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 â€œfieldâ€ 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, â€œcutting edgeâ€ 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.) â€“ but clearly, only a small percentage of us get these funds â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€œcrunchâ€ 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, â€œhunkering downâ€ and hoping that things will improve in following years.
With this crisis clearly here, what can be done? Unfortunately, not much â€“ 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 â€“ 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 publicâ€™s assistance â€“ whether financial (and we should stress that â€œevery dollar countsâ€), or through their participation â€“ as volunteers on the dig.Â
Perhaps this will help us â€œweatherâ€ these difficult timesâ€¦