context sheets

A Trainee Archaeologist’s First Week

I have just finished my first week as a trainee archaeologist with Oxford Archaeology East. I am based in their Cambridge office as I live in Peterborough (and adore Cambridge!). It has been an amazing week, and it’s been a long and twisting road to get here – I graduated with a BA in Archaeology in 2007, but through a series of bad choices ended up in retail jobs for the next 7 years. During this time I did a lot of volunteer work with museums, historic environment centers and city council offices, and ended up with an MA in Preventive Conservation somehow as well. I would apply for trainee jobs and internships but did not have enough experience. Then the planets aligned, and a few months after my contract finished at my last job, Oxford Archaeology East had a community volunteer dig – the Romans of Fane Road. I attended almost every day of the 3 weeks, and then applied with OAE as they were looking for trainees to take on.

A month later and I finally get my big break and start working for OAE. Through a lot of perseverance I’m finally getting to live my dream. Enough of my back-story, this is what my first week was like!

First thing I learnt about was the early mornings – everyone has to be in the office at 7am to get to the site by 8!

Sunrise

I was starting along with 3 other recruits. We spent our first day being shown around the office, and talking to all the specialists (pottery, skeletal, human skeletal remains), as well as doing reams of paperwork! All of the Personal Protective Equipment we would need was issued (hard hat, high-vis jacket and trousers, ceramic-toed boots, fleece) and tried on. We spent the afternoon visiting the environmental archaeology unit (out at an old aircraft hanger) and visiting one of our sites to learn how OAE do feature photography.

Day 1 Excavation

The second day was much more exciting – on site! I was paired up with a lovely girl who had been digging for years, had already been on this site for 5 weeks, and had just started mattocking a trench in a long ditch to try and find something dateable – the previous 2 trenches had turned up empty. We took an environmental sample from the top layer, from which we soon found a piece of clay pipe and some vitrified clay. There were rabbit warrens intersecting the feature however, so we weren’t 100% that the pipe was where it should be.

Day 2 finds

We got our 1 metre trench cleaned out, so we did the context sheets for the cut and layers, and did the plans. I was a bit hazy on the specifics, but I’m sure the more I do them, the easier they will become!

Context sheets

Then the most exciting part of the day – I got to start my first solo trench! Further down the same feature, looking for more datable evidence. I only got half an hour, but it was enough to find a tiny bit of pottery in the top layer.

First trench

Day 3 was a total wash out – we only managed to spend an hour on site total in between huddling in the porta-cabin waiting for the rain to ease off. It was getting dangerously slippy, and the archaeology was in danger from us tramping muddy boots over everything.

Rain SiteRain trench

The rain never did ease off, so after an hour or 2 we headed back to the office for everyone’s favorite activity – finds processing!!

Finds Processing

Today was mostly back in the office; we had a bit more induction about the IfA and what our next 3 months will be like – starting a Personal Development Plan with our mentors, taking notes on our learning so we can join the IFA, that sort of thing. Then we all trooped into town to take our CSCS card test (which we all passed!). Most of the questions were laughably easy;

But it’s essential to show we all know the procedures to operate safely on an archaeological site.

Back at the office we learnt how to do the time sheets, and then more finds processing!

Next week we’ll be back on site again (weather permitting!), where we’ll start proceedings with our new mentors.