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Archaeologist – Developer-Funded

I am an archaeologist working for a developer-funded archaeology unit. This is what a day tends to be like:


Work from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM with a 30 minute tea break around 10:00 and a 30 minute lunch break around 1:00.


Show up, change into field garb, including PPE (personal protective equipment) – steel toed and shanked boots, hard hat, hi-vis vest or jacket and gloves. Grab the tools needed for the task at hand, which includes the likes of: mattock, hoe, shovel, 30 metre tapes, dumpy level and staff and whatever paperwork and then head out on site.


We are assigned to an area of responsibility by a senior arch or the project officer for the site. If we are working in single context mode, things go roughly like this:


Excavate the context (i.e. a single deposit that’s essentially uniform). This is the actual digging part of things – mattocks, shovels, trowels, etc. Speed and vigor are determined by how distinct one context is from another also by whether there are or could be any breakable artifacts in context. One gets pretty good at precision mattocking after some practice. 


Artifacts that come up are bagged and tagged or discarded as determined by their type and the finds policy. Ceramic building material (i.e. bricks and roof tiles) might get sampled, but most of it ends up on the spoil heap. Other things tend to be kept – pottery, metal fixtures, etc. They’re sorted by type and labeled by context, date and who bagged them and are eventually shipped back to the finds processing lab to be cleaned and sorted.


After a context has been excavated, it is written up on a context sheet and also planned. In general, there are two types of contexts – cuts and fills. Planning involves laying out a baseline tape along the excavation and measuring along it with a hand tape. The plan is tied in to a grid plan for the site (or just tied in to some known points for a smaller excavation) that is measured in by the unit’s geospatial survey team. Usually plans are done at a scale of 1:20. Also, profiles or elevations (i.e. plans with a vertical orientation) might be appropriate, usually done at 1:10.


After a plan is drawn up, levels are taken – i.e. the height of things on the plan – by using the staff and dumpy level, noting the height of the dumpy level from a known benchmark.


After an area has been taken down to ‘natural’ – i.e. there’s no further cultural material to excavate, the various contexts are all organized together in a matrix to show the order of the stratigraphy. This usually involves drawing up a big chart of the various contexts showing how they all relate and often involves running around trying to find someone who has dug something that abutted or intcut or what have you with stuff you’ve done. This is also the time when you go through all the context sheets and such to sanity check them.


Then you move on and start all over again. 


So, what we do is convert archaeological deposits into a collection of finds, context sheets and plans. Once it’s dug, it’s gone, so you better do a good job recording it.


Also, lots of dirt and mud. Especially if it’s raining. A little bit of rain in England is no reason to stop digging, mind. Waterproof trousers are wonderful things.

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