Leading Marlborough archaeologist Mike Pitts has warned the recession could have a major impact on work to uncover ancient treasures.

It is predicted that around 1,000 jobs will be lost in archaeology, largely due to the collapse of the construction industry which finances digs at building sites.

Despite being more popular with the public than ever, archaeology is also suffering from a series of other setbacks, according to Mr Pitts, who edits British Archaeology magazine.

Mr Pitts said: "Our industry is in serious crisis, which is something that should concern anyone interested in our nation's rich history and heritage.

"The shrinking economy is threatening to cut the heart out of commercial fieldwork.

"We have entered 2009 with stalled heritage legislation, museums in crisis, a fragmented profession and over one in 10 archaeologists likely to lose their jobs."

Fieldwork is the backbone of the profession and, as a result of government planning guidelines, most major archaeological excavations are financed by developers.

When demolition takes place or excavations to lay the foundations for new structures, the area is scoured by teams of archaeologists.

One such dig famously resulted in the discovery of the remains and treasure – including precious golden earrings – of the so called Amesbury Archer during preparation work for a school near Salisbury.

Mr Pitts said that, largely as a result of the collapse of the building industry, an estimated 1,000 archaeologists employed on such work could lose their jobs, with hundreds having already gone.

He said: "The economic downturn is already hitting archaeology. During the last quarter of 2008 – from October until the end of the year – 345 jobs were lost.

"That's a lot of jobs in a relatively small industry. With more construction projects on hold, other archaeologists will also lose their jobs."

Significant numbers of archaeology organisations also anticipate further job losses in the first quarter of this year.

Mr Pitts, an expert on the Stonehenge and Avebury monuments, said: "Some consultancies, especially the smaller ones, will go out of business while there will be redundancies at the larger companies."

Many of the archaeologists who have either lost their posts or are facing redundancy would have spent years studying at university to gain qualifications.

However, redundant archaeologists are likely to seek employment in other industries.

Mr Pitts said: "It's not a particularly well paid profession. People do it for the sheer love."

He feared the recession would also hit investment and funding into museums and their staff, with hard-pressed local authorities likely to reduce spending on heritage.

Archaeology also suffered another body blow when an eagerly awaited heritage Bill – aimed at giving important sites, especially at sea, more protection – was shelved.