Who works in digital archaeology?

Institute for Archaeology logo

Stuart Jeffery, ADS
Kenny Aitchison, IfA

The Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) have been producing a critical labour market intelligence document, Profiling the Profession on a regular basis since 1999. The third edition has just been released, now as part of a larger project called ´Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe´ which gathers data from twelve European countries. This latest edition offers us an opportunity to look at the changes over the last decade with regard to who is working in archaeology whose roles are specifically related to information technology.

The role of ´Computing Officer´ is defined in the profiling the profession methodology as covering a number of job titles which include words such as ´IT´, ´geomatics´ and ´data´. The number of ´Computer Officer´ roles has risen extensively from 1999 to 2008 with an increase from 12 to 43 (see Figure 1.) This is a far greater increase than the increase in the number of archaeologists in general, representing an increase of from 0.5% of the total in 1999 to 0.8% in 2003 and 1.6% in 2008 (the total number of ´all archaeologists´ for whom detailed data was recorded for each year was 2132, 2280, 2650 respectively). This increase should not be unexpected given the ever increasing adoption of digital technologies into archaeological practice as well as the need to manage the computer systems of small and medium sized archaeological businesses. In fact in 2003 74% of responding organisations identified information technology as a skills gap. Interestingly, this skills shortage is identified as a ´non-archaeological´ skills gap, possibly highlighting an attitude that some level of information technology skills are still not seen as core to the archaeological skill set and even where the handling of archaeological data, is not necessarily seen as a specifically archaeological task. This is at odds with the growing recognition of archaeological informatics as one of the range of vital specialisms that constitute the discipline.

Number of Archaeological Computing Officers

Figure 1: The number of Archaeological Computing Officers in the UK.

It should also be borne in mind that it is also likely that in addition to the increase in ´Computing Officers´ roles that information technology skills have in fact continued to be garnered by archaeologists that see themselves primarily falling under other roles. This is attested to by the fall in the number identifying an IT skills gap from 74% in 2003 to 68% in 2008, although this is obviously still a very wide spread gap.

From a digital preservation point of view it is not clear that this increase in ´Computing Officers´ is necessarily matched by an increased in a general awareness in approaches to archiving of digital data as opposed to its generation and manipulation. This is perhaps indicated by the actual fall in the number of people employed in the ´Archives Officer´ role, in 2003 there were 20 full or part-time individuals in this role, but in 2008 there was only 18 (no figures were gathered in 1999).

Average salaries

Figure 2: Average salaries, Computing Officers in dark purple, average in blue.

Further examination of the statistics related to the ´Computing Officer´ role also highlights some very positive changes in the role since 1999. Figure 2 shows the average salaries for the categories ´All Archaeologists´ and ´Computing Officer´. In 1999 ´Computing Officers´ lagged behind the average, but by 2003 had managed to overtake their colleagues, further consolidating their advantage in 2008. Figure 3 shows the relative numbers of male and female archaeologists in the role, by 2008 the gender balance was nearer the ideal at 54%(M) to 46%(F) which compares favourably with the average. 59%(M), 41%(F).

All the above data are drawn from the Profiling the Profession 2007-08 document, available from the IfA at the URL below, which provides many more fascinating insights into the archaeological labour market than can be given here. This includes, detailed confirmation of what many archaeologists have felt to be true for years i.e. that in comparison to the general work force, archaeologists are better qualified, but worse paid than the average, as well as being significantly less diverse.

Figure 3. Computer Officers by gender

Figure 3: Computer Officers by gender, green is male, blue is female.

Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence, Profiling the Profession 2007-08 (PDF): http://www.archaeologists.net/modules/icontent/inPages/docs/lmi%200708/Archaeology_LMI_report_colour.pdf (6.0Mb).