Information Technologies

writing about fieldwork not as fun as fieldwork

Today I’m writing about fieldwork in 3 (or is it 4) different ways. I’m finishing the report of an excavation; I’m chasing modelling software to explore some results from a field experiment; I’m responding to a set of papers about fieldwork; and I’m writing this blog. But I would prefer to be doing fieldwork. While most of my time (indeed most of any archaeologist’s time) is at a desk rather than in the field, fieldwork remains the heart of archaeology.

This is partly because fieldwork generates new data. But this alone cannot explain it, because there’s plenty of existing data which can be used in new ways, not to mention the existing data which has yet to be used in any meaningful way at all.  Fieldwork *feels* like archaeology. There is a sense that direct discovery is more interesting that intellectual unearthing. More fun to say you found something new than you understood something new.

Even when we are in the field we need to translate, explain why the thing we’ve found is interesting.  Even beautiful objects and ancient monuments are interesting for the things they tell us more than for what they are.

But the field has two things my desk doesn’t. Firstly, a team. Writing can feel lonely when you remember the feeling of teamwork that the field brings. Secondly, focus. While there are lots of different tasks while in the field, they usually relate to the same project. In the office the conflicting demands of different types of project are always there.

So the day looks like this.  Come in and write ‘to do’ list. 17 items, 4 of which are writing.  The rest are largely management tasks. I had hoped to do the excavation report in the morning, then the modelling, then the discussion piece.

But the management tasks blossom in the morning so the excavation report squashes into the afternoon.

The software for the modelling is tantalisingly nearly functioning when I finish lunch. It’s a simple question I want to ask: ‘Is the acoustic ‘soundscape’ of Silbury larger because of the existence of the hill? Put another way, if you take the hill away does sound travel as far? Sadly, I can’t run the model today after all. The software still won’t function despite the best efforts of our IT support.

Well, it leaves the rest of the day free for writing and editing.  I want to say something redemptive about writing. A sense of perspective, seeing the larger patterns. I’m sure that it is true, but sat in the middle of choosing photographs and writing captions I can’t help longing for the next time I’m in the field.