A Day In The Life Of A Commercial Archaeologist

So I admit that commercial archaeology may not always be as exciting or as interesting as people think archaeology is – but when you get a juicy site, it makes the time spent on watching briefs and evaluation trenches and artefact-free features completely worth it!

A day in the life of a commercial archaeologist is never the same as the one before or after, or the week before or after. There are so many factors and activities that are involved in running and working on a site, meaning that my day in particular can be incredibly varied. I can go from watching an excavator removing topsoil and subsoil to reveal the archaeological level, to digging a feature, to having meetings with the developers or contractor site manager, to writing up weekly reports and timesheets. The versatility of the role requires personal and professional versatility too!

Allow me to give you an example. Three weeks ago I was working on a site that I have been involved with for almost a year now; I started the evaluation phase there last August and have been heavily involved with the entire SMS (Strip, Map and Sample) phases since I completed that in January.

On this particular day, I spent the morning finishing the digging of an intervention I had started the day before. After removing all the tiny flakes of spoil possible from the base and cleaning around the edges to remove the latent paint marks from where it had been sprayed during the identification stage, I numbered the fill and the cut, photographed the feature, drew the section and the plan, then filled out the appropriate paperwork, taking me up to tea break.

Following that half an hour, I started the machine strip of the next phase of works. This phase had been delayed due to the possible asbestos contamination of a mound of spoil next to the site, but a meeting the previous week confirmed the tests had come back negative, so I could start getting down to the required level. The excavator has a 2.2m wide blade for doing this, and normally we would remove the topsoil first, then the subsoil, but because this site was previously developed, the top and subsoil were heavily contaminated, so both layers were removed at the same time.

I spent another two hours on this part of the site before lunch break, after which I then had to discuss with the contractor site supervisor and the developer’s project manager about the remainder of the site needing to be stripped. This was covered not only by a large pile of spoil removed from the first phase of the site, but also by an old pile of possibly asbestos contaminated rubbish and a significant quantity of building site crush, so it was necessary to negotiate the removal and relocation of these to allow access. The problem we were faced with was that there was no space to move it to, meaning that my next job was to help find some.

The only option myself and my coworkers had was to finish the first phase and get the County Archaeologist to sign it off as completed, ready to hand it over for the relocation of the piles that were in the way of the next phase. This meant arranging via a sequence of emails for a meeting on site as soon as possible, but also for a completion timeline to ensure nothing was missed before it was to be handed over.

As you can see, commercial archaeology can be complex and there are many factors to be considered and organised, and it isn’t all about just digging! But whilst this may seem to detract from the work we have dedicated ourselves to doing by making it a more bureaucratic role, it in fact massively facilitates that work – after all, if we run out of room to dig, we can’t find any archaeology in the first place! Every role, every job, on a site is important!