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The strategy of early American anthropology was to enlist avocational investigators to work alongside the very small number of professional researchers. In the beginning all of them were amateurs and scientifically naive by today's standards. As professional anthropology grew and developed academic degrees were created and people with avocational interests came to have a more supportive role relative to the emerging profession. When it was formed in 1935 the Society for American Archaeology was explicitly an organization of both professional and avocational archaeologists. But the SAA has evolved into a largely professional organization over the last 75 years, such that avocational members now make up only a small service wing.

While avocational survey and excavation were once major contributors to American archaeological research, by 1950 most  research projects of any value were based in colleges, universities, or museums, where funding and infrastructure were sufficient to support technical and personnel costs. But that time many field projects were staffed by paid field personnel, students, or avocational volunteers. Indeed, most of anthropology was academically based by the second half of the twentieth century.

The development of cultural resource management (CRM) in the 1970s led to the rapid growth and development of nonacademic archaeology projects. This has been a special case in anthropology, where cultural anthropology has not developed a significant applied research branch despite the traditional numeric superiority of cultural anthropologists in academic departments. Biological anthropology has tended to grow new connections with biology, the health sciences, genetics, and paleontology. Linguists have tended to gravitate to separate linguistics programs.

Generally speaking the steady professionalization of anthropology has led to a distancing of professional researchers from the public support base that they once nurtured. The emergence of new digital tools that will allow them to reconnect prompts us to consider a new strategy for data acquisition and analysis. Just as birders provide a very large support base for professional ornithology, people interested in archaeological sites, historic buildings, rock art, and so forth could be easily recruited to provide meaningful data for professional researchers. Crowd sourcing is a new strategy for data gathering that is already in widespread use. Cell phones and web based programs like Google Earth are rich new sources of valuable data for anthropologists.

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