Making History, on BBC Radio 4, had an article yesterday on the plight of commercial archaeology in UK during the recession. It made for some sobering listening.

To understand what all the fuss is about, you need to get over the idea that archaeologists are all volunteers, either school kids or retired, or perhaps have a nice research job in a University. Some are, and some do, but there’s a whole bunch of others who are trying to make a living from archaeology, in the same way that they would with any other job.

So, the Institute for Archaeologists, the professional body for archaeologists in the UK, have been profiling the profession since 2002, looking at the number of practising archaeologists, the average wage, etc. In 2007, at the peak of the housing boom, there were 7000 practising archaeologists, of which approx 4000 were working in commercial archaeology, with the rest working in academia or part of the planning team in councils. Since then, nearly 700 jobs have been lost, equating to 10% of that all-time high, and it’s fair to say that there will have been more losses in the commercial sector than in academia or councils. On the radio show yesterday they were suggesting up to 1 in 5 commercial archaeologists but I can’t find any figures to back that up.

The reason for this downturn is that commercial archaeology is now tied so tightly into the planning regime in the UK, and is funded almost entirely by developers, so if there is no building work going on, then there is no archaeology being done…

Hopefully things will start picking up as the government try and inject stimulus money into infrastructure, but it’s going to be a difficult year for everyone.