SAA and Discovering the Archaeologists of the Americas

Jeff Altschul, the President of the Society for American Archaeology, has written about the Discovering the Archaeologists of the Americas project and about Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe in the latest issue of SAA Archaeological Record.


While I was traveling, other members of SAA were hard at work. Two long-term survey initiatives are moving ahead. The first is the Discovering the Archaeologists of Americas (DAA) project. This long-term study of the demographics and characteristics of American archaeologists mirrors a similar study in Europe. The Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe project has undergone two iterations and now has profiles of archaeologists in 21 countries. At the EAA meetings in Istanbul, Kenny Aitchison, the principal manager of the profiling projects (DISCO and DISCO2), estimated that there are 30,000 professional archaeologists working in Europe and that roughly $1.5 billion is spent annually on cultural heritage. These numbers are considerably higher than any estimates provided for the United States and any reasonable estimate made for the entire Americas (North and South). It is possible that our European colleagues are overestimating the number of archaeologists, but in examining the 21 country profiles (, each country estimate appears sound and relies on a tested methodology. Having made estimates for the United States, I’m pretty sure the error is on our part. U.S. estimates are all based on a questionable set of assumptions and on meager and poor data.

But honestly, who cares how many archaeologists there are in the Americas and how much is spent annually on cultural heritage? You should. It makes a great deal of difference if in 2025 the number of professional archaeologists working in the Americas is 15,000, 20,000, or 30,000. Do we have enough graduate programs? Are there graduates trained for the jobs that will employ them? As someone who has spent a fair amount of time on Capitol Hill these last few years, I can say unequivocally that the inability to answer how many archaeologists work in Ohio, New York, California, etc., and how much is spent in these states and in the country as a whole on archaeology and cultural heritage is hampering our ability to be heard and to have influence on various pieces of legislation. Put another way, those on the other side (real estate developers, energy and pipeline companies, utilities, defense contractors, etc.) all have these numbers at the tip of their tongues. We don’t, and we need them.

The SAA’s Discovering the Archaeologists of the Americas Task Force (Terry Majewski, Chair) submitted to the board of directors a draft request for proposals (RFP) for a pilot study. The goal of the pilot study is to evaluate the feasibility of a hemisphere-wide DAA study by assessing the methodology and survey instruments in one U.S. state and one Latin American country. Using the experience to refine our approach, the survey questionnaires, and the analytic techniques, the SAA would then prepare proposals that could be submitted to funders to finance a full project or projects to collect demographic information on the profession across the entirety of the Americas. We intend to send the RFP out this fall, with the pilot study scheduled for 2015.

Altschul, J.H. 2014. "From the President", SAA Archaeological Record 14/5, pp4-5.