Working Hard or Hardly Working? That is the question.

“Fully employed unemployed is a common problem, and it would be good to have a post about your work.”

Reply to my message from Matt Law when I asked about writing about my situation.

A bit about me

First a little about myself. This post is not supposed to be my curriculum vitae, it just shows all kinds of jobs and occupations an archaeologist must be ready to take in order to have some income.

I graduated from University of Turku, Finland in 2012 from archaeology and in 2014 from folkloristics. My MA-thesis in archaeology was about the Swedish-Russo War of 1741-1743 and conflict archaeological theory. After this I did another Master of Arts degree, because the folkloristics in Turku started it’s own archive studies line. In my second thesis I studied triangulation between folkloristics and archaeology. I studied as an example regular stones in inhumations, using folk archives to find explanations for the stones.

After two Master of Arts degrees I find myself most of the time unemployed. I graduated from folkloristics in May 2014, and I’ve had several short employments after that. Luckily I worked during my studies and paid my membership fees to Museum trade union, so after I graduated I was entitled to daily benefits – after two months of bureaucracy.

The work for archaeologists is scattered and most archaeologists in the profession face unemployment sometimes. Many times. During winter the ground is frozen, so that puts a halt to excavations. Last year (2014) I spent a total of 10 weeks as a digger after my graduation in May. I also wrote articles and held lectures at community colleges (Kansalaisopisto). I’ve tried to get funding to do independent research, but with no success. Year 2015 mostly repeats last year.

Here are a few photos of my fully-employed days in 2014:


Excavations in Harjavalta at the end of Summer 2014. Heavy rain and an improvised tent.

During the excavations in 2014 in Harjavalta the road to construction site and excavations was blocked with gravel and stones during the weekends to prevent thefts. One Friday the workers forgot that the archaeologists were still working.

During the excavations in 2014 in Harjavalta the road to construction site and excavations was blocked with gravel and stones during the weekends to prevent thefts. One Friday the construction site workers forgot that the archaeologists were still working.

Never try to disrupt the movements of archaeologists equipped with shovels. Archaeologists breaking free in Harjavalta during excavations 2014.

Never try to disrupt the movements of archaeologists equipped with shovels. Archaeologists breaking free in Harjavalta during excavations 2014.

Year 2015 for archaeologist

Like I wrote, year 2015 seems to repeat last year. I worked as a digger in Museovirasto (NBA, National Board of Antiquities) most of April. We circled around Pirkanmaa (Tampere region) and for an archaeologist specialized in conflict archaeology these trips were wonderful, although the excavation sites were “normal digs”. Most sites were located near battlefields of the Finnish Civil War (1918), and I spotted several bullet or shrapnel holes in buildings nearby. I was fascinated with shrapnel tears in the attic of an old house. The master of the house gave me a few pieces of shrapnel as a memento, which were picked from the floor of the attic.

A shrapnel's spilnetrs tore the floor of this attic in Messukylä, Tampere during the Cibil War of 1918.

Shrapnel splinters tore the floor of this attic in Messukylä, Tampere during the Civil War of 1918. I was thrilled to see these!

The shrapnel tears, soon 100 years old, compared to my hand.

The shrapnel tears, soon 100 years old, compared to my hand.

Shrapnel splinters from the battle of Messukylä, 1918.

Shrapnel splinters from the battle of Messukylä, 1918.

It’s moments and discoveries like these that make this profession worth the effort.

Sometimes archaeology is full of sh*t. Especially when you have to dig in a horse pasture. Two horses and one pony were observing kneenly, as two brave diggers crossed the fence and started looking for signs of iron age.

Sometimes archaeology is full of sh*t. Especially when you have to dig in a horse pasture. Two horses and one pony were observing keenly, as two brave diggers crossed the fence and started looking for signs of iron age. Sastamala, Finland in April 2015.

