The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is CRM Archaeology?

So, as you know if you have followed this blog for long, I work in the environmental review industry, doing what is called Cultural Resources Management (AKA CRM, AKA Heritage Management, AKA contract archaeology). While we all refer to ourselves as archaeologists, and are usually referred to by everyone else as archaeologists, I occasionally meet another person working in CRM who will insist that CRM is not archaeology and we are, by extension, not archaeologists*.

The basic argument** given in support of this position is that the aim of CRM is to manage resources - that is, to ensure that archaeological sites are treated appropriately under the relevant regulations - rather than produce new information based on the study of the archaeological record, which is unambiguously archaeology. The person to holds to this position might point out that a medical doctor makes use of methods and information from biology to manage health care, but doctors are not themselves biologists.

The argument has merit. I don't agree with it, but I can certainly understand it. The aims of CRM ar certainly different from the aims of academic archaeology, and this does mean that we serve different functions.

But, as I said, I don't agree that CRM is not archaeology. Rather, I would argue that CRM is an increasingly important part of archaeology.

For one thing, by and large, CRM archaeologists are trained alongside academic archaeologists***, learning the same methods for both research and fieldwork and this training influences our approach to both fieldwork and management of sites (most archaeological sites are protected under Criterion D for the National Register of Historic Places, which requires that their potential to yield information to researchers by assessed). There are CRM folks who lose touch with this background, and my experience is that they are not only poor archaeologists, but equally poor resource managers, as our rason d'etre stems from the research background.

In addition, we don't simply manage sites, we also generate new data that can be directly applied to (or generate new) research questions. Now, this data is often not distributed effectively (we generate reports that are usually stored in a manner that makes them difficult to access), but when it is used by researchers, it can fill in gaps in knowledge as well as provide the necessary exploratory information to come up with new hypotheses to test. To go back to the analogy with the medical doctor, unless they are engaged in medical research (which is arguably a branch of biology) they are not usually producing new data that can be used by researchers. In this sense, CRM archaeologists are more than simply technicians generating just the necessary information for management, we also contribute to the overall knowledge base of archaeology, in fact we contribute more to it than academic archaeologists. the problem of distributing this information must be addressed, but this part of our roles should not be ignored.

One final point - although we are not generally required by our jobs to generate either published papers or presentations at professional conferences, many of us do. This method of contributing to the archaeological discourse is very much a part of CRM as well as academic archaeology.

So, yes, CRM is archaeology (as well as history and often ethnography). While I understand the desire to mark us out as separate, I think that it is ultimately misguided, and primarily serves to remove our contributions from discussions.

*I have a group of friends who go a step further and have declared me an "unarchaeologist" because I work for people who want me to not find things. Not entirely true, but funny enough that I have repeated it on more than a few occasions.

**This is not to be confused with the arguments against CRM being considered "proper" archaeology by those within academia, as I have found that this arguments are typically based on an ignorance of what CRM actually is, rather than a fair criticism of CRM.

***Though there are an increasing number of programs which train only CRM personnel without getting into the research methods of academic archaeologists.

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