagree?  Well, let’s look at the situation and ask ourselves some questions.  Have you ever worked most of a season with a company, or at least a few months on the end, and gone with someone else in the spring because they offered you more money, more per diem, or a promotion?  Of course.  We all have.  Have you ever left a company during a field season for more money or per diem? We did.  Once.  Couldn’t afford to live on what they were paying us.  Had to go.  Have you ever left in the middle of a field session for a job that pays more?  Haven’t done that one yet.

Hard working Field Techs in MiamiSo, did you answer “yes” to any of those questions?  I’d be surprised if you didn’t.  We like to think of ourselves as passionate individuals with idealized outlooks on life.  I even heard someone say not too long ago that CRM archaeology is a place for people to gather that don’t fit in anywhere else.  She said that everyone in the field is different, unique, and likely a social misfit.  Not sure I quite agree with that.  I certainly don’t fit in with a number of crews that I’ve been on.  Until a few months ago I had my wife to work with and hang out with.  Don’t have that anymore since she got out of the business.  So, are we different?  Are we individuals that don’t fit in?  For some the answer is probably yes.  For most, the answer is likely no.

When you break us down into our constituent parts we are just like everyone else.  We have the same motivations, the same desires, and the same bills to pay.  I’ve seen the most frugal, flannel-wearing, roll-your-own-cigarette smoking, vegetarian, hippie wannabe complain about pay and per diem.  Some of us don’t want or need as much money as others but we still need it.  

Ask yourself: would you still do this job if someone handed you enough money (insert whatever figure suits you) so that you wouldn’t have to work for the rest of your life?  If your answer is “yes” then congratulations! You’ve found your passion.  My Division Chief in the Navy told me that almost two decades ago and I’ve lived my life by that principle.  If I wasn’t doing something I’d do for free because money wasn’t a problem then I got out.  I quite being an electronics technician on small corporate jets.  I quite my commercial aviation program in college.  I quite the Navy.  I’ve now been an archaeologist longer than I’ve ever been anything else and I don’t plan on turning back now.

I’m not saying I’d stay a crew chief in the Great Basin if someone handed me $10 billion (that’s my figure ;)  ).  I certainly wouldn’t stop doing CRM, though.  Maybe I’d go in the field occaisionally but most of my time would be spent trying to improve the tech we use.  I’d be prototyping ideas I’ve had and designing apps to use in the field.  I’d have an archaeo-think tank who’s sole purpose would be to think up new ways to increase efficiency and scientific data gathering for CRM.  I love this job and I believe in its purpose and goals.  I think what we do is helping catalog, and sometimes preserve, the rich heritage in this country.  This is really the only job in the country that does that with some of the really old sites.

In think the point of this post is that people still need money to realize their dreams.  We need money to go places and do things.  Sure, you can do things without money but it’s much more relaxing to do it with a few bucks in your pocket.  Field techs are the lifeblood of CRM archaeology and Arch Firms need to realize that someday.  Sure, cut corners where you have to but stand firm when it comes to paying your techs.  If your session is 10 days long then pay them per diem for 10 days for FSM’s sake.  If they come back in the spring then give them a raise.  Even 50 cents will go a long way to building loyalty.  If they’re still there mid-summer, give them another raise.  You wouldn’t be able to fulfill your contracts if they weren’t there.  Say thank you once in a while.

CRM is a notoriously cheap field.  How many of you have ridden in a company truck that rattled so loud you could’t think, was dusty enough to have noticeable stratigraphy on the dash, and had not had the air conditioner charged in 100,000 miles?  All of us.  Fine.  Be cheap with the trucks.  But gods damn pay us well because we deserve it.  We put up with all of that crap because we LOVE our jobs and we have passion for what we do.  That kind of loyalty does not come cheap.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant and I understand that budgets are tight.  Instead of creating reams of paperwork in the field recording sites, use a tablet to record your sites.  Teach your people how to write well the first time, in the field, so there can be MINIMAL editing in the office.  One company I know of bills in three hours to type up each site record.  Some will take longer and some will take less time.  However, if you spend just a fraction more time in the field making it right and typing on a tablet, you can reduce office time by at least 75%.  Bill the client the same amount, or a little less to stay competitive, and pass the savings on to your techs and crew chiefs.  It can be done.  I really believe that.  Nearly every other industry is advancing by leaps and bounds while archaeology companies won’t even use double-sided forms because they might not get copied properly back in the office.  Astounding.  Work smarter, not harder.  

