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.

Waterloo Uncovered

Day 4

Day 4 of our two week dig on the site of the Battle of Waterloo and we’ve turned our attention to an area that is referred to as the sunken way, a ditch that runs East to West past the North of Hougoumont Farm and found five musket balls. Now we know from Private Matthew Clay’s memoirs that he slept here the night before the battle and he writes of having to discharge his fire arm of ammunition in order to clear the barrel. This find matches Clay’s accounts nicely and it is potentially very exciting that we can link first hand accounts to the archaeology.

Matthew Clay

Mathew Clay

Also in the sunken way was an artillery shell fired from the French Howitzer. It was fired from the south west and looks like it hit the farm, fragmented and this piece landed in the ditch. Exciting stuff!

The sunken way

The sunken way

Accessible archaeology

The great thing about an archaeological dig is the wealth of jobs that people can get involved in. We were visited yesterday by professional artist Beth Collar, and both she and Dougie, a veteran Grenadier who also has a talent for drawing, went around the site to capture the spirit of the dig. This project has shown that there are enough different jobs and skills for anyone to get involved.  It’s been particularly good to see that some of the veterans who worked in reconnaissance while serving have excelled in drawing site records. Its great to show them that they have transferable skills for when they leave the armed forces.

Pocket knife

Day 4 also produced another exciting find: a pocket knife which is similar in style to the one found by Dominique Bosquet that accompanied the skeleton now on display in the brand new museum next to the Lion Mount. This knife is being analysed and results will be released as soon as we know more.

The team are getting into a stride now and as we head into the end of our first week a number of veterans who came out and had never tried archaeology before have remarked how much they have learned and how much they have enjoyed this experience so far. Being around other service personnel, the banter and above all learning about something they are passionate about has got them fired up to do more.


If you would like to help support this project so that more veterans can get involved and more of the battle can be understood you can donate to the project. More details can be found here, and more details about the wider project can be found on the project website.

Dominique Bosquet,Lead archaeologist for Waterloo Uncovered and from SPW

Dominique Bosquet,Lead archaeologist for Waterloo Uncovered and from SPW

The Veterans Curation Program

Staff Sergeant Mark Crawford, Georgia National Guard, sorting lithic debitage.

Staff Sergeant Mark Crawford, Georgia National Guard, sorting lithic debitage.

It’s a sunny Friday morning in Augusta, Georgia, and at the Veterans Curation Program laboratory a team of military veterans is hard at work preserving the nation’s prehistoric heritage.  They’re engaged in archaeological curation; stabilizing, documenting, and recording archaeological materials like potsherds and projectile points to save them for future generations.

Curation is the back end of archaeology – vital, but largely unseen.  Excavation is always in the spotlight.  Dirt-and-trowel archaeology is our data source, our brand, and our metaphor.  Digs provide iconic images and stories of struggle, adventure, and discovery.  Archaeology will always be linked to the thrill of discovering a site or an artifact that was lost for hundreds or thousands of years.  But what happens to the artifacts after they’re bagged, tagged, analyzed, and written up?  What happens decades later, when they’re moldering in the back of an unpaid storage unit, lost and forgotten except for a footnote in a report nobody can find a copy of?  That’s where the Veterans Curation Program comes in.

The Veterans Curation Program (VCP) specializes in rehabilitating neglected and deteriorating archaeological collections.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers selects some of the worst examples of national collections – the ones that are orphaned, lost, or infested by vermin, the boxes that are molding and water-damaged, full of bags that disintegrated decades ago – and transports them to VCP laboratories for a complete restoration.  At the VCP they begin a long process of stabilization and documentation.  Any excavation records associated with the collection are cleaned, mended, organized, and digitized so that future researchers have as much of the archival record available as possible.  The artifacts themselves are sorted, counted, weighed, and inventoried, and rehoused in archival-quality cardboard and plastic.  Technicians here create a complete digital inventory of the collection.  By the end of the rehabilitation project, we know exactly what’s in an archaeological collection, we have digital copies of all the important records, and the collection is stabilized to preserve it for future generations.

Air Force veteran George Bauser selects a box of artifacts to rehabilitate.

Air Force veteran George Bauser selects a box of artifacts to rehabilitate.

This is difficult work, and often delicate work.  And it’s being done by veterans.  The Veterans Curation Program hires and trains unemployed veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s a tough job market out there, especially for the enlisted soldiers who left the service with no degree and a set of job skills that are difficult to translate to the demands of the corporate workplace.  The VCP provides new skills like data entry, records management, public outreach, and support with job searches and resume writing.  Since 2009 the three VCP laboratories (one each in Augusta, Georgia; Alexandria, Virginia; and St. Louis, MO) have employed 173 veterans, the vast majority of whom have subsequently transitioned into full-time civilian careers.

Today, the Augusta VCP is working on three Southeastern archaeological collections administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.  Jon Beaver, a former Army Sergeant, is photographing the White Springs 1979-1986 investigation with a digital photograph station designed by a forensic photographer.  Jon has a knack for photographing pottery tiny sherds and stone tools.  I ask him what part he likes best, and he says, “I like getting creative with the lighting.  I try and bring out the surface texture so things don’t look flat.”  Eventually these photos will end up on tDar, the Digital Archaeological Record, where the public will be able to view the results of his work.

Marine veteran Trey Williams holding a mended sherd.

Trey Williams, USMC, holding a mended sherd he processed today.