Before this one month job I wrote articles to local news paper Turun Sanomat about the foreign volunteers in Winter War (1939 – 1940). The fee for these writings is small but every little bit helps in my situation. I also had lectures in community colleges. One was about the conflict archaeology of Late Iron Age Finland with title “Lännen pitkä miekka iskee idän sapeliin? Nuoremman rautakauden konfliktiarkeologiaa” (The long sword of west strikes the eastern scimitar? Conflict archaeology of Late Iron Age). I also held five lectures in other college about the history of guerrilla warfare, the radio intelligence in Finland before and during WWII (things I learned during making this lecture made the movie Imitation Game look rather ridiculous, by the way), War of Åland (Crimean war in Finland 1854 – 1855), the Lapland War (1944 – 45, Finns against Germans in Northern Finland) and Foreign volunteers in Finnish wars of 1939 – 1944.

Jobs like these keep me interested in things – with a deadline. It’s important to have a set date, before which I have to read all the books necessary and produce a popular representation of the subject. These jobs are also an outstanding alternative to full-time alcoholism.

As a new profession I was a guide in four days trip to Carelian Isthmus (in Russia) in the beginning of May. We visited battlefields of WWII and I provided the speaks and representations. The preparations to visit Russia were thorough. I made very large maps with cardboards, contact paper and glue, which worked fine. Usually the guides just give A4-sized maps full of sings and arrows, which are incomprehensible.

Dragon's teeth, tank obstacles in Siiranmäki, Carelian Isthmus.

Dragon’s teeth, tank obstacles in Siiranmäki, Carelian Isthmus.

This new profession was fulfilling. Sites were amazing and the trip to Russia was mostly without difficulties. Some roads were in horrible condition, but we got by. Timing was good, since the sites were clear of vegetation and we got to witness the Victory Day Celebration in Viborg.

Currently: what I’m looking for in 24th of July 2015

The trouble with being a tour guide is the same as with being a professional field archaeologist: you have to move to different sites all the time and employment time is short. I’d like to get employed in Turku, but the chances for that are poor. Second chance is to go to longer excavations to some other part of Finland. Currently the private companies do most of these kind of excavations, and so far I haven’t been contacted. Usually one, two, three month excavations are rare and my only chance to get to those is in the beginning of Summer or Fall, when students are back at university. The economical situation doesn’t help.

There is a program to employ people under the age of 30. However, the program ran out of money a month ago and since I haven’t been on daily benefits for 300 days, I can’t get this support.

This week I managed to get one actual job done. During the year 2012 I interviewed war veterans and collected lot’s of material, and made a web site for the museum which employed me. Yesterday I finished the student version of these sites after many difficulties. Today I’ll do the finishing touches to the site. Designing pages like these is difficult for many reasons: I have little IT-training, the software I’m using is simple – for better or worse – and it’s hard to decide the visual design because I’m partly color blind.

Then there are the funds I’m trying to get from different associations or trusts to write books or to do research. The first notice will come next month, after which I hopefully can once again turn into full-time researcher. For a few months.

And there’s the free stuff: reviews to professional magazines, articles with which I try to score “academic points” in case I begin doctoral studies, helping other researchers by email and of course helping other small scale field studies for which I get payed in free accommodations, travels, food and beer. I suppose stuff like this keeps archaeology running – the free work and the beer.

Excavating the Great Depression in England

Photo of the Jarrow unemployment march. Image from www.workerspower.co.uk

Photo of the Jarrow unemployment march. Image from www.workerspower.co.uk

Since 2013, Dr. David Petts (Department of Archaeology, Durham University) and I have been building a project to study the landscapes and material remains of the Great Depression in the Northeast of England. One of the defining historical events of the 20th century, the Great Depression is often associated in the US with the stock market crash of 1929, bread lines, shanty towns, and eventually, the New Deal and creation of the modern social welfare state. In the UK, the situation was slightly different. For one thing, parts of England had been in poor economic straits since a slump that followed World War I. Likewise, the Great Depression in the UK was highly regionalized in its effects, with areas like the Northeast seeing extremely high unemployment, while other areas saw only modest drops in unemployment. And responses to the depression were likewise regionalized–there were almost no national policy initiatives on the order of the New Deal in the US.