That’s it.  I guess this did turn into a rant.

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

#101 The View From the Top

Survey in Southern UtahToday was the hottest day we’ve had yet this year.  The terrain was steep and there was no shade.  I went through my five liters of water by four o’clock and that is with a 7 am start time.  The survey was made more tolerable, physically, by the fact that we had a crazy number of features to record which slowed us way down.  It was the sort of day that makes me think.  First, though, a little about what we are doing (leaving out anything that can tie me to a location, my company, or any persons alive or dead.  See my post about getting fired for writing a blog…).

We’re working in this area that is adjacent a previously recorded mining complex and we’re just adding to it.  So, all the mining features that we found were recorded as features of that previous site.  Which means, no site record.  We just had to take photos, GPS points, and write up a feature description.

The day just had me thinking about life and this job.  There are certainly times when I am frustrated by what I’m doing or frustrated with my bosses or frustrated with my co-workers.  In the end, though, I would’t trade it for the world.  Well, I’d trade up for a PI job!  Someday someone will take a chance on me and I’ll get one.  I’m not worried.  I still may just have to start my own company, though.  

I got off track.  Oh right.  Work.  More to the point, field work.  I do love being home and getting to do all those homey, comfortable, things that homes provide, including my wife!  However, I love being in the field too.  Most of the time.  Today we were in some fairly steep terrain.  One of the wonderful things that steep terrain provides are great views.  When you take that last, laborious, step and you think you just can’t go any further, there it is, the view you’ve been waiting for.  I don’t care how many places I go or how many desert landscapes I see, it never gets old.  It’s always worth it.  Really.

People think archaeology is all about finding cool sites, handling rare and amazing artifacts, and (to some) getting chased by natives in some foreign land.  Well, sometimes it is all those things.  Most of the time, though, it’s good old survey.  Sometimes you walk for miles and don’t find a thing.  Sometimes you find lots of things but they are all just copies of the same thing, like prospect pits or mining claim cairns.  These are the days when you come to cherish your views.

I’ve had days where I thought, this will be my last season.  After this, I’m doing something else.  Yeah, it can get that bad.  But then, on your solitary transect with your nearest neighbor 30 m away, you get to the top, and you remember why you keep coming back.  There still is adventure in archaeology.  You just have to look for it.  Most people don’t get to see what we see on a daily basis.  Most people will never see these things.  Think of that the next time your crew chief is telling you to walk faster up that tabular basalt slope (you were just looking for a large scraper any way…), while your feet slip, the GPS is nearly crushed several times as you break your fall with it, and your pin flags are poking you in the ear.

We don’t have it all that bad.  Really.  Just look at the people around you that don’t do archaeology.  There is a reason that they envy you.  There is a reason that they wish they had followed their passions, like you did.  Tell them about your “bad” day hiking in the high desert or in the swamps of Georgia (OK, that’s pretty bad), or in the hills of Vermont.  Tell them and see what they say.  They’ll tell you how they got yelled at because the canned goods weren’t rotated properly or how the copier kept jamming.  Nice.  I’ll take a desert landscape that I had to work for any day.

Thanks for reading.  If you’re a crew chief, tell your crew they did a good job today.  They’ll appreciate it.  If you’re a crew member, do your best, ask questions, and learn something new every session.

Be safe and I’ll see you in the field.


#72 Where is the Passion?

