A contract archaeologist is a consultant who is hired to provide expert advice on the impact of public and private development on cultural resources or to help minimize what has already occurred. These sorts of consultants are contracted to make an impact assessment before governments approve development projects and are often retained to monitor and manage the project's impact on the archaeological site. This type of applied archaeology is also known as cultural resources management (CRM), public archaeology and rescue archaeology.
The traditional job listing for an archaeologist describes someone who finds and studies material remains of past civilizations. Most people would assume an archaeologist spends his time out digging in remote areas, finding buried treasures and writing academic papers on his finding. Alternatively, many would expect archaeologists to spend their time studying artifacts discovered by others in the field and teaching.
In addition to the traditional job specifications, there is a burgeoning area of archaeological consulting that employs experts in the field to protect cultural resources from the negative impact of surrounding development and help manage or restore resources that are threatened or damaged. Many countries rely on their culturally significant historical sites to drive tourism. Allowing corporations and public agencies to proceed with development projects in the vicinity of these resources without first determining the project's likely impact can cause irreparable harm.
Governments often require a professional impact assessment before they will approve development projects near cultural resources, much in the same way as they typically require an environmental impact study before approving a project that will effect natural resources. A contract archaeologist is an expert who is retained to evaluate the potential impact of development before a project is approved, provide ongoing support while the project is underway and, sometimes, determine the extent of the damage to cultural resources if things go wrong. Consultants can also be called in to assess the damage done to cultural resources by factors other than development, such as climate change or a natural disaster, and to design a plan for preservation and recovery.
A contract archaeologist can operate in either a for-profit or nonprofit capacity. Many colleges and museums offer contract archaeologist services that generate revenue for the institution. Individual consultants operate on their own or as part of a firm for profit. Certain large corporations have CRM divisions that manage cultural resources under contract and employ archaeologists to do the work.