But there were responses at regional and local levels, and most importantly for our purposes, many of these responses involved changes to the landscape. They involved the construction of work camps, new settlements to house the unemployed, works projects that improved infrastructure, and much more. The Great Depression was a material event, and a record of it is recoverable archaeologically. This has certainly been the case in other parts of the wold, where a growing literature exists from archaeologists who have tackled the Great Depression through sites created in its wake. Much of this literature likewise shows that responses to the Great Depression were neither altruistic nor completely embraced by participants. For example, my colleagues LouAnn Wurst and Christine Ridarsky (2014) have evaluated attempts at farm resettlement in western New York state to improve the lives of “poor” farmers during the 1930s and found that the farmers were not actually that poor to begin with, and that the plan was largely about regional land grabbing. Barker and Lamb (2009) used data from an unemployment camp in Queensland, Australia to complicate the concept of the “undeserving” and “deserving” poor. And St. Denis (2002) showed how, despite the best efforts of the administrators of the Prince Albert logging camp in Saskatchewan, excavations show that workers drank and smoked when they could get away with it, perhaps offsetting anxieties about the larger economy with sociality and revelry.

In the U.K., there has been almost no archaeological study of sites related to the Great Depression, and no systematic accounting of such sites. David and I are hoping to change that with a project that will examine a few case studies where individuals and groups tried to ameliorate the awful conditions of the Depression through changes in the landscape. And when we started looking into the types of sites we could incorporate into our study, we were astounded at their variety and scale. There were proper work camps such as the one at Hamsterley forest, educational settlements and training schemes such as the Spennymoor settlement, resettlement and agricultural schemes such as the Moorhouse Farm settlement in Eaglescliffe (Perley 1985), and much more. Some of these schemes came from national programs and initiatives such as the Special Areas Act of 1934, which designated certain parts of the UK as regions in need of assistance. Others were local, set up by individuals and groups with an interest in curbing the worst excesses of the economic downturn.

We are working on funding a project to examine some of these places, but we have already had some success with an early case study: Heartbreak Hill, near Margrove Park village in the East Cleveland region of North Yorkshire (Chase and Whyman 1991, Chase 2000, Chase 2010). David has written about the history of this site, as have other bloggers. Suffice it to say, this was a combination work camp/allotment scheme for unemployed Ironstone miners, part of a larger scheme of three parcel areas called the Community Cultivation Association. Set up by a local wealthy landlord and his wife (James and Ruth Pennyman of Ormesby Hall), it was run and managed by British naturalist, folk scholar, and arch-conservative Rolf Gardiner. It included amongst its participants the composer Michael Tippett, and it ran for much of the 1930s, possibly longer. Today the land on which the site sits is unimproved hilly pasture, and it had not been significantly utilized prior to the 1930s, so David and I suspected that there might be some pieces of the depression-era landscape still present on the surface or underneath.

Map2Map showing the locations of the CCA parcels, from Petts and Lewis 2013.

We received a small grant from the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University to undertake geophysical survey and compile some background research. Earlier this year, a survey team from Durham’s Archaeological Services used magnetometry to survey part of the site. The results, visible in the map below, are suggestive of several subsurface human-deposited features. According to the geophysical analysis, the anomalies in the southwest corner of Area 1, all of Area 2, and the North-Central part of Area 4 represent likely areas of deposition of some kind of material with a magnetic signaturem, perhaps architectural refuse. Further testing in these areas may allow us to determine the exact nature of these anomalies.

Map3 GeophysMap showing geophysical results at Heartbreak Hill.

However, David and I were also intrigued by many of the standing or visible structures present in the field today. We found numerous brick huts scattered across the site, as well as other scatters of brick and stone that may represent ruined outbuildings from the allotment scheme. The brick structures below are similar in design, but are separated by nearly a half mile, on parcels of land used for completely different purposes today. What they have in common is that they are both in areas that were used during periods of CCA activity.

