A Day in the Life of… A Community, Commercial, Research Archaeologist

The last time I posted for Day of Archaeology was around 6 years ago.  That makes my head spin slightly even thinking about it.  At that stage, I was a PhD student and comfortably ticking along with my PhD which I eventually completed in 2012.  When I say comfortably, probably not so comfortable because you are always constantly thinking about where you wanted your career to go and what job you wanted.  I faced up to the fact that I did not want to stay in academia, which will probably make some think “why do a PhD then”.  Personally, I do not think PhDs should solely set you up for a career in academia.  Whilst that is the traditional route, I did what was called a Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD which was joint with Historic Scotland (now HES).  That meant undergoing some valuable on-the-job experience with HES for three months, as well as learning some valuable archiving and post-excavation skills alongside the traditional research, writing and presentation skills (to name but a few).

Fast forward to today and what I am currently doing.  I am a Project Officer with Salford Archaeology and I have now been at this company for nearly four years.  I started on one of the IfA bursaries, specifically excavation and supervision for an initial 12 months.  When I applied, I had been doing spates of digging work with another commercial company and actually quite enjoyed it.  After toiling in the academic world for nearly four years, I knew what I wanted and that was to be back at the coal face (so to speak).  I wanted to dig, but also develop my career within this sector.  It was a shock to the system this position: working in an area with which I had virtually no knowledge of the archaeology.  I had spent most of my time excavating discrete and linear features; to then start excavating structures and mostly brick walls was a challenge in itself. But I loved it.

After I finished my bursary, I was promoted to supervisor and since then, Project Officer.  I have the opportunity to do a wide range of work on both commercial and community projects.  I am immensely proud of what my colleagues achieved with their work on Dig Greater Manchester, a project that aimed to get local people involved in their heritage.  So I’ve led community excavations and workshops to pass on skills to people within local communities, as well as many commercial projects on a range of sites across the Manchester area.

So to the ACTUAL today, on what I am ACTUALLY doing today.  At the moment I am working on editing a report on a site we have excavated and getting it ready to send to the client; proper Project Officer kind of stuff.  But this is just one small part of the role that I do as this week, I delivered a workshop on how to carry out desk-based research and write a Desk-Based Assessment to volunteers on one of the community projects we are a partner in.  The PhD which feels a million miles away is never actually that far away.  More often than not, unconsciously I am applying the skills that I learnt whilst writing my thesis and I also get to pass them on to other people.  I get to share with people the work we do and some of the cool sites that I have had the privilege of working on.  My favourite so far is New Bailey Prison in Salford, which I have been working on since 2013 and has been partly excavated in response to regeneration in the Central Salford area.  But it has led to so much more: a community excavation, television interviews, newspaper articles (it made The Times!) and eventually a book.  The work I have done on this site encompasses a little bit of everything that I love about my job: I get the commercial and community elements of archaeology, and then the research as well.

It doesn’t always smell of roses and the job has its ups and downs like any other, particularly when you are against the clock.  Desperately trying to do justice to the archaeology whilst the sands run out and then realising days later that you should have taken a few more photographs of that wall or written a bit more detail on the context sheet about that pit.  You live, you learn and then take those experiences forward.  I am always learning on this job because every site is different with its own archaeology and challenges posed.  Sometimes you have to think on your feet, for example, if you have to rethink your strategy because you have come across the previously unknown remains of a 1970s failed building project. It can be tricky sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.