The role of Professional Associations in European Archaeology
Professional associations set, maintain and improve standards for archaeologists, and
membership of these associations allows individual archaeologists to set themselves apart
by demonstrating their commitment to quality and ethical work. Membership does not bring a
license to practice but the visibility of these memberships – which often include the right to
postnominal abbreviations - can be promotional tools.
Members of professional associations agree to abide by shared ethical codes and by doing
so they recognise their own personal responsibility to be held accountable for their
professional behaviour. The principle behind this is that by formally acknowledging this
relationship between personal actions and the wider discipline of archaeology, the
membership of a professional association is what sets the professional archaeologist apart
from all others who are involved with or interested in archaeology.
The European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) considers that all European
archaeologists should have access to a professional association in order to set, maintain
and improve standards for European archaeologists (EAA 2003), and under the terms of
reference of the EAA Committee on Professional Associations in Archaeology, the
Association states that “professional and ethical values can be used to strengthen national
laws and transcend the values of the marketplace” (EAA 2005).
The commercialisation of archaeology, and its transformation to a business-orientated
profession where “… an unwilling client contracts for undesired work to a company that owes
its continuing existence to pleasing that client” (Fowler 1984, 109) has led to conflicts of
interests and subsequent ethical dilemmas.
It is in these situations that the standards and ethical codes presented by professional
associations are key, as they form the guide to what is, and what is not, acceptable
behaviour in finding a resolution - this not an issue of conflict, but ethical relativism leading to
decisions being made between competing priorities.
The oldest professional association in European archaeology is the Institute for
Archaeologists (IfA), the professional association for archaeologists in the United Kingdom,
which was established in 1982 and was known as the Institute of Field Archaeologists until
2008. This had followed earlier unsuccessful attempts in the 1970s to form such an
organisation, which suffered from a backlash from unpaid amateurs who saw this as a threat
to their hobby
The IfA’s Code of Conduct is concerned with professionalism in the course of work, the
Code of Practice, together with Standards and Guidance documents, is concerned with the
practical matters of working in archaeology.
The Institute had over 2,850 members in 2010 (75% of whom are corporate members, the
rest being Student or Affiliate members), but this total is less than 50% of all archaeologists
in paid employment in the United Kingdom. That means that the Institute’s Chief Executive
considers that the “majority of paid archaeologists are not professionals” (Hinton, 2011).
However, the IfA Register of Organisations is perhaps its most successful enterprise,
rigorously assessing organisations’ compliance with the Code of conduct and expanding
suite of standards, with 62 Registered Organisations listed in the IfA Yearbook 2010 (IfA,
2010), employing 2286 individuals; by December 2011, the total number of organisations
registered had risen to 70 (IfA 2011).
With a corporate membership that equates to 31% of the workforce (in June 2010), and
Registered Organisations employing (an overlapping) 33%, it could be argued that IfA does
represent the majority of individuals working in UK archaeology.
Few professional associations that have the ability to impose meaningful sanctions upon
their membership actually exist in European archaeology. At the time of writing, other than
the Institute for Archaeologists, only three, nationally based, organisations can be truly
considered to be professional associations as defined here – the Nederlandse Vereniging
van Archaeologen (NVvA) in the Netherlands, the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI),
the Magyar Régész Szövetség (MRSZ – Association of Hungarian Archaeologists) and the
Associação Profissional de Arqueólogos (APA) in Portugal. As archaeological legislation and
management is organised on a regional, rather than a national basis in countries as Spain,
there are not straightforward opportunities for national organisations to develop, but
professional associations such as Asociación Madrileña de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras en
Arqueología (AMTTA) can exist for archaeologists working regionally, in the territories of
specific autonomous communities.
Demoule (2010) considers that professional associations are only appropriate in societies
that follow an “Anglo-Saxon” model and are unnecessary in countries where the state has a
much stronger role in heritage management. The development of professional associations
in archaeology where this is the case has been limited - and Demoule’s retrospective view
appears to be largely true – the longest established professional archaeological associations
are in the UK and US, where the national or federal governments have long held hands-off
approaches to heritage management, but such organisations have increasingly emerged in
some of the states where there were significant transitions away from state control of the
economy in the late 20th century and where archaeological practice has been
The processes of commercialisation – and globalisation – mean that archaeological practice
will be increasingly market-focussed across Europe, despite some resistance in countries
with deeply entrenched centralised systems. Working in a market economy means that there
is greater potential for ethical issues to arise, but by subscribing to shared and enforced
codes of ethics, archaeologists become able to resolve ethical dilemmas for the common
good, both of the archaeological profession and of the historic environment.
Demoule, J-P. (2010) ‘The crisis – economic, ideological, and archaeological’ in N.
Schlanger & K. Aitchison (eds) Archaeology and the Global Economic Crisis:
multiple impacts, possible solutions. http://www.ace-
EAA (European Association of Archaeologists). 2003. EAA-Regulation No. 3.B.3. Terms of
Reference for the Professional Associations Committee.
EAA. 2005. Terms of Reference for the Professional Associations in Archaeology
Fowler, D.D. (1984) ‘Ethics in contract archaeology’ in E.L. Green (ed.) Ethics and Values
in Archaeology, 108-116. New York: The Free Press.
Hinton, P. (2011) 'What the Dickens happened to the IFA?', in J. Schofield, (ed.) Great
Excavations: shaping the archaeological profession, Oxford: Oxbow Books.
IfA (Institute for Archaeologists). 2010. Yearbook and Directory, Tisbury: Cathedral
IfA. 2011. Member / RO Bulletin December 2011.
Kenneth Aitchison is Executive Director of Landward Research Ltd and Chair of the
European Association of Archaeologists’ Committee on Professional Associations in