A Day of Excavation

(by Meaghan)
Friday July 29th 2016
4 am – Up packed and ready to jump in the car to drive the 300+ kilometers to the site. A historical dig in the city. This will be my first ever dig experience so I’m more than a little nervous. Its dark when we pull out of the driveway and partner suggests I go back to sleep while he drives. I try closing my eyes, but don’t sleep. We stop at a roadhouse on the way for a quite coffee and an egg and bacon sandwich. I feel a little more relaxed after that.
8:15 am– We didn’t get lost or stuck in traffic so I arrive at the site earlier than requested. It’s a rare empty space between city buildings. Walking in I find myself behind a tall fence looking at a graded dirt lot which a number of people in florescent work jackets are already shoveling loads of earth into wheelbarrows and cleaning sieves. Outside the fence you can hear all the typical noises a city makes, but the site itself is like a quiet oasis.There are three shipping containers at the back of the lot, I ask which direction to the office to sign in and two women cleaning sieves point towards them. The woman in the office gives me a warm smile when I enter, signs me in and gets me to wait in one of the shipping containers which has been converted into a lunch room with a refrigerator, microwave and urn for hot water. It is far more civilized than I’d envisioned. I find out that the third container is the bathroom and the other the conservation lab where another group of students will be working to clean, assess and catalog any artifacts uncovered.
9 am– Formal site induction with the site supervisor and several other students on work experience. I find out that I am the only one in the group who will be staying the whole day, but I will most likely work with one or more of these people next two weeks, so I try to remember their names.
10 am – I’m sent to the field area to find the supervising archaeologist where I’m handed a trowel and a shovel and instructed to start scrapping back a small area. The earth is harder than I thought it to look at. In the process I uncover a rounded deposit of really sticky clay which I am told may indicate the location of a post hole. The archaeologist supervising tells me to mark around it and move onto another area and see what else we can find.
10:50 am – we break for morning tea. Its cold and has threatened rain all morning so we all huddle in the lunch room. Everyone is super friendly, which is a relief. Some of them have already been working on this  project  for weeks before the dig began, others only started on Monday. Some wander to a nearby cafe and come back with coffee. I must remember to bring some change for coffee when I return next week. It smells really good.
11:20 am– I spend an hour and a half with one of the archaeologists scraping back earth to reveal yet more areas of clay while another group work at uncovering stone foundations. The supervisor deems the area they have named “Site A” clear enough for us all to start scraping back in a long line. We start at the outer edge of the site and trowel back, removing debris and the loose earth left by the excavators. There are about ten of us working in a long line, each troweling an area approximately a meter and a half wide. Senior, junior archaeologists and work experience students work side by side, all at the same task.  The archaeologist I’m working next to shows me how to work the trowel and alternate hands so I don’t get cramps. She tells me which size trowels work best for what areas and another tells me where to get decent quality ones online. I find some broken crockery pieces and bottles, and a lot more clay.
1:45 pm– It drizzles rain and the supervisor calls lunch. Most of us head for the lunch room, a few head back to the cafe. In the lunch room the archaeologists chat about other places they have worked and their favorite and least favorite projects. I try and file away some of this information for future reference.
2:30 pm- The rain has stopped and we are all back to troweling. Everyone is in good spirits and chatting away about archaeology, places they have worked and  the kinds of characters they have met on digs in the past. Troweling is almost hypnotic, but by 3:30 my knees are getting stiff and my arms starting to ache. The ground is damper now, which is making it somewhat easier. Someone finds a broken piece of a smoking pipe. There are pieces of ceramic pots and more slivers of broken china and glass.
3:45 pm- We’ve all but finished troweling back Site A and it rains. Properly this time. We wait it out in the lunch room.
4:15 pm – The rain stops. Site A is full of puddles and slippery clay now. The site supervisor makes the call to abandon Site A for today and start hoeing back Site B, which sits much higher and has still to be dug out. We spend thirty minutes or so with everyone hoeing and shoveling out wheelbarrow loads of earth and debris before it begins raining again. By this time we are all very muddy.
4:50 pm – The site supervisor calls it a day. We all put away tools and sign out in the office where myself and the other work experience students are handed our days stipend, a small payment to assist with the cost of transport to the site and lunch etc. There is very limited parking around the site so those who live or are staying locally must use public transport, which I decide I will do next week to save five days of long drives.
5:10 pm- My partner meets me in a nearby car park where I awkwardly  change out of my muddy boots and clothes in the back of our car before the long drive home. It takes us over an hour just to get out of the city and onto the road home, but I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to tell him all about my first day.Somewhere around the 100 km mark I fall asleep mid-sentence and don’t wake until we pull into the driveway

A Student’s Day of Archaeology

Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects

Fig. 1 – Some of my Day of Archaeology Projects (Photo by Daniel Leahy)

I am currently a second year undergraduate student at the University of New England (UNE) in New South Wales, Australia.  I’m studying a Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Archaeology and History.

I had planned to visit a local site on the Day of Archaeology, however poor weather on the day (and for much of the week before) prevented this from happening.  Instead, much of my Day of Archaeology revolved around my studies.  This included catching up on recorded lectures for some of my classes; completing an online quiz about historical archaeology; and making more notes for an upcoming history essay comparing memorials of the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War.  Studying via distance (i.e., online) meant all of this was done in the comfort of my own home.

