The Grand Challenge of Archaeology: Getting young people to respond to a survey, apparently

IMG_20140126_183710While trawling the internet recently, I was directed to a post on SEAC underground, a southeastern archaeology blog jointly authored by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. One of its authors was perplexed by the results of a recent survey in American Antiquity, which were published in the article “Grand Challenges for Archaeology” in the January 2014 volume. The survey was designed to address the question “What are archaeology’s most important scientific challenges?”Personally I wish they’d come up with a pat, pithy answer, something along the lines of “figuring out how to conduct effective fieldwork around inquisitive cattle” or “maximizing trowel cleaning potential in countries where steel wool is not readily available”.

"What's that? You want to survey this field? Then please, allow us to stick the handle of your soil corer directly into our noses!"

“What’s that? You want to survey this field? Then please, allow us to stick the handle of your soil corer directly into our noses!”

Instead the answer consists of a complex hierarchy of problems, encompassing five separate categories, each of which is divided into three to seven subcategories. The problems involve concepts like emergence, mobility and cognition, numbering 25 grand challenges in all.
However, as Shane Miller, the author of the original blog post, indicates, one of the most striking issues brought up in the article was response rates. Apparently after distributing a web survey through “email requests and listserv postings by the major North American and European professional associations…[b]etween April 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012″(6) the authors found that only 2%  of the survey responses were from “younger archaeologists and students”. This is exceedingly perplexing, given that many younger archaeologists and students maintain a fairly active online presence, and are often vocal about their views on archaeology. So if this is something you’ve got an opinion about, particularly if you’re a young archaeologist who blogs regularly, please head over to the original post “Regarding the “Grand Challenges” and young archaeologists” and chime in!

References Kintigh, Keith W., Altschul, Jeffrey H., Beaudry, Mary C., et al. (2014). Grand Challenges for Archaeology American Antiquity, 79 (1), 5-24 DOI: 10.7183/0002-7316.79.1.5

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10 Responses to The Grand Challenge of Archaeology: Getting young people to respond to a survey, apparently

  1. Sarah says:

    I was left with a lot of questions regarding their survey methodology, which I outline in part on my post about the subject:


    • JB says:

      Sarah, I think your comment about the use of informal networks as a survey distribution mechanism is spot on. While sending out an email survey seems like it would be high-tech and engaging enough to reach broad swathes of the archaeological public, in truth a lot of the younger generation spends a lot more time on different fora online – particularly Facebook and twitter. It seems like the people who structured the survey passed it along to close professional colleagues (of their same age cohort) using more of a word-of-mouth strategy, and then assumed that emailing a listserv would “attract the younger generation”. A Facebook post or two in the right group would likely have tripled their response rates.

      Good post, by the way. Maybe some of the “younger archaeologists and students” should band together and try to come up with a “politics and context” survey to distribute in Austin…


      • Sarah says:

        I definitely agree about Twitter and Facebook. Most of my networking and instant-responding happens there, and if we do manage to get an official survey together you can be sure that it will be publicized there in addition to the standard list-serves.

        Right now I have people on board to do an informal conversation in Austin, and I think those are very important to flesh out some of the issues we want to address, but I am also of the mind that Austin would be a good opportunity to have a bit more “official” backing for the effort. It would also provide a space to hear from the authors directly.


  2. Mary Davis says:

    Thanks for the great post. If you or anyone else is interested we just started a blog and our first post was on this article. It is a longer, causal conversation about the questions. Thanks.


  3. Tullan Spitz says:

    Please watch Time Team America on PBS or online at
    and please comment on our website comment tab on the home page about how a next season of Time Team America could engage new audiences with archaeology and science.
    Thanks, the producers



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  5. Pingback: The Grand Challenges for Archaeology: A Blogging Carnival | Doug's Archaeology

  6. Pingback: The Grand Challenges for Archaeology: A Blogging Carnival | Bone Broke

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