WIA Blog Post: To Be or Not To Be An Archaeologist

I wrote the following for the Women In Archaeology (WIA) blog.  Check out all of the great posts and podcast episodes on the website!

Consider the following:

“You know you’re an archeologist… when with a BA in Anthropology, field school, and post grad work as a field tech, you have never labeled yourself as an archeologist because in the purest form, you haven’t earned that title. Then you cringe when the non-degree holding, no field school, no anthro studies, shovel bum, I mean field tech, who is new to the community tells everyone he IS an archeologist. UGH!!”

A woman posted the above not too long ago on an archaeology-themed Facebook group and it spurred a variety of reactions from, ‘what the hell?!’ to ‘Ugh, I know! So, frustrating.’  My fellow Women in Archaeology Podcast hosts chatted a bit about our own reactions to the post.  Our overarching response was why on earth would she not consider herself an archaeologist?  There’s a lot to unpack in just these two sentences.  Let’s consider the first . . .

“ . . . have never labeled yourself as an archaeologist because in the purest form, you haven’t earned that title.”

This individual indicates that she has a great deal of experience and education in archaeology, so why wouldn’t she consider herself as an archaeologist?  I am loud and proud about my archaeologist status—I have earned it through experience (i.e. blood, sweat, and tears) and education (i.e. BA and MA in anthropology and archaeology).  Now, why wouldn’t she do the same?  One of the possible things going on here is called ‘imposter syndrome.’  There are numerous articles describing this syndrome by Time, Scientific American, The New York Times, and so on.  In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is the fear that you will be exposed as a fraud if you claim to be one thing or another, despite numerous accomplishments supporting your claims.  For example, you could never really be an archaeologist unless you fit the ideal—no matter how you strive, you simply are not good enough to have that title.

What does it mean to be an archaeologist in the ‘purest form’?  Is there really such a thing?  The pursuit of archaeology is conducted in a variety of forms, from the lab to the field, from academia to cultural resource management (CRM).  Being an archaeologist can mean surveying hundreds of miles or studying bones or analyzing ancient poop—there are many ways to be an archaeologist.  Consequently, ispso facto, therefore, forsooth, you—individual who posted this discussion inspiring post— are an archaeologist.  If you fear being called out for not having the specific qualifications to be the perfect archaeologist, don’t be.  No archaeologist is perfect.  And, the requirements for what it means to be an archaeologist are determined more by the type of career you hope pursue than some overarching label of what archaeology is supposed to be.  It is the job where the necessary education and/or experience comes in.

On to the second part of the post . . . “non-degree holding, no field school, no anthro studies, shovel bum, I mean field tech is new to the community.”

Now, there is something to be said about experience.  I have met many older archaeologists who learned on the job, before more rigid (and necessary) qualifications were put into place.  They have more knowledge of the field than I could ever hope to gain, however, that does not negate my education and fewer years of experience.  We can work together to really do some really great work.

Currently, If you search for any kind of archaeology fieldwork job, there is typically a list of requirements that any archaeology technician must have, including some coursework in archaeology, as well as some kind of field school.  So, it is hard to imagine there’s a shovel bum out there with zero schooling in archaeology or anthropology, no field school, and no experience in the field.  I’ve been an arch tech and I’ve taught arch techs—everyone has to have some understanding of the discipline.  Otherwise, they can do more damage than good at a site or on a survey.  It makes me wonder if a conflict transpired between this individual and the shovel bum.  It is not uncommon for PHd’s having trouble finding work right out of graduate school (I struggled right after my MA) and having to work at a lower level within CRM.  It may rankle to be at the same level as someone right out of college—but, that’s not the arch tech’s fault, and trust me, we’ve all been there.

What’s important is to showcase your knowledge, but also admit what you don’t know.  It is not helpful, whether you are the crew chief or the arch tech, to exaggerate your experience, since limits will show once the work starts.  Be proud of what you have achieved and be a role model for those who want to get the same level of education and experience, but just aren’t there yet.  If you confront someone who claims to be the best archaeologist in the world, but by no means has the skills, don’t worry about them—it will show in their work.  And, any crew chief, assistant crew chief, etc worth their salt, will notice, too.

Field Photo: Prehistoric Flint Knapping Station

The majority of the artifacts I come across in the field are flakes, the bits of stone created through knapping.  Flint knapping is the process of reducing cores of stone, such as chert or obsidian, into tools, such as projectile points or scrapers.  It was amazing to find an entire flint knapping station, where I could see the lithic reduction process from beginning to end.  I could put some of the flakes back together to form part of a core. I could see hundreds of bits if shatter.  And, just think, someone was sitting here hundreds of years ago, making stone tools.

*As ever, it is illegal and unethical to remove artifacts from public lands (i.e. Forest Service, BLM, NPS, etc).

Paphos UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Ten years ago I participated in the Athienou Archaeological Project in Cyprus as my introduction to archaeological fieldwork, particularly excavation.  Part of the field school was traveling throughout Cyprus to gain a better understanding of the prehistory and history of the island.  On one of the field visits, we explored Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  Kato Pafos, or Paphos, is a beautiful archaeological park that includes beautiful mosaic floors from four different Roman villas.    There are a number of monuments in the archaeological park (a whole other blog post to be), such as a huge necropolis.  But back to the mosaics.  The mosaics are the following: The House of Dionysus, Theseus, Aion, Orpheus, and Four Seasons.  They date between the second century AD and fourth century AD.

The necropolis at Kato Paphos is a fantastic combination of completely creepy tombs and unique history.  The use of the tombs has varied, from a necropolis to a home for squatters.  The Tomb of the Kings (Tafoi ton Vasileon)—named for it’s impressive structure although there isn’t any evidence of a king being buried there—was built during the Hellenistic period, sometime during the 3rd century BC.  It was used as a burial area through the Roman era until the Medieval period, when the necropolis was used as a quarry and home for squatters.  All that is left are the niches and rooms for human remains.

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