“Digging” the Financial Crisis

Posted in: Excavations
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Contributed by Aren M. Maeir, Institute of Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University

The world wide financial crisis that is now being felt by all is apparently here to stay. While the adverse effects on the global economy, on the one hand, and on all of our personal finances on the other, are well-known, I believe, that as archaeologists, it is important to point out the major setback that this new financial situation is causing to archaeology.

As is well-known, archaeology, for many years now, is unfortunately not at the top of the funding priorities of most countries and institutions. Despite the overall public interest in archaeological heritage (and see the amount of archaeology related programs on TV and archaeology related items in the media), it has been quite difficult in recent years to find adequate funding for many aspects of archaeological research (from the “field” to the museum). This is felt all the more clearly as modern archaeology develops and becomes a more complex and diverse endeavor. In order to conduct proper, “cutting edge” archaeological research, in which a broad range of scientific methods are employed, substantial funding is required. Gone are the days when all that was needed were some tools and some local workers. We now need a large professional staff, a wide range of equipment, and, no less important, the cost of R&B and related issues only becomes more expensive each year.

Thus, those of us who are out there in the field, must spend a considerable amount of their time between seasons looking for finances. We spend a lot of time writing research proposals to various funding agencies (such as the ISF, GIF, BSF, NEH, Wenner Gren, National Geographic Society, etc.) – but clearly, only a small percentage of us get these funds – since the funds that these sources have are limited. Many of us also try to raise donations from various people and/or organizations who are interested in archaeology; and finally, we depend on volunteers and students who make up a central and vitally important part of our team during the excavations – without which we would have a hard time conducting our work.

All this is now severely threatened! Some of the funding agencies have simply closed (a good example is the Horwitz Foundation that simply ceased to exist following the Madoff scandal), or, due to the financial crunch, have less resources at their disposal. On the other hand, it is getting harder and harder to get donations for archaeology; some of the former donors now give less – others have stopped giving altogether. And finally, our loyal volunteers and students, who as opposed to almost any other activity that I know of, PAY to volunteer at the dig, are now finding it harder and harder to allocate personal funds to cover the costs of travel to the Middle East and their expenses at the dig.

All this leads to a severe crisis. As I know from the excavation that I direct (the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project [www.dig-gath.org]) and from discussions with many of my colleagues who direct other projects, the “crunch” is being felt! There is now much less money both for excavations, and for processing and publishing the finds, and at least for the coming season, fewer volunteers and students are signing up. So much so, that some excavations are contemplating to call off the 2009 season, “hunkering down” and hoping that things will improve in following years.

With this crisis clearly here, what can be done? Unfortunately, not much – since there is little that we can do to change the world financial situation.

One possibility is that each one of us can hope that they will inherit a million dollars, or win it in the lottery. But perhaps more realistic would be that all of us should turn to the public, through various media and forums, and quite simply make the public more aware of the current crisis – and how the public can be of assistance. How, on the one hand, archaeology plays such a central part in our everyday cultural heritage and how it enriches modern life, but that for this to continue, we the public’s assistance – whether financial (and we should stress that “every dollar counts”), or through their participation – as volunteers on the dig. 

Perhaps this will help us “weather” these difficult times…

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6 Comments for : “Digging” the Financial Crisis
    • Itay
    • March 19, 2009

    I have a question - how much does an average digging season cost - for digging, analyzing the finds and publishing?

  1. Pingback: Post on the ASOR blog - call for financial assistance to archaeology in the financial crisis « The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog

    • Geoff Carter
    • March 19, 2009

    1300 archaeology jobs in England have gone in 6 months, and there was only 6500 to start with! Its even been discussed in the UK's House of Lords:


    While we have some hope of archaeology benefitting from 'job creation' and new government building projects, this will not benefit all types of archaeological research. As archaeology in Britain has become more integrated into planning, and depite an open market, it has become more beurocratic, and expensive. Also, as you point out things like GPR survey is increasingly expected by clients, but is very expensive kit, - much more than many excavtions cost.

    • Aren Maeir
    • March 29, 2009

    Itay - the full costs of a full scale modern excavation can run in the vicinty of $100-200,000 a year, including excavation costs (e.g., equipment, logistics, salaries for staff, R&B for entire team, etc.). Some of this is covered from grants donations, some from volunteer payments, but there rarely is enough to do all that should be done. It is a constant, uphill sisyphian task to raise funds. BUT - keep in mind - even though we need large sums - every dollar (and cent) helps. Any donation that can be found helps substantially for our work!


    • steve sims
    • July 6, 2009

    The American Empire is being brought down by the fiat bankers, by design. However, so tight is their control that under scrutiny and threat of exposure, they can reverse coursed on a dime. Archaeology always exposes the tyrants of failed empires, if the homework is thorough. Parallels can be drawn, with redundant modus operandi via secret societies, think tanks, compartmentalization, and mercenary agencies. The vast record hidden in the sand is about to be sealed over until the new empire emerges, but you already have enough to expose and indict the contemporary oligarchy should you decide to come down out of their Ivory Web and actually give the truth to the people, not trickle partial information to sheeple.

    • Shirley Simmons
    • September 25, 2009

    I would like to know where the clay tablets that document the treaty between Suppiluliuma I of Hatti and Aziru of Amurru

    are currently housed.

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