I’ve worked for about 15-20 different archaeology companies in most areas of the nation.  Those companies include small mom-and-pops up to big engineering firms and everything in-between.  Maybe I’ve just been unlucky but none of the companies I’ve worked for have ever given me the sense of joy and excitement that my wife gets when she goes to work, talks about work, or pretty much does her work at home.  I’d really like to change that, or see someone else do it, at the very least.

You see, several years ago my wife took up knitting again.  She had been taught by her grandmother when she was a kid but didn’t do much with it for most of her life.  As she started to really get back into it and started doing more complicated patterns, even attempting to design a few of her own, her passion for it started to develop.  I wasn’t sure where this passion would go or whether it would develop further but one thing was certain: she didn’t feel that way about archaeology (did I mention that she is an archaeologist too?).

So, a few months ago a position opened up at the local yarn store.  Well, it’s more than a store, really.  It’s a locally based international online retailer of all sorts of knitting related items.  She decided to take a huge pay cut and lifestyle change and got a job with the company. I’ve never seen her more happy!  We went to the company holiday party last week and I was amazed at the outpouring of support from the employees and from the owner.  People were moved to tears when they talked about how much they love working there and how much they love working for the owner.  I think I’ve been in archaeology too long because it all seemed like something out of a movie.  Do people really think that way about a job?  Do they “love” their employer and what they do?  Yes.  Believe it or not, they do.  This is no small company either.  They have almost 40 employees all working out of the same building.

Now, I certainly love my job.  I love talking about it, writing about it, and podcasting about it.  What I don’t love is the work environment that many of us have to deal with.  It’s a real spirit killer.  How many times have you said to either new techs or people that aren’t in the business that this type of archaeology has a high turn-over?  I’ve said it lots of times.  That’s ridiculous!  We have a job that many people would kill for!  Of course, most people think it’s all fortune and glory and Indiana Jones but that’s beside the point.     I think that we should feel passion for what we do and we should have a happy, up beat, and encouraging work environment.  From what I know of leadership that attitude comes straight from the top.

Sometimes you never even see the person at the top that writes the reports, or at least signs their name to them.  They’re there though and you can see their influence acting on and through their employees.  Ever work for a crew chief or field supervisor that is a real ass and seems to hate life?  Or, better yet, ever work for one that is only concerned with getting as many acres surveyed or sites recorded in the shortest time possible that they possibly can?  That attitude comes from above, usually.

So, why are CRM archaeologists so seemingly unhappy with their jobs?  Better yet, why do we continue to work for companies that piss us off or make us unhappy?  I imagine for most of us it’s because we don’t want to give up that sense of security (money), and, we still love archaeology and will do anything to stay in the profession.  I think that this dedication and passion should be rewarded by treating employees with the respect they deserve.  After all, no company would be able to function with out it’s field techs.

My vision for a company that I’d like to work for involves intense collaboration and socialization.  All of the employees would be working in a large, open space, with no cubicles or walls between them.  The PI would be out there too.  He/she would not be in an office down the hall where they are largely unapproachable.  I don’t know exactly what the office would look like but I know I wouldn’t want walls.  People need to feel like they are part of a team and I don’t think a sterile, quiet, cubicled environment is the way to do that.

I also think that giving more benefits to the employees keeps them happier.  My wife’s employer is giving everyone in the company a health and wellness stipend starting the first of the year.  It’s to encourage everyone to go out and be healthy.  They are making plenty of money, why not spread it around?  

How do you give more benefits to the employees in a cash-strapped field?  Work smarter.  I truly feel that by eliminating most paper, in the field and in the office, you could save a medium-sized company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  That’s not just in paper costs either.  That includes maintaining copiers and printers, having people type up the forms in the office, and storage of all of the field forms for decades to come.  Everything can be done digitally and last generation’s archaeologists need to realize that the digitization of our world is not something to be feared.  Just remember three things about digital documents and data: backup, backup, backup.  That’s it.  

