Once an archaeologist, always an archaeologist? Today I ask myself if I still am an archaeologist, and most of all, if I will remain one. Last February, my last part-time job with a link to archaeology ended. It looks to be the last project for me.
My specialty, Mesopotamian archaeology, was always a rather small discipline but it is shrinking even more. First, there is the problem of the countries where the archaeological sites are located becoming inaccessible or at least problematic for research: Iran, Iraq, Syria, … Who knows, Turkey may be next? Back in 2003, I participated in the attempts to protect the archaeological heritage of Iraq from the War. I set up and ran the Iraq War & Archaeology reference website for a few years. It was a one-man volunteer endeavor, fortunately supported by Archaeos and the University of Vienna (Austria) with server space. I was only able to do so because the year before I was laid off, as one of many thousands, from my competitive-intelligence analyst job at a national telecom corporation. So yes, I have already left archaeology once. After receiving my PhD at UCLA in the mid-’90s, I adjunct-taught archaeology, history and art history for a while but found out soon enough that a full-time position was not in the works anytime soon, even after applying for any and all jobs at universities and colleges high and low, in the Americas, Europe, Asia, … So with the support of my wife I switched careers and after lots of effort succeeded, only to be thwarted a few years later by the industrywide layoffs.
Another job in strategic planning/competitive intelligence did not come to be. Luckily, my wife’s career was going very well. My work on Iraqi heritage did lead to some consulting, always part-time, intermittent, without benefits. At the Alexandria Archive Institute, my last project entailed a collaboration with the open-access Pleiades project. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I prepared and helped code information on thousands of Ancient Near Eastern places for export into the Pleiades database. For an example of the kind of work involved, see “The Red Sea Is Arabian, Erythraean, … Place Name Clustering in Pleiades and TAVO.”
So here I find myself in an all too familiar situation again but now I’m 51, recently divorced, and in dire need of a way to make a living. Archaeology definitely was my first love. I still remember excavating in Belgium, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, … When moving recently, I came across offprints of my early publications, from before pdf’s became ubiquitous (see academia.edu). But, universities, museums and other institutions involved in archaeology, and especially the ones focusing on Mesopotamia, were always a select group. Now that adjuncts (part-time, no benefits) teach about 75% of the courses at US universities and colleges, and the powers that be are foolishly short-changing the humanities and other supposedly unprofitable venues of academic research, the opportunities for what most people would call a “real” job are becoming scarcer than ever. Also, having a PhD and a mixed academic/business career and being 50+ do not make me very employable in the current recession. For instance, only yesterday, I interviewed for a part-time job in retail: the main selling point for me was that it would provide me with health insurance. I wish I could continue to contribute my experience and skills to archaeology or digital humanities or other projects but have come to the conclusion that it is a lost dream. It’s time to face the facts.