What is an Archaeological Technician?
The people who go out into the heat, rain, and snow to survey and record
the information needed for compliance reports (for Archaeology and Cultural
Resources required under Federal Law) are the true work horses of the Cultural
Resource Management Industry. These legions of underpaid and unappreciated
people are the "Archaeological Technicians." But, what exactly does it mean
to be an "Archaeological Technician?
The industry answer to this question depends upon which side of the fence
you are standing, and who is asking the Question. The official definition
is forwarded by the U. S. Department of Labor. They are solely responsible
for determining the classes of employment for Federal Contract work, but
there are Professionals in this industry who would like to have technicians
classed as "professionals" to suit their egocentric view of themselves as
scientists, and in turn have techs classed as common laborers when it comes
to establishing pay levels. The UAFT is here to announce to them that they
can not have it both ways and that this industry will have to accept and
acknowledge the important roll of the "Archaeological Technician" in the
U. S. Dept. of Labor Wage and Hour Division Service Contract Act Directory
29020 Archeological Technician
Provides technical support to professional archeologist, utilizing
a basic understanding of anthropological and archaeological field techniques
in connection with locating, testing and evaluating cultural resource sites.
Conducts prefield office research, field surveys and site testing, using
a variety of reference materials, interviews with source individuals, aerial
photographs and technical instruments. Searches areas of proposed projects
for evidence of historic and prehistoric remains. Determines exact location
of sites and marks them on maps and aerial photographs. Records information
on site survey form and prepares an archaeological reconnaissance report
needed for evaluation and management of the project. Insures that work assignments
are carried out in safe and timely manner according to established standards
and procedures. Reviews work in progress and reports to superiors relative
to the completion date and other standards set in report. Cleans and catalogs
artifacts recovered from inventories and excavations.
Education and Experience
Although the technician is principally engaged in field or lab work,
nearly all will at one time or another, during their tenure as an "Archaeological
Technician," be involved in every aspect of CRM work listed above. What an
Archaeological Technician can never do is act as "Principal Investigator"
on a project or sign reports as a "Professional Archaeologist." Professional
Archaeologists must meet the minimum experience and educational requirements
set forth by the U. S. Secretary of the Interior and respective State Historic
Preservation Officers. Archaeological Technicians have no such educational
requirements beyond that which it takes to obtain "a basic understanding
of anthropological and archeological field techniques..."
Some may argue that this means an Archaeological Technician is little
more than a laborer with some limited skill. Never-the-less, a skill it is,
and one that develops greatly with years of experience in the field. Regardless
of their number of years in the business, Professional Cultural Resource
Managers gain precious little field experience, and while they are the acknowledge
experts in professional research, they may have only a fraction of the practical
field experience of the seasoned Archaeological Technicians working on their
projects. The analogy of the difference between the Carpenter and the Architect
could be used to illustrate this relationship.
Where do Archaeological Technicians come from?
Technicians usually promote themselves for work by circulating resume's
to as many Consulting Companies as possible. They rely on their body of experience
to win them a position on a field crew for the duration of a single project.
As a project ends they are forced to repeat the process, seeking to sign
on to the next company with an upcoming field project. This system works
well until the supply of experienced Technicians is exhausted. When this
happens companies will begin to hire large numbers of green students, relatives,
or anyone with a pulse to raise the crew size to the level called for in
their initial contract proposal. After the experienced tech pool has run
dry the companies are only concerned about finding billable bodies. This
can result in field crews composed of over 70% inexperienced workers, little
useful field research is accomplished under these circumstances, and the
companies know it. To add insult to injury, the companies routinely pay the
experienced and inexperienced at or near the same hourly rate and expect
the experienced Technicians to train the novices in the field.
How long do Archaeological Technicians stay around?
The sad truth is, that under present industry conditions it is unusual
for many Technicians to remain in the industry for more than five years;
the average is only three years. Technicians seldom move up in the industry,
companies seem to prefer to hire junior professionals fresh out of graduate
school, and nearly no companies offer their employees opportunities to advance
their education. Technicians are frequently forced to seek better paying
although less rewarding work outside the industry to make ends meet. This
situation of constant turn over further degrades the quality of field work
by denying the industry an adequate supply of trained and experienced technicians.
What is causing experienced Archaeological Technicians to leave CRM
in such great numbers?
The working conditions of this industry are the catalyst driving good
people out of CRM. The following profile and industry averages should serve
to illustrate this point. This information is based on recent surveys and
interviews of people working in the field from across the country. These
figures reflect averages of responses to a range of similar questions, some
regional differences in working conditions do occur.
Financial outlook (figures based on a three year period)
- Average total hours worked per year:
- Number of months per year with some CRM work:
- Average hourly wage:
- Average annual income (before taxes):
Personal Job Related Expenses
- Average amount of jobs requiring extensive travel:
- Average travel radius from home to work:
- 300 miles
- Average number of States worked in per year:
- Average number of companies worked for per year (based on number of
annual W-2's received):
- Average annual uncompensated work related out-of-pocket travel expenses
(based on unpaid mileage, meals, lodging):
- Average Adjusted Annual Income
- (Annual "take-home-pay" after deduction of uncompensated work related
- If paid the national average prevailing wage ($15/hr.) the adjusted
annual income for the same 1400 hours would
- only amount to $16,500. Less than a laborer or truck driver.
