And now for something different: not your typical consultant’s day!

And now for some highlights (and possibly some lowlights) from the life of an archaeological consultant!!

My description of my average Day of Archaeology is largely desk based but there are times when I’m allowed to escape the office and play outside! Such trips are either walkover surveys or setting assessments which form part of DBAs and EIA chapters. The AECOM archaeology team cover the entirety of the UK so can travel where required in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and we do occasionally stray into the Republic of Ireland too! So far I’ve only done site visits in three of these countries but there’s still time!

Each site visit is different to the last and each has its own stand out memories (although these may sometimes have something to do with my colleagues). Below are a couple of tales from some site visits that stick in my mind!

Mid September 2013. On the hills of the Highlands. Although I will never bemoan that fact I get paid to walk around some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and look for archaeology and generally examine the landscape this was a new experience to me. My boots were no longer waterproof. It was windy. We kept climbing higher. And higher. We stopped for lunch. It started snowing – well sleet really but we’ll keep snow for dramatic effect. I was cold and not prepared for snow (aka sleet). My colleague looked across at me and thought that I was going to cry I looked so miserable. I wasn’t and I’m certainly made of stronger stuff than that!! This was a low point but it did get sunnier and warmer again so all was well with the world.

Not all of the site visits are in such glorious landscapes of the Highlands of Scotland unfortunately but this doesn’t make them any less interesting. Walking around a city which is not exactly known for its inner beauty was certainly an eye opener. The route of my site visit took me away from the many centre an along the route of one of the canals. Wondering along the slightly quieter canal paths made me fully appreciate the impressive industrial growth which occurred during the post-medieval period. It’s moments like this that make me realise how important our heritage is, whether buried archaeology or built heritage.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m currently working out on site for the next few weeks. This is a complete break from my normal days and it is fascinating. I’m currently helping an archaeological contractor in their finds “hut”, cleaning and processing finds from the archaeological evaluation. Of which there is a lot. A. LOT, Not coming from a strictly archaeological background this has been a real eye opener for me. Especially cleaning mud over what I thought was just a piece of animal bone to discover teeth – that gave me a bit of a shock! I’m really enjoying my time on site and am learning a lot about what it’s like on the “other side” and I’m hoping to be able to use this time to learn about how date and identify pottery. It might sound basic but for this archaeological consultant, with limited archaeological experience, I’m hoping it will come in handy for the “day job” on walkover surveys. Plus I’ve found I really enjoy making things clean and finding out what they actually are – I think this is my archaeological spiritual home!!

Day of Archaeology: Afternoon

Typically English Heritage have sent back the data search by the afternoon which means I can then be entering the data into a known archaeology. This is the first step in being able to prepare figures which will accompany reports. Depending how much data is sent back this can be quite an enjoyable task (other not so much which there are 100s of pages of data although this is very rare!) as it beings to give me a snapshot about the archaeology of the site I’m working on.

The rest of my afternoon is spent much like my morning; researching sites and collecting more information. In most instances I undertake a local archive and library visit in order to supplement my research of the site. Organising these visits can take some time as some archives require appointments to be made in advance or are only open at certain times. Having some volunteering experience cataloguing archives I actually quite enjoy trawling through the relevant archive catalogue picking out items which would be useful to my research. Such items can include OS maps, Enclosure and Tithe Maps, old estate plans and anything that might be relevant to the history of the site.

Although what I’ve told you about so far is a typical day, doesn’t mean every day of the week is always like this. I can also spend my time reviewing drawings or maps of archaeological data, looking at aerial photographs or helping in the writing of Written Schemes of Investigation (WSI).

Granted, my Day of Archaeology so far has actually sounded a lot like the typical day in the life of a historian but all of this research will eventually filter down in a desk-based assessment or chapter in an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). Both reports use the information collated to assess the potential for unrecorded archaeological remains and suggest any mitigation measures for archaeology which may be present within the site boundary. Such is the life of an archaeological consultant, whether this is at AECOM or any other consultancy.

Finally, my day ends with a frantic tidy up of my desk. I’m one of these super organised people who cannot stand to leave my desk in an utter chaos even though it gradually descends to such states throughout the day! A quick final check that I haven’t missed a vital email and then I’m on my way home!

Day of Archaeology: Morning

Hi – my name is Becky Emms and I am a Graduate Archaeologist for a large engineering consultancy (if I told you who, I’d have to kill you). This Day of Archaeology is actually slightly different from the norm for a couple of reasons. A) being that I came into the office later than normal today due to being at an Oxford University Department of Continuing Education course on aerial photography yesterday and not getting home til about 10pm (train chaos outside of Sheffield to be blamed for this). B) being that I am currently in the midst of spending five weeks out on site helping with the finds processing on a large archaeological excavation. So instead I will be guiding you through what a “normal” day at the office would entail for me.

I’m normally in the office for about 8.20 and the first thing I do is have a quick check through any emails that have come through since leaving the previous evening. Working for an engineering consultancy a lot of these are notifications about projects I’m not actually involved with or various emails about systems being shut down overnight. There are, however, usually a few emails relating to projects I’m currently working on or emails confirming the start of a project.

Once I’ve checked my emails the first thing I usually do is send off requests for data searches to the relevant HERs and EHAS (formally the NMR) requesting data for any projects have started off. I usually request a priority search from English Heritage which means I’m safe in the knowledge that they will have sent the data back by about lunchtime.

This only takes me about half hour so the rest of my morning is spent working on reports that I’ve had the data for, researching sites using some of the books we hold in the office (involving place names and Roman roads) and examining any online sources in order to start filling out a baseline for either a DBA or EIA chapter.

This will usually take my up to lunchtime, that and coffee accompanied by cake (the office has apparently gone baking mad recently), so I shall be back later to tell you about what an afternoon sometimes entails.

Till then, Becky