Björn in Helsingborg wrote me with a few questions regarding archaeology as a career.
Where did you study, for how long, what exactly?
University of Stockholm. Three years crammed into two years at 150% speed, that is, a BA / fil.kand. Four terms of Scandinavian archaeology, one term of history, one term of social anthropology. Later I did a PhD as well, but that’s not needed to work as an archaeologist.
What’s the labour market like? Is it true that there are no jobs?
The labour market is crap and there are no jobs. All Scandinavian countries produce new archaeologists at a vastly higher rate than the old ones retire. If you do get a job against all odds, then that will be through contacts, and the job will be poorly paid and last only a few months in the summer.
Who is the biggest employer in the business?
The National Heritage Board’s regional excavation units, Raä-UV. There are many other excavation units, most of which are linked to a county museum.
What kind of jobs can you do except archaeological fieldwork if you have archaeological training? Museums maybe?
Yes, there’s a small labour market in the museums. It is even more crowded than the fieldwork business. Other than that, I’d say that 90% of people who do a BA or MA in archaeology re-train later to do something else or go into non-academic professions such as bus driver, subway ticket seller or security guard.
What’s a standard day’s work like?
For the few who have archaeological jobs, a standard day is either spent digging or in front of a computer. The Field-Archaeological Paradox ensures that few of the sites that get excavated are interesting.
What has your professional career been like?
After my BA at age 20, I immediately got a fieldwork job because a) I had flirted with a charming employee of the National Heritage Board during a training dig, b) I was computer literate. I spent two years in the fieldwork business before tiring of nasty weather, hostile land developers and non-intellectual tasks. Instead I went into grad school to do a PhD. This took most of nine years though I did a number of other things too during the period, such as taking parental leave and working for an excavation unit for half a year. Since my viva in 2003 I have been an independent scholar, working one day a week as a journal editor and the other four on research projects of my own, funded by small grants mainly from private foundations. I am waiting for a university job to become available, and I am not optimistic.
To sum up, my advice to young people who want to study archaeology is this. Become an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer, work four days a week at this well-paid and fulfilling job, and devote the fifth day to amateur archaeology. Because archaeology makes a really bad main career.