Recently I have been involved in a project called the ‘Digital Air Force’ for the website,, whose goal is to digitally document Australia’s aviation heritage using modern technology.  Part of this includes 3D scanning artefacts related to aviation heritage.  So on the Day of Archaeology I started work on creating a digital 3D model of a small piece of metal from a Second World War aircraft crash site (see bottom of Figure 1).  In a nutshell, this process – known as ‘photogrammetry’ – requires a lot of photos of an object to be taken from all angles.  These photos are then loaded into a computer program which determines the angle and distance at which each photo was taken, builds a model of the object, then stitches the images together to form the textures of the object.  This is a process I learnt about at an archaeology conference last year and have been experimenting with in my own time.  The first part of this model was created overnight and resulted in what is known as a ‘dense point cloud’ of the scanned object (see Figure 2, below).  At the moment this still needs quite a lot of work done to remove the surrounding items which were captured, clean up parts of the artefact itself, and join ‘chunks’ to form a complete model but it is hoped this will be completed over the weekend.

Dense Point Cloud (WIP) of WWII Aircraft Wreckage

Fig. 2 – Dense Point Cloud of WWII Aircraft Wreckage (Image by Daniel Leahy)

Personally I became interested in archaeology (and palaeontology) at a very young age.  I was however dissuaded from pursuing a career in either of those fields because of a perceived lack of money that would be made.  Instead, I followed my uncle into the I.T. industry, completing a Bachelor of Information Technology degree then working with a variety of systems for about ten years.  It was at this time that I felt I had to change careers and decided to formally study archaeology, which today I feel is one of the best decisions I have ever made.


(P.S.  July 29th was also my birthday, hence the greeting card from an archaeologist friend which can be seen in Figure 1).

Hard Work Pays Off!

This is my third year of doing this. In the previous years I had wrote about the desire to go back to school and then when I actually went back. On June 26, 2015, I graduated from my community college, Foothill College, with double honors, two Anthropology certificates, and my AA in Anthropology. This was a huge accomplishment for me because I am a mother of five and my (soon-to-be-ex-) husband recently left my children and I out of the blue… and homeless (my parents have been kind enough to allow us to stay with them until I can find a place of my own, which I’m hoping will be soon). To say things have been easy is a huge understatement. I will begin work on my BA in January 2016. The original plan was to begin in August 2015, but some things have come up that are preventing me to do that, so January it is.

I may not have any exciting stories to tell yet but I am sure as I move on to my BA and things get going –maybe even some volunteer work thrown in there- I’ll eventually have stories to tell. But for now, I leave you with this: FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!!! Don’t let anything stand in your way. Hard work DOES pay off! And if you are a parent… don’t be discouraged in thinking that you can’t be a parent and a student, it IS possible and doable!

The Work of the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. Lauren Buttle, student volunteer in the Pictorial Art section, has come on an informal visit to the workshop. Denise Ling shows her a terracotta figure (GR1863,0728.275) being reconstructed for a loan.

The work of the Ceramics, Glass & Metals Section, British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research. Lauren Buttle, student volunteer in the Pictorial Art Section, has come on an informal visit to the workshop. Denise Ling shows her a terracotta figure (GR1863,0728.275) being reconstructed for a loan.

A Day in the Life of… a PhD Student!

Hi folks!

There are all kinds of contributors to the day of arch and I feel extremely proud to be one of them.  This is just an introduction to me and setting the scene for what I will actually be doing tomorrow.  My name is Rachael Reader and I am currently writing up my PhD thesis, hopefully handing in within the next three months.  My interest in archaeology began when I was eight (no, really!) when I was introduced to Time Team.  It seems a little cliched, but it is the God honest truth! My parents were more than happy to fuel my interest and let me dig up the back garden of my house in a little town, just outside of Barnsley (my best find to date is a 1980s ten pence piece…).  My parents found out where digs were happening and took me along to them, including one in York where I learnt the real truth about archaeology.  I had an illuminating conversation with someone working in the museum gardens who told me that archaeology was poorly paid, nothing like Time Team and definitely nothing like Indiana Jones (which meant little to me as even to this day, as I have still not seen the films!).  I asked the archaeologist why they still did it and they replied simply “because I love it”.  The enthusiasm he had, even when describing the negatives, sealed it for me and off I went to university to pursue my career.  I studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Birmingham University before doing my Masters at Cardiff, where I developed my current research interests in the later prehistoric period and particularly, the landscape approach to archaeology.

Whilst writing my Masters thesis I was pondering over what to do next.  I had spent several weeks here and there, excavating with the University but also community digs, including SHARP at Sedgeford in Norfolk.  I loved digging but had yet to know how commercial archaeology worked, so I began putting my CV together and waiting for jobs to come up at units.  However my supervisor directed me to an advert for a PhD position, at Bradford University and it involved two of my favourite things: Iron Age stuff and landscape! I could not resist and I eagerly put together my application, was offered an interview and ultimately the position, which I was thrilled to accept.  I began my current position in October 2008 and I feel a little sad that I am beginning to wind down and *gulp* hand in.