Today I celebrate 30 years as a professional archaeologist! I hope to work another 20. A normal career in Swedish archaeology is only 40 years, from age 25 to 65. This is one of several ways in which my career has not proved normal.
Most people who study archaeology in Sweden never find sustained employment in the discipline. The supply of trained people is vastly greater than the demand. I was offered a steady job in contract archaeology at age 21 and stupidly turned it down. Instead I have spent most of these 30 years doing research on small grants. Over this period I’ve had four steady jobs: one for three years at 100% as a PhD candidate, one for 20 years at 25% as managing editor of Fornvännen, one for a few months at 80% as site manager in contract archaeology (after which I received a grant and left again, stupidly), and for the past 2½ years at 100% as associate professor in Łódź.
I haven’t had many years of steady full-time employment. But I’ve applied for 95 archaeological jobs, mainly in academia. At first the people who got them had better qualifications than me. As my qualifications improved though (I have almost 200 publications today in my discipline), I realised that the academic labour market in Scandinavian archaeology is not the meritocracy it claims to be. It’s a system of feudal fealty to professors, where formal qualifications don’t mean much. I have done very little to cultivate relationships of patronage, and quite a lot to antagonise professors. Because (stupidly) I’ve always spoken my mind. It’s a high priority for me to be able to do that. I have concluded that you don’t even have to disagree with an academic potentate to scare them off, it’s enough to speak out at all and not seek patronage.
I’m a lot like my dad. He used to have endless trouble with his bosses, while inspiring great enthusiasm in his subordinates. His career was a series of well-paid jobs in industry middle management, usually ending in conflict with the upstairs. I’ve never had much problems with my bosses. Because I’ve rarely had a boss. Or a job. Instead I’ve had the aforementioned grants and an inexpensive lifestyle. Over these decades I’ve raised two children together with their moms and only run out of cash to pay my half once and briefly — when I had excavated too many High Medieval iron objects and couldn’t pay the finds conservation bill on time, haha.
I haven’t made much money, I haven’t had much job security, I’ve never had a desk of my own on a campus, I’ve been blocked from habilitation twice by hostile professors, I don’t have a retirement fund worth mentioning. But I’ve had a lot of fun over these 30 years! I’ve lived under unassuming yet comfortable circumstances, I’ve been a present and available husband and dad, I’ve excavated at some amazing sites with some great teams, I’ve published a pretty solid body of work, I’ve spoken my mind, and some would say that I’ve made a name for myself. So, within the parameters of my own game, I count these 30 years as success. Looking forward to 20 more!