Why bother? Aims and principles

Any system of describing and listing skills must inevitably rely on some paper- or computer-based recording system. At a time when such paperwork and bureaucracy seem to be overwhelming us, I work on four principles:

  1. it must answer a genuine need
  2. it must be as simple as possible
  3. it must be as flexible as possible, not straitjacket us into a dictatorial and dogmatic system
  4. it must work

The reasons why archaeologists need such a system are:

  1. The range of roles which archaeologists perform is now very varied: professional excavators, managers, university lecturers, conservation and development advisors, public presenters (written, television, public displays), tourism, academic study, specialist interpretation (field, environmental and artefactual data), administrative roles ('curators', inspectors of ancient monuments), etc., etc. The skills required are very varied (Aitchison 2000a), different from one sector to another, and from one level of an organisation to another (Aitchison 2000b). Therefore the training needs to be very varied (Chitty 2000).
  2. It is not clear to those coming into the profession what skills and training they may need, what the potential career paths are, and what are the potential openings. Students can waste large amounts of money in obtaining Higher Degrees in specialist areas which may be interesting but which are already flooded with people looking for work. Students and staff thus need to target training to what is needed within the profession, though this process will always need to be under revision as new specialisms and academic developments occur.
  3. Archaeologists are generally poorly paid, in part a reflection of the relatively low esteem in which we are held (or indeed, hold ourselves), at least in comparison to the medical, architectural and legal professions, though it is a situation which is gradually improving. We need to make it clear that we are professional in our work, and that we have a wide range of specialist skills and knowledge, but this needs to be demonstrated. Membership of a professional body which can oversee quality is one way in which we can do this.
  4. The concept that one could acquire one's qualifications by passing through a system of training at university, followed by examinations, apprenticeship in the profession, after which one is 'qualified' for life to practise, is now even less true than it ever was. Not only do we have a wide range of specialist areas which no one person could ever master, or which one university course could ever encompass, but the world is changing rapidly and so we need life-long training, and also to be able to demonstrate that we are keeping up with recent developments. This is now formalised into schemes of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) in many professions, including archaeology in Britain (Collis and Hinton 1998; Bishop et al. 1999). With it must come a recognition that most of what we learn is not done formally, but occurs through working with other people, our personal experiences in new situations, attending conferences, talking to people, reading books, making mistakes. This cannot generally be formally examined, but much can be recorded in a logbook (formal recording), where necessary supported by statements or certificates of competence from our supervisors or trainers, and most of all be demonstrated in the ways in which we perform our jobs. The last will be documented best in the work we do, for instance, in our written output, and be confirmed in the form of our personal portfolios of work, and the references that our colleagues and employers may be willing to write for us. Our personal documentation should thus consist of a curriculum vitae (CV), logbook, and a portfolio, accompanied by the names of referees willing to support us.
  5. In Britain there are many entry points into archaeology, not merely through the possession of an archaeological degree; even among the younger generation, professionals with first degrees in English, History or the Natural Sciences are not uncommon. But every archaeology degree in Britain is different in the range of courses that it offers, and the contents of the individual modules that form the degree. Even within one degree course the range of modules taken will vary from one student to another; this diversity should be encouraged, but it also needs to be documented.


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Last updated: Mon Jul 29 2002