Profile of Archaeological
- Age average:
- Age range:
- 19 to 62
- Years in the field average:
- (this figure is heavily weighted by respondents with under two years
of experience: the second most common response was seven years)
- Ratio of men to women Archaeological Technicians
of individuals with a college education:
- Of individuals with a college degree, number with outstanding student
- Of people with outstanding student loans, number presently delinquent
or in default:
- Percentage of individuals without health insurance:
- Percentage of individuals without a retirement plan:
- Percentage of individuals who rely on unemployment on an annual basis:
- Percentage of individuals who have had to take jobs out of their field
to make ends meet:
- Percentage of individuals who have had to rely on family or friends
for housing while between jobs:
- Percentage of individuals who have no home or apartment to return to
on weekends or between jobs (homeless):
- Percentage of individuals who find that what they earn as an Archaeological
Technician is not even enough to meet basic living expenses:
- In-spite of these figures...
- Percentage of individuals who are trying to make a career as an Archaeological
- Of those who start out as Archaeological Technicians percentage of individuals
who will last more than three years:
A Word of Warning to Those Who Would Consider a Career as an Archaeological
To be fair, there are some rewarding aspects to Technician work in the CRM
industry. Working in a field that you truly care about is a reward all its
own. Working outdoors in good weather and meeting fellow technician to share
experiences and interests with can be greatly rewarding. There is little
argument that there are fleeting moments of excitement in working on an actual
archaeological mitigation or finding a previously unknown site. The magic
of these moments can be truly thrilling. Unfortunately none of these thrilling
moments will pay the bills. For those who are independently wealthy there
are plenty of opportunities to work on real archaeological sites in the U.
S. and abroad as a volunteer. However, the CRM industry is a for-profit-business,
and it is herein that the trouble lies.
The harsh reality of choosing work as an Archaeological Technician is that
you will be choosing a life of poverty. Your credit will likely be ruined
because you will not be at one address long enough to maintain regular monthly
payments without the help of your parents. This is a brutal brand of poverty
because by working at all you will not be eligible for Medicaid assistance,
or food stamps, or JPTA job training assistance to improve your life. Your
annual take-home-pay will be less than a full time job at minimum wage. In
fact this hourly rate turns out to be $3.22/hour. If you are faced with a
major medical expense you will be forced to file personal bankruptcy. You
will not be able to afford regular dental or medical check-ups, these things
will become a luxury. If you get sick you will have to suffer through it.
You will also find that you will be forced into the embarrassing situation
of borrowing money from your family just to survive (and you will likely
be unable to repay it). You will most likely be homeless, relying on friends
and family to put you up between jobs.
These conditions are brought about because your employer only cares about
winning the contract as the low bidder, and making his profit. These uncaring
greed mongers compete for contracts on the basis of the lowest technician
wages they can get away with paying. On Federal Contracts this is expressly
illegal, but done just the same. Greedy contractors care less about the quality
of employees they attract than they do about their profit, so left unchecked
low wages will continue to be the industry standard.
What You Can Expect From Work in CRM
Field work in CRM is labor intensive hard work. You will develop calluses
any pipefitter or carpenter would be proud of. You will strain you back from
shoveling, hoisting buckets full of dirt, and pushing wheelbarrows. You will
hurt your knees and wrists form hours of crouching down to trowel level after
level of dirt walls and floors. You will ware out countless pairs of your
own gloves screening ton after ton of soil. You will work in ankle deep mud,
screen wet and frozen soil, and be exposed to hypothermia and frostbite along
with sunstroke and heat exhaustion. You will be routinely exposed to poison
ivy, ground hornets, biting flies, mosquitoes, snake infested swamps, and
hayfever. You will be faced with unsanitary and unsafe working conditions
on a regular basis, and if you get sick you are likely to loose your job.
Your knowledge of fieldwork will go unappreciated unless the company gets
behind in the field and then it will go unrewarded. You will be expected
to keep detailed notes on scientific observations but you will be given no
time to write them down on the wet and muddy paperwork that you will be provided
with. You will likely be treated with disrespect and regarded as disposable
After work you return sweaty, muddy, and tired to a motel room that you will
likely be expected to share with a sweaty, muddy, total stranger. You will
likely be expected to move out of your room every weekend, and back in again
at the start of the next week. Even though this will be the only home you
know for months or years at a time you will have little or no privacy or
personal time. Your employer will most likely keep you in the dark as to
the work plan and duration of the project. Often the only refuge from the
job will be found in a bottle, and your will likely find yourself drinking
too much, even if you would not normally drink.
