I'm originally from the small village of Tiptree in Essex. I started out in archaeology in 2000, working as a barrow pusher for the Colchester Archaeological Trust. I have been working in archaeology for the last 15 years in a number of countries (UK, Ireland, Middle East) and have spent the last 5 working on my PhD research part time. My research focuses on trying to understand the Late Iron Age territorial oppida of SE Britain using data from developer funded archaeology.

‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Confessions of a newly minted self-employed archaeologist.

My name is Nick and I’ve been a professional archaeologist for the last 15 years.  I’ve been lucky enough to be employed continuously for much of that time when I wasn’t studying and have the opportunity to work across the UK, Ireland and in the Middle East. When I saw the tweets promoting this years ‘Day of Archaeology’, I thought why not, I have time to write a blog post. This was a bit of a change from the last few years and I was surprised to find when I re-logged in its been four years since I last participated. This should probably not be surprising seeing as in that time I have been working full time, undertaking part time PhD research, writing papers for journals, giving papers for conferences and, oh yes, having a life. A busy schedule isn’t unusual for budding or experienced archaeologists, because essentially we do it because it’s the job we love, the profession we choose and so we do all that we can. But can that level of workload be sustainable in the long run?

For me the answer was no, in order to do a good job at work, write papers and pursue research, the actual process of writing and finishing my PhD was falling behind. So after thinking about it for a long time and talking with a supportive partner and family, I decided to make a change and a couple of weeks ago I quit my full time, well paid (with benefits) consultancy job to focus on writing up my PhD full time. A bit risky I know, essentially I still have bills to pay and money to think about it, but it was also the best decision I ever made. I’m now a doctoral student and freelance archaeologist and here are the reasons why it is so great.

  1. Time. Once you re-prioritise what is important and how you spend your time, a massive weight is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt you feel whenever your down the pub and should be writing eases off (doesn’t disappear entirely I’m afraid) and you know you are spending 40+ hours a week dedicated to what you want, for me it’s my PhD research. Essentially you can spend the time you want on the projects you love.
  2. Finding the love for archaeology again. I’ve spent 15 years working as a commercial archaeologist and have the luck to work on a number of really interesting sites. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s worked in the commercial sector would admit, there are some really boring jobs you have to do in some pretty awful places. Once I moved onto consultancy, you have to deal with some clients (not all) who don’t want to spend money on archaeology, which is a difficult place to be. I guess the problem is that sometimes you feel pretty far detached from the archaeology that you love and the reason why you do the job in the first place. Once you re-prioritise you focus on those projects that you really want to do and you rediscover that love for archaeology. It’s a pretty great feeling and massively motivating.
  3. Working freelance is a great challenge. It can sound a bit daunting with all the things that you have to sort out (tax issues, keeping accounts etc), however, there are a lot of great guides out there to help (BAJR, CIfA and HMRC). I’ve made some great friends in archaeology who have been there to help and send some work my way. I’ve also been looking into some part time teaching jobs, which is something I love to do from when I did PGTA work at UCL.

So essentially my Day of Archaeology, unlike all those other years when I couldn’t control where I was, is doing whatever I want. While there are some uncertain times ahead I’m doing all I can to get my PhD research done and forge a new path in the following months, and hopefully years. So today is filled with writing for me, doing some research on the landscape context on Iron Age oppidum surrounding Chichester, which will mean my head will be in some books and I’ll be typing away on the laptop. Perhaps not the most exciting day in archaeology overall but it is a pretty great one for me.

‘The Academic’

So the working day is done…well the one that I get paid for anyway… and now well into the evening I’ve been plugging away at my second ‘job’, the PhD. I’ve been doing my research degree for two years now and have three years left to do. Its been a challenge balancing work with studying asnd actually having a life on the side, but I’ve managed it somehow, presumably by doing a few hours of work in the evenings like today. There is no rest for the wicked, as I have a deadline next week, my upgrade looming (this is part of the studying process) in October/November and my nephew’s 7th birthday to go to on the weekend, so little time for work there.

So what actually am I researching? Well I’m looking specifically at the Iron Age/ Roman transitional period in Southern Britain and looking at all the sites excavated that have found remains in the periods for the areas surrounding Chichester and Colchester. I am using the information that is generated from the ‘Commercial’ side of archaeology in which from my previous posts you will have seen I have spent most of my career in so far. I hope to see where and what kind of settlements existed in these areas and basically get a better idea of how the native people of Britain reacted to the Roman invasion.

I’m having a great time doing the research and would love to do it full time, but unfortunately you have to pay the bills somehow and am lucky to have a job in archaeology too!

If anyone would like to ask me any questions about working full time when you study…please let me know!

Thanks for reading!

‘The Commercial’

So I’ve been hard at work for half a day now, putting my 7 hours in my ‘day job’. At the present I am writing the text for a publication of a site that was excavated in late 2008.  Whilst due to privacy reasons I can’t tell you where the site is, or who the work was done for, I can tell you about the amazing archaeology that we found. You might be thinking that it has been quite a while since we excavated the site, so why am I just working on the publication now?

Well, there is a huge amount of work to be done in what is called the ‘post-excavation’ stage of a project. Firstly the supervisor of the site must organise all of the records done on site and send all of the finds and samples away to the specialists to look at and make their reports. This, depending on the amount, can take months. After this stage an ‘Post-Excavation Assessment’ is completed by the site supervisor, which looks at the records and the specialist reports, and works out preliminarily what was found and what this may represent. It also outlines the publication to be undertaken later on. After this stage, this report has to be approved by the client and the county archaeologists which may take a few more months. A lot of time and further specialist analysis later, and here I am, three years later, writing the final text.

So what did we find? On a relatively small site we found evidence of occupation for 10,000 years! At first the site was occupied in the Mesolithic by hunter gatherers, shaping flint tools to hunt with. The site was revisited multiple times by different groups of families over hundreds of years. Later the site took on a ritual focus with the establishment of a large ringwork (a ring ditch) which may have been of a ceremonial function and was later expanded on by two smaller versions. This site would be have been revisited by people in the Neolithic as a spiritual site. There was further evidence for occupation in the Anglo-Saxon, and Post-Medieval period too. It’s an exciting project that should hopefully be published next year!!!

I’ll come back later to update on the PhD work done today,,,,