Brick comparisonPhotos showing similar brick structures on Heartbreak Hill and Dartmoor Parcels, respectively

We also noticed several portable items of material culture that one would not expect to be present on unimproved pasture-land. During a rudimentary surface survey, we noticed white-bodied 19th/early 20th century ceramics, a glass medicine bottle, and fragments of coal. One of the most striking finds was a linear scatter of bricks running over 10 meters in one of the current fields. This scatter, visible in the photo below, was later confirmed by Mark Whyman, one of the authors of a book on Heartbreak Hill (Chase and Whyman 1991), to be in the same location as a brick-lined garden plot setup by the CCA.


David and I are optimistic that there is more work to be done at Heartbreak Hill and perhaps at the other CCA parcels. One thing we would like to do is put together a community-led recording project to carefully document each of the standing structures and ruins at the site. This could be combined with further testing at the site to see if there are more subsurface remains to be found. Depending upon how extensive the archaeological record is, we are also interested in more social and political questions. We are particulary interested in how the miners who worked at the site made it their own–for example, were they able to bring items from home, or to otherwise mark off pieces of this “collective” allotment scheme as theirs? Such questions could also be asked at many of the other sites mentioned earlier, and we hope to have the opportunity to investigate them soon.

Aside from archaeology being a novel way to investigate the Great Depression, we find ourselves more broadly comparing the kinds of responses that were attempted in the 1930s to the current attempts to intervene in the most recent economic downturn, now in its sixth year. These have largely inhabited the arcane world of monetary policy, or have involved the dismantling of government programs, some of which were first initiated during the Great Depression, under the heading of “austerity”. We do not have any strong conclusions to draw in this comparison, but we are struck by the ways in which place-making seemed to be such a strong aspect of 1930s responses–for example, Heartbreak Hill was named for the difficult conditions of its production, while the other parcels were named for local flora. Conversely, many of the contemporary responses have been about de-territorializing–allowing, encouraging, or forcing the free flow of money across borders, out of public institutions, and out of the hands of individuals and communities in the name of laissez faire capitalism, regardless of historical or spatial circumstances. In any case, we believe that an archaeology of the Great Depression can locate the contingent, complex, and contradictory landscapes that emerged in its wake, and allow us to understand the Great Depression at a more human scale.

This article originally appeared on my blog on the Day of Archaeology 2014.


Barker, Bryce, and Lara Lamb (2009) The Archaeology of Poverty and Human Dignity: Charity and the Work Ethic in a 1930s Depression Era Itinerant’s Camp on the Toowoomba Range Escarpment, Queensland. Archaeologies: The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 5(2): 263–279.

Chase, Malcom (2000) Heartbreak Hill: Environment, Unemployment and “Back to the Land” in Inter-war Cleveland. Oral History 28(1): 33–42.

Chase, Malcom (2010) Unemployment without protest: the ironstone mining communities of East Cleveland in the inter-war period. In Unemployment and Protest: New Perspectives on Two Centuries of Contention, edited by M Reiss and M Perry, pp. 265–282. Oxford Univeristy Press, Oxford, U.K.

Chase, Malcom, and Mark Whyman (1991) Heartbreak Hill: A Response to Unemployment in East Cleveland in the 1930s. Cleveland County Council.

Perley, Doris (1985) The Moorhouse Farm Estate, Eaglescliffe. Unpublished Dissertation in Local History. Teesside Polytechnic.

Petts, David and Quentin Lewis (2013) “Heartbreak Hill: Towards an Archaeology of the Great Depression” Paper presented at the Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Theory Conference, University College London, London, UK.

St. Denis, Michael (2002) Camp #9: An Historical and Archaeological Investigation of a Depresion Era Relief Camp in Prince Albert National Park. Unpublished MA, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Wurst, LouAnn and Christine L. Ridarsky (2014) “The Second Time as Farce: Archaeological Reflections on the New New Deal.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 18:3, pp. 224-241.
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