What to Expect From Your Employer
Expect that your employer is a business person and is principally concerned
about the bottom line. Do not expect your employer to care greatly about
the archaeology or quality of field work. Your employer is paid to deliver
a CRM report, the appearance of this document is the only important aspect
of the contract. If your employer can deliver an acceptable report, even
if it is based on fraudulent or fictitious field information, he is likely
to collect his money with no consequences.
Do not expect humane treatment, or your employer to be concerned about your
welfare or the burdens his project puts on your personal existence. Do not
expect your employer to care about your homeless situation or your need to
conduct banking or post office business on a week day (weekends off are of
little use to someone trapped on the road with no home address). Your employer
is likely to turn you out of your hotel room on your days off with no concern
of you sleeping in your car or under a bridge. Your employer is just as likely
to turn you out of your room if you get sick or injured. You will be told
that you are expendable! And, to them you are!
You can also expect that your employer will be ill prepared and unable to
manage a field project. Expect that they will be lacking in the major equipment
needed to perform field work. There is likely to be ridiculous shortages
of simple items such as shovels and screens, 30 or 100 meter tapes needed
to layout grids and record finds, brush clearing equipment, drinking water
or toilets, or even enough vehicles to get the crew safely into the field.
There will be an utter lack of major equipment needed such as transits and
survey gear, proper shelters to keep rain from ruining excavations, or pumps
and generators to keep standing water out of units and block excavations.
Remember we told you that your employer is more interested about profitability
than archaeology, and it shows in the field work.
Aside from poor field archaeology and a total disregard for employee safety,
you can also expect many employers to jerk you around on your housing and
meal compensation (per diem). You can also expect to be jerked around at
payday. Company pay and perdiem policies will be changed without notice to
suit the companies financial need regardless of promises made to you at the
start of the project. Expect to be cheated. Expect to be lied to. Expect
to be abused. You can even expect to have your employer steal from you. He
will illegally steal your overtime hours and federal required prevailing
wages on government jobs. Remember, money is the bottom line and your employer
won't be above breaking the law to get it.
What Your Employer Expects From You
Your employer will expect that you do not have a life of your own. He will
expect that you are trained and educated (typically a BA degree is expected)
all at your own personal cost. They will expect that you are ready and able
to work in all weather conditions, and that you supply all of your own rain
gear and other foul weather equipment (often including shelters). They will
expect that you supply most of your own tools, and will pressure you to loan
them to others who show up less well equipped. They will expect you to work
silently with out proper instruction or explanation of work plans, schedules,
or project goals.
What Your Employer Thinks of You
Your employer thinks you are an expendable piece of equipment that can easily
be replaced. They will treat you as though you are stupid and unable to understand
your own job. You will be called derogatory names like "Diggro, Shovel-bum,
Wog, Field Trash." Your filthy appearance after work will make you unwelcome
at the hotels where you stay, and your employers will act as though this
is your fault. Generally, you will be despised as a necessary evil of the
business and treated accordingly.
What Your Employer Takes From You
Your employer will try to take your dignity, but that is a cheap commodity
compared to the federally guaranteed Labor Rights your employer will try
to deny you. Your employers will routinely deny you the following rights
Your right to a safe and healthful workplace including:
- A Posted Safety Plan, Regular Safety Meetings,
- Adequate Drinking Water or Toilet Facilities,
- Adequate access to Emergency Responders
- Adequate protection in deep excavations
- Adequate Shelter from severe weather
- Safe transportation to remote job sites
Wage and Hour Rights
Your right to legal compensation for your work:
Prevailing Wage for work on federal contracts, the national average is $15/
hour for this work
Holiday pay on all federal contracts
Mandatory benefits on federal contracts
Time- and-a-half for all overtime hours on all jobs
What Your Employer Gets From You
He gets a bargain basement labor force that is totally disposable. He also
gets a workforce with very little overhead. Actual overhead on technicians
is less than 10% for payroll expense, matching FICA, worker's-comp, and unemployment
insurance. In turn your employer charges an average 100% overhead mark-up
for your services (perdiem and hotel are additional direct expenses billed
to the client). So for every dollar your employer pays you, he makes a buck.
That sounds like a pretty good deal for the companies, at the expense of
the Technicians and the Taxpayers.
Such Are the Conditions in the CRM industry
If nothing is done, these conditions will only get worse. If you are thinking
of making a living in this field with only an undergraduate degree, this
will be your fate. If you only want to do archaeology and don't care about
your income volunteer to work with
(680 Mt. Auburn St., PO Box 403, Watertown, MA 02272). If you need to make
a living, contact the UAFT about improving your future.
What Can be Done About The Terrible Conditions That Plague Archaeological
Technicians in CRM?
Many Archaeological Technicians are fed-up with these conditions and they
have formed a Labor Union to fight against this oppression. But, this fight
will take time and will not change the industry overnight. This fight to
claim workers rights will involve education, investigation, lobbying, and
hardship. But this hardship pales in comparison to the oppression faced on
a daily basis in the CRM industry. If you are interested in helping the struggle
for workers rights in CRM, contact the UAFT about
joining the fight.
Contact us at:
United Archaeological Field Technicians
3135 West Street, Box B
Weirton WV 26062