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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rescue archaeology, sometimes called "preventive" or "salvage" archaeology, is archaeological survey and excavation carried out in areas threatened by, or revealed by, construction or other development. These conditions could include, but are not limited to, the building of dams where sites of interest might exist in the flood plain, highway projects, major construction, or even before the onset of war operations. Unlike traditional survey and excavation, rescue archaeology must be undertaken at speed. Rescue archaeology is included in the broader category of "Cultural resource management (CRM)".

Rescue archaeology occurs on sites about to be destroyed but on occasion may include in situ preservation of any finds, or protective measures taken to preserve an unexcavated site beneath a building, for example. Urban areas with many overlaid years of habitation are often candidates for rescue archaeology.

The focus of early work was in setting up organisations that could undertake 'rescue' excavations in the teeth of the bulldozer. Archaeologists relied on the goodwill of the developer to provide the opportunity to record remains. In more recent use, an archaeological survey may be required by planning process or building law, as with PPG 16 in the United Kingdom. Contract or commercial archaeology services have sprung up to meet the needs of developers to comply with local laws and planning regulations.

For many years, the emphasis was on archaeological evidence in the ground. However, with increased interest in industrial archaeology, rescue archaeology needs to commence by recording extant remains of buildings i.e. prior to demolition.

The term, and indeed the practice of, rescue archaeology is largely restricted to North America, South America, Western Europe, and East Asia, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, Korea, and Japan. Many European countries, such as, e.g., Germany, practice virtually no rescue excavation (though there is extensive research archaeology). The many rescue archaeology projects in the Middle East are generally termed "salvage archaeology".


Shovel Bums (rescue archaeologists)

Whereas the organizations that take on rescue archaeology contracts are stable entities, the archaeologists who perform the actual field work are, in the main, an army of mobile workers. They work in all types of weather and terrain covering tasks such as Conservation, excavation, artifact curation, field survey often in difficult conditions (such as dense woodland), and typically working to tight deadlines. Given that the outputs of much of the work that is undertaken in advance of development work is not published in peer reviewed journals, the people that perform the actual research are often anonymous and unrecognized.

"Shovel Bums" is a play on one of the more polite names which professional archaeologists call each other when they enter the field of rescue archaeology and move from excavation to excavation. As much archaeology is now developer-led, the fieldworkers must move to where the work is when one contract is complete, much like ski-bums following the good snow fall. For professional field archaeologists the Shovel Bum phase of a career is now considered a rite of passage. It is during this time that any field archaeologist worth their salt learns the ropes from the ground (literally) up.

Shovelbums is also the name of the world's largest professional archaeology/cultural resource management organization. Founded as a free employment service in 1999 by R. Joe Brandon, Shovel Bums has grown to an active membership of 12,000. Today functions not just as a conduit to the majority of jobs in archaeology, but also provides a directory of archaeology field schools and archaeology and cultural resources themed gear.

See also



Further reading

  • Thomas W. Neumann and Robert M. Sanford, Practicing Archaeology: A Training Manual for Cultural Resources Archaeology. Rowman and Littlefield Pub Inc, August, 2001, hardcover, 450 pages, ISBN 0-7591-0094-2
  • Thomas W. Neumann and Robert M. Sanford, Cultural Resources Archaeology: An Introduction. Rowman and Littlefield Pub Inc, December, 2001, trade paperback, 256 pages, ISBN 0-7591-0095-0

External links

  • Shovel Bums R. Joe Brandon's free jobs in archaeology and CRM service, archaeology & CRM field schools, and archaeology and CRM gear.


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