Melbourne

Lost in Trowelslation… and other terrible puns

On this, the day in which people all over the world tell you about the amazing and wonderful and envy-inspiring things they are doing, I wish I had a story to tell you that would blow your freaking socks off. I wish I could tell you that I was defiantly digging during a sandstorm in the ruins of Egypt. I wish I could tell you I was standing over a trench in a remote forest in Peru. Hell, I wish I could tell you I was standing in a cow paddock surrounded by curious bovine, digging hole after empty hole. Sadly however the reality is I find myself, on the Day of Archaeology, at the library. Yep, the library.

Day of Archaeology

My name is Sam, I have been working professionally as an archaeologist for a little over two years now. I’m based in Melbourne, Australia and while I’ve done a little bit of work overseas most of my career has been spent digging holes right here. This year I made the decision to go back to University and make my degree a little bit more impressive. I really want to emphasise the word little in that last sentence. So now I split my time between the office and on campus at the University of Melbourne. While I know this decision in the long term means that I will get to dig more holes in the future, it has severely cut down the amount of fieldwork I get to do which is super annoying. On the upside my car has never been cleaner, so there’s that.

It also means that while the rain pours down outside I am cosy and warm, reading some big old dusty books and sneakily eating the bag of pretzels I have stashed in my bag so the librarians don’t catch me. There is however, no place like an archaeological site. The neatly dug trenches, the steel capped boots and the anticipation of finding something. I can’t wait to get back there next week!

Day of Archaeology 2

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Archaeology and Mining (and Reptiles!) in Western Australia

I have been working as an archaeologist at an archaeological consultancy firm, since late last year and today is a rare day for me – a day in lieu! As this hasn’t been very exciting, I will document the day for which I earned this time off..

Since joining my work place, most of my work has been based in our Melbourne head office. We take on a variety of clients, and one of our biggest projects is based in the Pilbara desert, Western Australia, where a number of iron ore mines have been, or are currently being, constructed. The Pilbara desert is also home to some of our richest and previously undisturbed Indigenous heritage, and there are several practices that mining companies must observe prior to developing the land in accordance with Western Australian Indigenous heritage legislation. This is where we come in.

For most of the year, my work has included managing the data that has been sent back from the field in the Pilbara and writing reports (there are lots to be written!), most of which are applications for Ministerial consent to disturb archaeological sites. Following the completion of one such report and the receipt of Ministerial consent to conduct excavations at a number of sites, I was sent with one of our teams out to the desert to take part in these excavations. This was my first time out to the Pilbara, and I was quite nervous! Western Australia is home to some of our deadliest snakes, and the first thing I saw when I arrived at our accommodation was a sign outside my door reading ‘beware of snakes’. It struck me then just how far from the office I was..

The day on which this photo was taken was characteristic of my two week ‘swing’ (or fieldwork stage) out on the mining site. We generally rose at 5.15am, leaving us time to eat breakfast and pack our lunches before meeting the rest of the team at 6am. We usually arrived on site by 6.20am, working through until 4pm. This photo was taken towards the end of the swing, and on this day we were working in a lovely, large and shady site and were conducting excavations. We found a range of cultural material at the site, making it a particularly interesting working day, and the three archaeologists present took it in turns at excavating, sieving and site recording. Also on site were field representatives of the mining company and the Traditional Owners, who we work very closely with in all areas of our archaeological site investigations.

Working in the Pilbara also meant working closely with wildlife! A number of snakes were spotted on this day (thankfully, not by me), and we received a visit from this curious gecko during our lunch break.. After a cuddle and a photo opportunity, he was  returned to his rock in the sun where he watched us work for the rest of the day, apparently finding our ‘day of archaeology’ as interesting as we did. After packing up our equipment, we then headed back to camp for showers, dinner, and a mid-strength beer or two.

And now that we’re safely home in Melbourne, here comes the really fun part – writing up the excavation report!

 

A Day In The Life

So what’s all this ‘geophysics’ nonsense about, eh?

I went to a lecture by an archaeologist at the local university yesterday, and he said that the most important thing about archaeology is to have fun. And this applies to geophysics and, indeed, any career (except accounting, I would imagine). I became an archaeological geophysicist out of passion, interest and a genuine enjoyment out of the job. Each site always has something new and fascinating to learn, and the site I am currently looking at is no exception.

But before I can do anything… where did I put my bloody laptop cable? I misplaced the power cable to my laptop about a week ago, and I ran the battery flat last night (I am writing this from my desktop computer), so I am having difficulty processing the data I collected a few days ago!

No matter. Let me now waffle on for a while about my current area of focus. I am putting together a proposal for a geophysical survey of a nineteenth-century railway near Melbourne (Australia). A temporary (i.e. it lasted for almost four years) settlement for the railway workers was established alongside the railway, and there was even a cemetery which is known to have the burials of a number of infants in a paddock nearby. I have been asked to find the graves (no grave markers exist at the site now) and also to try and find the settlement (which is believed to have been just tents and timber houses for the most part. The settlement site is about 700 x 700 metres in dimensions, so is quite a large site. I have decided to propose a magnetic susceptibility survey, the results of which will allow a magnetometry survey to be narrowed-down (to reduce costs and time spent in the field). This research is being done simply out of interest, rather than as part of a commercial project, so funding is going to be scarce. But I am truly excited about this one!

So today I am talking with Heritage Victoria about the proposal and preparing the proposal itself to pass on to the client. In between doing that, and writing this blog post, I am also doing a bit of marketing (which is a daily habit) to keep up interest, and have been discussing the railway settlement site with the Hunter Geophysics ‘fans’ on Facebook. I feel that informing the public about my work is vitally important; it is, after all, their history that I am researching. Facebook is just one method of letting the public know what I am up to. I am also preparing a presentation for the upcoming Royal Historical Society’s meeting in Bendigo (country Victoria) about my recent work in another cemetery (most of my work is in cemeteries!) – I want to get at least half an hour of work done on that today, but half the trouble is finding the time. It might be a job for the weekend. Finally, this evening, I have a meeting with the Secretary of the local historical society – she has been a mentor since my high school years; it will be good to catch up with her.

Now, it’s the end of the day; time for a Parma at the pub. Oh, wait, damn; I’m not doing fieldwork today – no Parma for me.