During the economic boom Ireland became a mecca for archaeologists. There was full employment, great career prospects, fantastic archaeology and reasonable salaries. This was largely fueled by a combination of massive infrastructure developments requiring hundreds of archaeologists to clear the archaeology in advance of the bulldozers, together with stringent regulation of the treatment of the cultural heritage by developers. Archaeology profited as a result with a growing corpus of publications and research projects fueled by the large number of commercial archaeological excavations. This archaeological utopia was mercilessly crushed in a matter of months at the beginning of 2008 and the Golden Age of Irish archaeology came to an abrupt end.
Archaeologists work hand in glove with the construction industry. Together with geotechnical crews archaeologists are usually the first sub-contractors on site. Consequently when work dries up the archaeologists are hit first. A recent survey by James Eogan (The impact of the recession on Archaeology in the Republic of Ireland, Culture Lab Editions) reported a 37% reduction in the number of archaeological excavations between 2007 and 2008 and the further reduction of 44% between 2008 and 2009. The situation has deteriorated further in 2010. The effect of this on the archaeological profession is staggering. Employment fell by 80% between 2007 and 2010 and companies which had been the main employers in the sector ceased trading. With little hope of a future recovery a mass of highly skilled professional archaeologists are now retraining or emigrating. The impact of this drain of knowledge on Irish archaeology is profound. In addition to the human tragedy of highly skilled and talented individuals losing their careers, specialist knowledge is leaving with the archaeological workforce which can never be replaced. This great exodus of archaeologists is now slowing but the damage is done.
The future is both uncertain and challenging for the archaeological profession in Ireland. While other industries complain about 20% unemployment, we are hit with 80%. The average archaeological salary has dropped by 25% and work is now both temporary and highly transient. It is a ‘no frills’ career requiring a strong vocation. However it is important to live in the solutions. Archaeology is a broad church. We are integrated in construction, education, tourism, planning, media and numerous other sectors. Headland Archaeology Ltd is currently exploring numerous products and markets than can build on the vast experience gained by Irish archaeologists during the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger. This experience provides a skill set that can be adapted to numerous new innovative directions which will allow archaeology to become a great career on the Island of Ireland again. Rubicon aims to be the Phoenix of the Irish commercial archaeology market. Watch this space….the rising is coming!