Louise Davies (MOLA): Managing Archaeological Projects in the City of London

I have been working in archaeology for almost 10 years now, since finishing my Masters at York University, and have been working as a Project Manager at MOLA for nearly 3 years. Today for me started very well when I realised I already had my hard hat, boots and vizi vest at home and not under my desk, so could proceed directly to my first site meeting of the day instead of coming into the office first.

I visited a site in the City of London where were have just started doing a 5-trench evaluation in the basement of a bar. It’s so cool going into these old buildings, which have often been very recently vacated – you find all sorts of weird things in them. This one still had cocktail glasses on the bar and a huge box of un-pulled Christmas crackers on the floor. I met with the MOLA Senior Archaeologist who’s doing the fieldwork and delivered a (very basic) work mobile phone to her. We are always short of site mobiles and only got a spare one for this site four days into the project. The trench she has been working on has a big Roman quarry pit in it, immediately under the concrete basement slab, which is nice and just what we expected. The second trench (in the kitchen of the old bar) is proving slightly more problematic as they keep finding drains and ground beams, and also operating a 5-ton mini excavator in a basement room is quite hot and smelly!

After the evaluation site, I walked to my next site, about ten minutes away, which is a large open area excavation. It’s the biggest project, in terms of size and value, that I have worked on, and I’m very excited to be project managing it. We started work there just over two weeks ago on a 14-week programme, and should have over 20 staff on site at the peak of the fieldwork. So far we have reduced the ground level by around 3m and found a series of post-medieval basement rooms, complete with vaulted roofs, brick floors, stone-lined drains, wine bottles, and even a graffitied brick.

Brick graffiti (c) MOLA 2013

Brick graffiti (c) MOLA 2013

We’ve got a great team down there at the moment, and they’ve been helped by our standing buildings team and brick specialist to try to date the building materials and work out the complicated phasing of the buildings. The walls seem to be a complete mish-mash of yellow stock brick, chalk blocks, red bricks, ragstone rubble, Tudor brickwork, everything.

Today I was meeting with the City of London Archaeological Advisor to show her around the site, and she’ll now make weekly visits to the site throughout the duration of the programme. We’re expecting medieval and Roman deposits beneath the post-med basement slabs, so plenty to see in the next few months. We had a special treat today when we were allowed to climb up to the top of the scaffolding to look down on the site below. A bit of a knee-trembler being so high up, but it was worth it for the view!

Holding on for dear life!

5 storeys high and cool as a cucumber (c) MOLA 2013

I then had a quick meeting with the construction manager to give him an update, and went back to work to have lunch with my lovely friend Craig, do some invoicing, and commiserate with Stewie and his motorbike-falling-off induced injuries.

Our Day in Dirt

Get up at 5 am.  Eat breakfast

Perry T. meets Oleg to get the UAZ 94 in garage at 6:15

We meet the crew at 6:30 am:

Lyuba the recorder of levels and units for finds’ bag.

Vlad the expert archaeological worker, who returns to his full-time job at the heating plant

Oleg, the driver and field worker

Kostya, who has worked with us since he was 11.

Pasha, local high school student.

Today’s plan:

1.  Clean the mud brick platform and the living surface outside the house.  It rained last night—trowel scraping

2.  Check out Context 61 and probable Pit house, underlying mud brick melt from last year’s excavation.

3.  Clean up tandir (bread oven)

4.  Map the upper mud brick contexts

5.  Take elevations both across the 8 m x 8 m excavation block, north and south.


CELEBRATE the DAY of ARCHAEOLOGY—leave site at 12 noon.


Wash finds at 4 pm.


Is work ever done?