This article assesses the relationships between archaeology and wage labor in twentieth-century Mexico through an analysis of governmental payroll records from El Tajín, Veracruz. For Indigenous Totonac workers, the long-term presence of archaeological labor provided opportunities for income and social mobility in a context of dispossession and proletarianization while contributing to socioeconomic stratification. In a region where the traditional agricultural base declined during the twentieth century, participation in wage labor provided a source of regular cash income and opportunities for skill development and social mobility. Participation, however, depended on intermediaries and their kin and social networks, meaning that not all had access. The analysis suggests that state-run archaeology must be understood in practical and economic terms as well as in a regional context.