Archive for April, 2013

AB Heritage’s blog post on free archaeology triggered a parallel discussion of the causes of (and potential solutions to) a business model that forces much of the workforce to endure unpaid not-working, being-available. Following the section on austerity, complicity and exploitation, and the section on precarious excavation and generational crisis, here I want to look at how and why archaeology is underpaid and insecure. It’s particularly important now, because even the national minimum wage is under threat.


The Ragpickers are an anonymous group of marginalised and precarious art students and gallery workers. Their site is a collective platform for ‘dissent and dissatisfaction with the exploitation, hypocrisy and corruption‘ of the art sector. They’re organising a Ragpickers Show (which I heard about via the Precarious Workers’ Brigade).

Wonderfully, that exhibition will comprise an archaeology of unpaid labour and exploitation, by volunteer, intern and casual workers. They will display the artefacts, the material traces, the forensic evidence of ‘unfair, absurd, or abusive’ unpaid work; the archive of ‘practices of ungrateful labour’ should be a particular treat.

[Originally posted on conflict antiquities]

It may be worth reining in (or at the very least focusing) the apocalyptic tone of the first post [on volunteering, training and crowdfunding]. Beyond poverty and precarity (which unite the profession), there are (at least) two distinct problems in the historic environment (or something) sector: one, in immediately-excavation-related archaeology (including post-ex[cavation processing and analysis]), where paid and unpaid (or even bought) archaeological labour may not always complement one another; the other, in please-don’t-tell-Tim-I-said-heritage, where there is rampant exploitation of vulnerable workers.

When Emily Johnson (@ejarchaeology) said that she was ‘contemplating blogging about the problematic subject of volunteers in arch[aeology] and heritage’, she generated (the archaeological equivalent of) a Twitter(-only) storm (which has been hashtagged #freearchaeology). Emily was worried that it might ‘ruffle to[o] many feathers‘. Lucy Shipley (@lshipley805) too made a ‘[c]onfession: [she was] frightened to even post this blog’, she ‘didn’t want to be accused of… not wanting to do hard work to get rewards, of being lazy’. Thankfully, the dole has made me fatalistic.