Discovering the Archaeologists of Africa – update

Discovering the Archaeologists of Africa is a project to identify how many archaeologists work in Africa, what they do, what their skills and qualifications are and then to use these data to help build capacity across the continent.

The project has reached the point where preliminary results from the first stage have been presented, firstly at the Society for American Archaeology’s annual conference in April 2018, and then – with figures further updated – at the Society of Africanist Archaeologists’ conference in June 2018.

Learning from previous work in Europe, we want to look at how many people work in archaeology across Africa (in all work situations – academia, private companies, governmental, NGOs), what they do, what their skills, qualifications, ages, genders and cultural backgrounds are, and how archaeology “operates” in each country.

Capacity measurement is a key step in capacity development, as the value in doing this is not just in counting archaeologists – it is in mapping out the current situation in order to then develop professional capacity that will better protect African cultural heritage.

It is estimated that there are 33,000 people who are employed to work as archaeologists in Europe (Aitchison et al 2014), 10,500 in the United States (Altschul & Patterson 2011), and about 4,500 in the countries of Latin America (SAA Committee on the Americas 2013).

Before this project began, the total number of archaeologists in Africa was unknown.

Thirty-five years ago, Merrick Posnansky (Posnansky 1982) estimated the number of full-time archaeologists working south of the Sahara as fewer than 100. And twenty years before that, there were less than 35 (ibid).

First Stage

The project has developed a methodology, based on our past experiences of doing comparable work.

The first stage has involved engaging with as many individuals with knowledge of professional archaeology in as many African countries as possible to put together best guesses of the numbers of archaeologists working in each country.

This follows the example of the SAA Committee on the Americas (2013), who were able to rapidly (and inexpensively) do something similar in Latin America.

In addition to this quick poll, participants are being asked to briefly outline how archaeological practice is undertaken in their country (for example – is it all delivered by the Ministry of Culture? Are there commercial archaeological practices? etc), and to identify whether archaeology is being taught at universities in their country, or whether all capacity building is currently taking place abroad.

This is on ongoing survey; the survey opened on 22nd January 2018, and data are presented as collected up until 1000am on 20th June 2018 (although data collection is ongoing, and the results are improving with every contribution received).

This is an open instrument survey and responses have been sought from anyone who wants to contribute, from anywhere in the world. Respondents with IP addresses in 43 different countries have contributed.

Invitations to contribute were sent to attendees at the ICAHM 2017 Annual Meeting, held in Bagamoyo, Tanzania; to the SAfA Announce listserv and to the WAC list.

The key results presented here are for the estimated numbers of professional archaeologists working in each country.

Of a total 251 individuals who started their responses, 134 provided data in their response to this question.

Where did we receive data for?

Data have been received relating to 37 of the 56 different African countries, with the highest numbers of contributions coming for South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania.



Responses by Country

There is a clear Anglophone bias. There have been good levels of return from Southern and East African states. West, Central and North Africa are not as well represented (with Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan the only African Arab League countries appearing in the results). However, data were received from some very small or states with very low GDP (such as single responses for Eritrea, Gabon and Chad). It is significant that we have returns from 17 of the 20 African countries with the highest GDP, as this can be considered as a useful proxy value to help calculate best estimates for the countries where we have no responses.

Typically, this has led to small sample sizes in each country, but mean figures for 37 countries have been calculated , with outliers being excluded (when the largest or smallest figure was more than five times larger or smaller than next in series).

This is relying on the ‘Delphic’ methodology presented in Wisdom of Crowds (Surowiecki 2004), with data gathered from a diverse collections of independently deciding individuals, rather than crowd

psychology – the central thesis, that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts


The numbers of professional archaeologists working in each state have been reported and calculated – as averages of the numbers provided,, with outliers excluded – range from over 145 in each of South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan to zero in Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and less than ten in another seventeen countries.


Professional archaeologists in 37 countries


Distribution Map

Plotting the numbers of archaeologists in each country against the countries’ GDP on a scatter graph is not particularly revealing.

Overlaying a best-fit trendline shows that the relationship between GDP and the number of archaeologists working in a country is not a straight-line, best fit relationship

But mapping the best estimates of archaeologists we have received against GDP with a logarithmic trendline produces quite a good fit – with r2 of 0.5237.

Countries above the curved line on this graph have more archaeologists working there than GDP alone would predict; those below the line have less.

Using this trendline equation, we have calculated best estimates for the population of archaeologists working in every African country on the basis of the GDP of each country.

So for predictive purposes, this would place every country which we do not have results for yet exactly on the trendline; inevitably an imperfect correlation, but the best we have available.

FIGURE 4.png

Logarithmic Trendline

The data we have suggest that there are a total of approximately 1,148 professional archaeologists in the 37 countries we have received data for.

Extrapolating for the other countries in Africa, on the basis of comparing numbers of archaeologists and national GDP, we are able to suggest that in total, there are approximately 1,400 professional archaeologists employed in Africa.

By comparison, there are 1,000 archaeologists employed in Canada (with a population less than 4% of that of Africa), 1,200 archaeologists employed in Peru, 3,500 in France and 6,200 in the UK.

Second Stage

The project can now build on from this with a second stage mapping out who actually works in archaeology in Africa, what they do, what the skills needs for professional archaeology across Africa are, and how they can be developed in the future.

This would gather, analyse and share information on archaeological employment across African countries, in terms of: Numbers of archaeologists, Roles, Ages, genders and cultural backgrounds, Skills and qualifications, and Financial rewards

This will be a much more complex and elaborate exercise, requiring data to be gathered from individual archaeologists and their employers, but it would then provide baseline measurements to support capacity development. It will also allow comparisons to be made between countries, and, if the process is repeated, to track change over time.

We are now planning to undertake a pilot exercise for Stage 2 with partners in Togo, Kenya, Botswana and (provisionally) Morocco.

Further updates will follow.

The survey is still open, and the data will get better and better as more information is received – so please do contribute.


Kenneth Aitchison tuDr Kenneth Aitchison is the Executive Director of Landward Research Ltd, and was formerly Head of Projects and Professional Development at the UK Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. He was awarded his PhD by  the University of Edinburgh in 2012 for his work on three labour market intelligence projects (Profiling the Profession) studying professional archaeology in the UK which he led between 1997-98 and 2007-08. He has also led two pan-European Discovering the Archaeologists of Europe projects, with the Heritage Management Organization participating in the second of these.


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