Register of Professional Archaeologists at EAA

This report has just been published on the ACRA-L mailing list. It's a useful overview of the Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe project, and introduces discussion of a Discovering the Archaeologists of the Americas project.



Presentation on RPA to EAA Session on Professional Associations Photo by Mike Polk.

Between September 14th and 18th approximately 800 archaeologists, including 22 from the United States, met for four days of papers, sessions, excursions and other events in the orderly port city of Oslo. The EAA provides a forum for archaeologists all over Europe to communicate on archaeological issues and topics of all kinds. Fortunately for Anglophones, the official language of EAA meetings is English and so communication is, by and large, not a problem.

Your President was invited to contribute to a Roundtable Session organized by the EAA’s Committee on Professional Associations in Archaeology, chaired by Kenneth Aitchison from the U.K. There were five papers in the session, all broadly on the topic of professionalism in archaeology. My contribution, on behalf of the Register, was ‘Licensing, Self-Regulation, Incentives or the “Invisible Hand”? Prospects for Professional Archaeology in the United States.’ In the presentation I sought to summarize where RPA is and where it might go, and outlined what I see as some of our successes and failures in establishing archaeology as a profession in the U.S. I plan to develop this into a paper for submittal to our sponsoring societies’ newsletters in the coming weeks.

My main intention with this report, however, is to provide some impressions of the status of professionalism in Europe, and to report on a European initiative that may come across the Atlantic.

As far as continental Europe is concerned, there is at this point apparently no equivalent to the Register, or to the American Cultural Resources Association, or to the United Kingdom’s Institute for Archaeology (IFA). This is true both at the nation-state level and in a pan-European sense.

This is unfortunate, since I heard papers from several archaeologists expressing concerns about the status of archaeology and of archaeological heritage protection their countries. Strong professional organizations could be useful in addressing some of the problems we heard about.

A recent attempt to set up something similar to RPA in the Netherlands by the Dutch Society of Archaeologists has been abandoned after disagreements over its structure and role. The Society has effectively given the task of defining who is a professional archaeologist back to the national government.

In Spain, no consensus exists on a definition of a professional archaeologist, and the devolution of most powers over the cultural heritage to the Spanish Autonomous Regions has led to wide variations in standards, organization, regulation and practice, with apparently inadequate oversight of the archaeology required under the Valetta Convention.

Recent political changes and frequent policy reversals in Hungary have led to the weakening of archaeological organizations and institutions at every level there.

In Slovakia, despite the existence of a well defined structure for securing the protection of archaeological sites, several “horror stories” of poor decision-making were presented.
From Norway we heard about the poor working conditions and lack of professional advancement experienced by temporarily-employed field archaeologists.

In Poland, treasure hunting using metal detectors is a major threat to the archaeological heritage that is not being adequately addressed.

Of course it was not all doom and gloom. I heard very positive papers on archaeological initiatives and programs in Sweden, Finland, and Bavaria, and there were probably more in sessions I was not able to get to. There was a keen interest, expressed in several papers, in creating wider social benefit from archaeological work than is often now the case.

The closest organization to RPA remains the Institute For Archaeology (formerly the Institute of Field Archaeologists) in the United Kingdom. IFA is a robust organization that has taken on some of the roles of both RPA and ACRA. Unlike RPA, IFA has taken a very active role in public policy discussions, and is in regular contact with the national government on heritage issues. A proposed radical change in UK government policy is threatening to open up huge areas of previously protected land for commercial development, evidently without adequate safeguards for the historic environment, and IFA is working prominently with other heritage organizations to reverse or modify this. IFA is currently considering whether to seek Royal Charter status. This would have the effect of setting out specific criteria defining who is or is not an archaeologist. IFA’s Registered Organizations program permits bodies, such as CRM companies and research entities that agree to adhere to IFA standards and practices, to be placed on a list of approved organizations on much the same basis as individual members of IFA. Registered Organizations are subject to a grievance process and can be expelled from the program.

Awareness of the very different circumstances under which professional archaeologists find themselves across Europe has led to the creation of the Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe initiative (DAE). This began in 2008 with a pilot study to survey archaeologists in 12 EU countries. Kenneth Aitchison is leading this new initiative. The kind of information gathered was as follows:

The estimated numbers of archaeologists working in the country
Age, gender, nationality and disability status
Estimated numbers working in different parts of the archaeology sector
Geographical differences
Range of jobs
Staff qualifications
Identification of training needs
Potential skills shortages
Potential skills gaps
Employers' commitment to qualifications and training
Employment in rescue (salvage/public) archaeology in the country

The EAA is now planning to expand this project to many other countries in Europe and to adjacent regions. In July 2011 a major planning meeting was held in Prague to move this forward. This was attended by ACRA President Terry Majewski, who was financially supported by three of RPA’S sponsoring organizations (SAA, SHA and AAA) to do so. Terry has written a helpful and concise summary of that meeting and of the DAE project on pages 33-36 the Summer 2011 issue of ACRA Edition (Volume 17-3, available at Terry and I, plus our former President Jeff Altschul (who was instrumental in ensuring that the U.S. was represented at the Prague meeting) feel strongly that something similar would be very worthwhile not only in the United State but in the Americas as a whole. We are actively discussing this at the present time and I plan to report back to the Register when we have developed concrete ideas as to how this might work.

After our formal session I met with IFA chairman Gerry Wait and with Terry Majewski (yes, it was over a beer) to discuss this and other areas of common interest. I raised with Gerry the possibility of developing a reciprocal relationship between IFA and RPA on the lines of the COARPE agreement that we have with Peru. Such an agreement would make it easier for an archaeologist from one country to be recognized as a qualified professional in another. We agreed to keep talking about this.


RPA President Ian Burrow with IFA Chair Gerry Wait (Center) and ACRA President Terry Majewski (right) Photo by Mike Polk.

My thanks to you all for helping to provide me with this rewarding opportunity.


Ian Burrow



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