Day off Archaeology?

My third Day of Archaeology, and my first not on site and on twitter. Again, a lot has changed in a year: I left commercial archaeology in September to start my MA in Mediterranean Archaeology at UCL, and at present I am up to my eyebrows in work for my dissertation, looking at the relationships between inhumation and cremation practices all around the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age. On Friday 11th itself, however, I awoke at Matfen Hall, Northumberland with a surprisingly un-sore head but an unsurprisingly unhappy liver after a wonderful family wedding the day before.

Most of my day actually consisted of travelling – back to Newcastle from Matfen, then back down to London from Newcastle – but I think that’s the only sense in which it felt like a day off. I had time in the morning sunshine to admire the extensive ridge and furrow field systems on the Matfen estate, and got some dissertation reading done on the train south in the afternoon.

The best part of my Day of Archaeology, and the part that really reinforced for me the idea that archaeology never leaves me alone, was the evening. Friends and colleagues I used to work with at Museum of London Archaeology gathered together at a pub in central London to reunite, catch-up, and find out the latest news and ideas from a huge site we had all worked on. Dubbed the “Pompeii of the North” by various media outlets at the time, and with an ongoing blog of its very own, the site has received a lot of attention for both the scale and preservation of the archaeology. Judging by some of the findings presented to us on Friday evening (sorry – no spoilers), all the hard work the post-excavation team have put in is really paying off and there is plenty more exciting news to come!

When I say “archaeology never leaves me alone”, I mean it in two ways. Firstly, the people you meet, the colleagues you work with, and the friends you make – the community of commercial archaeologists – as well as the sites you work on and the experiences you have with them is not something that I will ever lose, and I am very grateful for that. Secondly, while I have always felt a career-dichotomy between commercial archaeology and my academic archaeological interests that has led to my hopping from one back to other every few years, I would have to try extremely hard to cut one or the other out of my life completely. Both are important to me for their own reasons. I could not value the dissertation research I did on the train on Friday over the context sheets, plans and levels I did for some Roman stratigraphy over a year ago, nor vice versa. I could not pride myself in one more than the other, nor take more enjoyment from one of the processes, nor await the culmination of the work of each with unequal anticipation.

So I think the thing I am taking from Day of Archaeology 2014 is that, for me, there is no such thing as a day off archaeology. This is all I ever want to do, whether I’m stuck at the bottom of a really muddy hole somewhere, or stuck in a library with my nose in a book about somewhere else entirely. The choice between the two that I have felt forced to make isn’t really one at all; I will be happy and feel lucky to be in whichever archaeology I end up.