How much do archaeologists earn?

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An estimate  of how much archaeologists earn was provided in 1999 in a survey of archaeological jobs in the UK entitled Profiling the Profession funded by English Heritage and published jointly by them, the Council for British Archaeology, and the Institute of Field Archaeologists.

The first question is: how many professional archaeologists are there? Or rather, how many people are there employed by organisations in the UK that employ professional archaeologists (the survey was of organisations, not individuals)? The result is 4425 professional archaeologists. The returned questionnaires, in fact, only contain information about 2829 people, but the figures were then grossed up, to allow for organisations that failed to respond. And how much are they paid? The average is £17,079, as compared to the national average of £19,167. The median figure is even worse – only £15,905 – archaeologists are badly paid.

There are some obvious problems. The quoted averages are probably too high since the lump of temporary workers is probably not included; similarly only 5% are part-time workers – surely too low. A quick adjustment of the figures in the English Heritage annual report suggests that perhaps a third of their workers are part time.

Your pay however depends on where you work. The majority of archaeologists are employed in the private sector as contractors, 30%, or consultants, only 3% (an underestimate?) Then three further categories employ around 15% each: the curators in local government, academic archaeologists, and those working in the National Heritage Agencies, including the Royal Commissions. 4% are employed by National Museums but only another 4% by local authorities, presumably in Museums, again surely an underestimate.

The two places to work however are Universities, and English Heritage and its brethren. The average salary for an academic in permanent employment is £25,310; next come the National Heritage agencies on £23,081 and the National Museums on £22,570. We then come down with a bump: curators average £17,000, contractors £16,600, and consultants only £14,500. (These figures are for permanent posts – temporary staff are considerably lower). The average age of an archaeologist is 36, 40% of the total being between 30 – 39. It appears that 35% are female, but whilst women comprise 42% of all archaeologists between 20 – 29, by the time the 40 – 49 age bracket is reached, women are only 29% of the total.

Nearly half the book is taken up with ‘Post Profiles’, and it is these that most archaeologists will study most keenly. Archaeologists describe themselves in a myriad of different ways: 455 separate post titles were recorded – nearly one title for every 5 archaeologists, but these were boiled down into 34 ‘Post Profiles’. We immediately turned to the profile of ‘editor’ of whom there are 26, ¾ of them female: the average salary is £17,764, though one editor in the Eastern region, earned £28,000 bumping the average up. The highest paid British archaeologist is an ‘Inspector’ who earned £58,086, though there was an academic who earned £50,809. (By comparison the Chief Executive of English Heritage earned £100,00, made up of £87,000 basic and £13,00 performance bonus).

The heart of the PPG 16 system are the project managers, the post to which every ambitious archaeologist should aspire. They are the ones who have the delightful job of negotiating with planning officers on behalf of developers; they are 79% male and earn on average £19,434. At the other extreme, the finds assistants, who really do the important (and often actually archaeological) work, are 73% female and earn on average £14,996. Directors (75% male) earn £22,629, conservators, (often highly qualified, 68% female), average £16,379, computing officers (64% male) average £15,918, though considering that computing officers are like gold in today’s society, it is not perhaps surprising that at this salary, there are only 12 of them in archaeology.

It is interesting to compare this with a similar American survey: The American Archaeologist which we summarised in CA159. The two are not strictly comparable in that the American profile was simply based on a single American organisation, the Society for American Archaeology, which has around 5000 members of whom a similar number, nearly 1700 completed a census in 1994; however one cannot tell what proportion of American archaeologists are represented as a whole. The British data is much easier to handle in that it is quoted in tables and hard figures and firm averages, whereas the American data is mostly quoted in graphs and is very woolly.

However the Americans asked some additional questions notably on educational levels, on job satisfaction and fascinatingly, though perhaps irrelevantly, on marital status. American archaeologists are inevitably rather better paid: no overall average is quoted; perhaps the most tangible figure is that 61% of male archaeologists earn over $40,000(= £25,000). The interesting difference is that, whereas in Britain academic archaeologists are well ahead of the contractors, in America, what they call ‘private sector’ archaeologists have salaries that are at least equal to, and in places edging ahead of, academic archaeologists and are also well ahead in job satisfaction. Will British contractors now begin to catch up with their academic counterparts?

This survey was published in Current Archaeology 166 (December 1999). Profiling the profession is available for download on the web at

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