Tim Handley, a retired Infantry Staff Sergeant, is leading another group of veterans working on the Divide Cut II investigation.  The 100 boxes of artifacts from Divide Cut II are mostly lithic debitage and stone tools.  The technicians are processing each box bag by bag, emptying the contents, sorting the projectile points from the chipped stone and the groundstone from the ecofacts, building a complete inventory of the collection.  It’s slow work today—every bag is a rainbow kaleidoscope of chert flakes and broken stone tools.  Two months ago, none of the veterans in this laboratory knew an abrader from an anvil stone, but after a crash course in lithic technology (and a visit from a local flint-knapper) they’re happily sorting everything into their correct piles before counting, weighing, and tagging them.

At one point Tim turns to me with his hand outstretched.

“Broken tool?”

I take a look at the red chert in his hand.  Most of the edges are clean breaks, but one is sharpened, ever so faintly.

“Good catch.”

He nods and turns back to the small mountain of flint on his desk.  Half a dozen other veterans are doing the same thing, and the rhythmic clinking of stone on stone is audible beneath the hum of conversation.

So what do I do every day?  I’m the archaeologist on staff at the lab, and my main job is to train the veterans on the nuances of archaeological processing—ceramics, lithics, faunal, rehousing, interpreting proveniences.  I found my way to the VCP in a circuitous fashion, following the trade winds of globalization from the Midwest to Asia and then to Augusta, Georgia.  When I finished my MA in 2012, jobs in archaeology were in short supply (older archaeologists tell me it’s usually that way).  Eventually I took a job teaching history at a high school in Seoul, one of Asia’s neon entrepots where technology, capitalism, and traditional culture collide in heady fashion.  More than 30,000 U.S. soldiers remain stationed in South Korea, a result of the armistice that ended the war in 1953.  I married one, and within months the Army had relocated us to Fort Gordon on the outskirts of Augusta.

Working at the VCP has been both a privilege and an education.  An education in curation, in military affairs, and in the real benefits archaeology can have for the public.  I’ve seen first-hand lives and families transformed by the opportunity to gain new job skills in a supportive environment tailored to the special needs of veterans.  I’ve also had the opportunity to help restore a small portion of our national heritage that might otherwise have been lost to attrition and neglect.  To any aspiring archaeologists out there, I say: as exciting as the field is, don’t forget the other side of archaeology, the back end, that protects and preserves everything the discipline has worked so hard to uncover.  And I’d also say: go for it.

A rim sherd photographed at the VCP lab.

VCP laboratories create digital records of diagnostic artifacts, like this rim sherd photographed today.

U.S. Military Veterans Contribute to Archaeology

Veterans and archaeologists work side-by-side on a daily basis at the Veterans Curation Program (VCP).  Although this is Day of Archaeology 2012, the focus of the VCP is always on the veterans.  Helping these men and women who served our country in the military is our ultimate goal.  In the process, these individuals preserve archaeological collections and associated documentation generated by U.S. Corps of Engineers projects.

Many veterans leave their military service wounded and disabled, facing the daunting task of transitioning from the military to civilian life.   They need of a comfortable environment to learn new skills and build confidence as they identify and pursue a career path.  That’s where archaeology comes into the picture.  The staff members of the VCP hire and train veterans who served in all branches of the U.S. military to rehouse and catalog archaeological collections.  A majority of the participants in the program served during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Like so many veterans, some of the participants have experienced Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   Each day is a new learning experience as the archaeologists teach the veterans about processing the collections, and the veterans teach the archaeologists about their experiences and military culture.   This give-and-take process helps us tailor the program to the needs of these deserving men and women.

Founded in 2009, the Veterans Curation Program began to as a way to provide valuable job skills to veterans while preserving culturally significant archaeological collections owned or administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Veteran participants are hired as archaeological laboratory technicians for up to six months and trained extensively on archaeological and collections management principles by archaeologists, archivists, and historians.  Educational lecturers are invited to the laboratories to help the veterans put their contribution into a broader context so that they more fully appreciate our national patrimony and understand the disciplines of archaeology and collections management.

There are three VCP laboratory locations: Alexandria, Virginia, Augusta, Georgia, and St. Louis, Missouri.  The staff archaeologists are responsible for having the labs open five days a week.   Schedules are set by veterans to take into account various necessary medical visits and other commitments, such as meetings with counselors and therapists, other employment opportunities, and school schedules for individuals pursuing degrees.  Typically each day, veterans work on stations that include document rehabilitation, artifact processing, data entry, report writing, digital photography of artifacts, and digitization of documents.  This is an abbreviated list of some of the activities that take place in our labs.  Many of the tasks are ones that occur in any ordinary archaeology lab, but the staff also assists veterans with professional growth and development.  Time is allotted for resume writing, job searches, interview practice, and researching possible educational opportunities.  Veterans are also encouraged to attend job fairs and network in the community.

Our measures of success are factored on how many veterans have been helped and the amount of collections that have been processed.  The best news is that the Veterans Curation Program has trained and employed 102 veterans as of this post.   Of the veterans who have completed the program, 82% are successfully employed and/or continuing their education in various degree programs.  In terms of the collections, over 51 linear feet of archives and 669 boxes of artifacts have been rehabilitated.  A digital collection is being created with the intent to eventually make data available online to researchers, educators, and the public.  To learn more about the VCP, please visit our website at