There are some companies that are not opposed to technology.  I don’t know of any CRM companies that are using tablets in the field just yet but there may be some out there.  There are certainly academic projects that have gone completely digital and are even drawing feature maps and rock art on iPads.  We have the resources to be as technologically advanced a field as others, we just have to take that first step.  When we start saving all of this money, while not lowering our prices to clients because we have to continue to value our work appropriately, we can start giving more back to our employees.

I also feel that professional development and intellectual development should not be treated like something that is secondary to getting that next survey done.  I would love to see a company where people all the way down to the field tech level are rewarded for going to conferences, presenting papers, and attending local talks, or even giving them.  The more we know about current research the better we will be on our own projects.  I would reward people for giving local talks on archaeology and projects in the area too.  What are we doing all of this for anyway?  The public has a right, and usually a desire, to know about the archaeology in their backyard and in the state they live in.  Tell them about it.  

It would be great to see a year-end bonus structure that was based on a points system.  Points could be given for presenting a paper, giving a talk, going to a conference, or anything related to communicating archaeology to someone else.  

I’m trying not to make this into a huge rant.  I love my field and I want to see it get better.  I want to see people that are happy to be heading out into the field for one more session.  I want to see people telling their friends and family that they wouldn’t want to work in any other field for anyone else and that they are very happy with their lives and with the decisions that they’ve made regarding archaeology.  I just don’t see that right now.

Please, if I’ve just had bad luck and you work for a company that makes you shout tidings of joy out the windows of skyscrapers then leave a comment.  If you work for an employer that makes you LOVE going to work everyday and encourages you to better yourself professionally and intellectually, leave a comment.  If you are a venture capitalist and want to fund my new company, call me!

#42 The Crazy Ones


 “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.

The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers,

The round pegs in the square holes,

The ones who see things differently.

They are not fond of rules and

They have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them,

Disagree with them,

Glorify or Vilify them.

But the only thing you can’t do,

Is ignore them

Because they change things.

They push the human race forward.

And while some may see them as,

The Crazy Ones

We see genius.

Because the people who think they are crazy enough

To think they can change the world,

Are the ones who do.”


-From an un-aired Apple commercial

#40 Live Blog During SGU24

At 5:00 pm PST the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast began a live, 24 hour, podcast.  They are in the “Skeptilair” one of the guy’s basement, and are attempting to increase skepticism and awareness of science around the world.  It is after 1:00 am PST.  We are over eight hours into this.  No one is sure why they started at 8 pm EST, where they are all from (except for Rebecca Watson who lives in England and flew here for the event).

For the most part I’m quite impressed with the event so far.  To even attempt an undertaking like this takes an extreme amount of patience and passion.  There have been some technical difficulties and I think that some people in Europe are having trouble with the feed.  However, everything seems to be running as well as can be expected.

In addition to the video and audio feed I’m following the discussion in a chat room and on Twitter (#sgu24).  It is amazing to me how mean some people can be.  Do the people in the chat room think that the panelists aren’t watching the chat?  Occasionally the discussion has slowed down a bit and a few times they probably weren’t discussing topics that are interesting to everyone.  That is no reason to say that you are bored or that a speaker is boring.  You wouldn’t do that in a lecture.  Why would you do it here?

I’m not sure how long I’m going to make it.  Luckily I don’t have to work tomorrow.  The drive and ambition of the Skeptics Guide Rouges are keeping me awake and making me want to be a part of this ground-breaking podcast.

Also, I’m looking forward to listening to Skeptics from around the world as we progress through this 24 hour event.  Right now they are talking to Richard Saunders and others from the Skeptic Zone, a skeptical podcast from Australia.  Keep it going guys.  I don’t think you realize the impact you are having on people around the world right now.  How many podcasts and blogs will be spawned by the excitement of the event and the contagious passion being exhibited by the Skeptical Rouges?  Time will tell.


Written in during hour 9 of the SGU 24 hour podcast event, from Sparks, NV