I’ve been a commercial archaeologist for 13 years and have worked in Ireland, Greece and Australia. My days once consisted of jumping into a muddy hole in the depths of winter to shovel out the sticky and waterlogged fills within and then trudge to the spoil-heap with heavy boots. My days also consisted of excavating beautiful wooden troughs in fulachta fiadh (burnt mounds) or excavating postholes of Bronze Age structures in the balmy summer sun. However, the recession in Ireland has led to a decline in commercial archaeological work and the absence of muddy viz-vest clad hordes of trowel-grasping excavators is the most visible proof of this!
8am. I found myself on a building site, in a dank basement peering down a 2m deep hole, wielding both a torch and a hand tape as I valiantly attempted to record a late medieval barrel-lined well and a medieval quarry pit that were visible in section. This was challenging to say the least as I wasn’t about to enter a deep, unshored foundation trench – safety first! In addition to my usual hard hat, safety boots and gloves, I was also wearing ear defenders and a dust mask, as they were breaking out concrete nearby; all you could see of my face were my eyes. A few snaps for the archaeological record later and I could be found slowly sinking into the spoil heap waving a metal detector around, listening for the beep that would indicate a potentially exciting small find. Unfortunately, all I seemed to detect today were the iron girders supporting the existing building. I did my best to wipe off the mud caking my steel-toe capped boots, but still felt guilty once I had climbed out of the basement and seen that the site cleaner had just finished vacuuming the construction site office.
I left site at 9.30am and caught a bus to the office. I’ve never managed to travel light as an archaeologist, but today I felt like a packhorse as I carted: my rucksack, the site records, camera, half-metre scale and metal detector to the bus stop. If you were walking through the City of London this morning and were almost taken out by an over-laden, slightly disheveled individual with hard-hat hair wearing a grubby pair of jeans – I can only apologise.
Present time. After a cup of tea and a catch-up (ok, ok – gossip) with my colleagues, I’ve settled down to write this post before starting work on a geotechnical watching brief report for a site I finished a few weeks ago. As thrilling as that sounds, I may need some chocolate biscuits for motivation. Does anyone want anything from the Co-op?