AIA News

April 24, 2020

Archaeological Institute of America Statement on Archaeology and COVID-19

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis has created profound difficulties for individuals, their families, and their communities. Many institutions now face challenges to their mission as well as to their employees and stakeholder communities. The very survival of public-serving organizations may be at stake.

We urge all institutions that employ archaeologists to acknowledge that the present moment has resulted in significant stress and insecurity for many in our field. We ask employers to offer as much flexibility as possible considering the needs of their colleagues and employees in current circumstances.

The AIA has joined over 45 other academic associations in a statement authored by the American Sociological Association offering important considerations for institutions of higher education regarding temporary adjustments to their review and reappointment processes for tenure line and contingent faculty.

Alongside its visible impact on research, the global pandemic brings unquantifiable burdens for students and faculty alike. These include new childcare and other familial responsibilities; new challenges to physical and mental health; new questions of financial security; and new concerns for the future. Recognizing that such burdens are different for all, we urge universities to allow candidates to include a COVID-19 letter in their job application packages, tenure dossiers, annual reviews, and other records of research for the coming six years; in these letters, the individual impact of the global pandemic may be addressed.

In addition, the AIA asks institutions to recognize the specific impact of COVID-19 on archaeologists in the academic, museum, and cultural resource management sectors, who are dependent upon national and international institutions, collaboration, and travel for their fieldwork and research:

  • There will be necessary adaptations to teaching schedules given the cancellation of field-based courses. We ask that institutions recognize the extensive planning that goes into the preparation of a field course, and the reality that asking archaeologists to take on new and different course loads to replace cancelled fieldwork fails to recognize the hours already invested in the cancelled field courses and study tours.
  • There will be necessary adaptations to research programs. Many archaeologists depend on international and domestic travel for the fieldwork and publication stages of their research. In light of the cancellation of travel by most universities in North America and Europe, we ask institutions to be aware of the delay most archaeologists will face in all stages of their research, at both the fieldwork and publication stages.
  • There will be necessary adaptations or postponements to travel and research plans. Archaeologists whose current or upcoming plans involve international research will be unable to undertake this work. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, closures of museums and delays to bureaucratic processes will mean that necessary research permissions are simply impossible to obtain. We ask institutions to be sympathetic to requests to postpone or delay planned sabbaticals and to recognize necessary changes to research productivity.
  • There will be necessary adaptations to funding. We ask universities to understand that archaeologists at all career levels are frequently dependent on internal and external funding sources for their international and domestic fieldwork and research. Travel plans are frequently made in advance and the pandemic has resulted in many cancellations, frequently of non-refundable deposits. We ask that universities and funding agencies consider assisting scholars with (1) postponement of awarded funding streams without penalty; (2) reimbursing scholars for non-refundable cancellation fees; and (3) recovery of lost funding for future work.  
  • There will be an impact on cultural institutions. We urge museums to recognize that long-planned exhibitions and academic events will need to be postponed or delivered remotely, to offer work flexibility for their staffs, and to allow rescheduling of travel for staff and research fellows so that they may continue to participate in the broader community of archaeological work. Some museum staff have collections care responsibilities that require them to work during this difficult time. Every effort must be made to safeguard the health and well-being of our colleagues in these instances. Museums also should balance mission-critical operations with the need to follow physical distancing recommendations as they look toward reopening to the general public.
  • There will be an impact on students, many of whose degree requirements and research depend on fieldwork, access to museums or storeroom collections, and non-digitized resources. We urge institutions to consider how to mitigate the impact of these disruptions through flexible requirements, extensions of funding packages and fellowships, and other creative strategies. We ask our colleagues to take these disruptions into account compassionately when evaluating dossiers of job applicants for whom the pandemic has resulted in longer time to completion or reduced productivity in and out of the field. These challenging times require us to take collective action, with decision-making strategies grounded in equitable principles for all.

Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have long addressed the historical transformations that accompany epidemics, pandemics, and other public health crises. Archaeologists provide context for these events in the broad scope of human history, offering an evidence-based narrative in moments of fear and uncertainty. In working through the material traces of past pandemics, we are keenly aware of the dramatic social consequences that result from the global spread of disease, the permeability of national borders in moments of crisis and the disproportionate risks to vulnerable communities, the challenge disease poses to urban environments and infrastructure, and the permanent changes that result to economies, demography, and cultural life. We know that humans, their social worlds, and the built environment they construct are resilient even as they come under great strain. But we have also learned that global pandemics can and do change the course of people’s lives and livelihoods—both for themselves and for many generations to come.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.