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Maternity leave archaeological-style: blogging and breastfeeding

It’s July 2014, and I’m back for the fourth year, writing about what my day as an archaeologist is like. Reading my previous posts is like a humourous lesson in modern academic careers – just as you think life might be going one way, everything changes! A year ago I’d just started a postdoc at Universite Bordeaux, and I wrote about that project, what I was doing and the amazing Massif Central region we work in.

Two other things had just started too, which are the focus of this year’s post. The first is an exciting collaborative project which launched in May 2013, and which has been incredibly successful. The second new thing in my life last year, I wasn’t even aware of – but as I sat writing for Day of Archaeology, I was starting another more personal project: growing a baby! Both these things have had a big impact on my professional life in the last year, and I want to talk about what these two “extra-curricular” aspects of life as an archaeologist have been like, and how they relate to what I am doing today.

The TrowelBlazers project started in the digital world- one afternoon on Twitter in April, discussion was being had about the lack of recognition of women’s contribution in archaeology, and the need for some kind of online resource to celebrating it. After some “get on with it then!” prompting, four of us decided to start a blog doing just that. We are myself, Tori Herridge (dwarf mammoth expert), Brenna Hassett (dental anthropologist) and Suzanne Pilaar Birch (zooarchaeologist). Given only two of us are archaeologists, we widened our remit to women from other fields that use trowels (mighty tools they are). So a “trowelblazer” is officially a woman working in archaeology, geology or palaeontology. Tori takes credit for the superb pun!

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Team TB!

Having begun the project at short notice, we started out using Tumblr, and aimed to have short, fun but respectful posts, bringing to the wider world examples of trowelblazers, both famed and lesser known. Each post also needed to have a stonking image, because (most of us) live in a highly visual world, and this can create a unique connection to the figures we featured, some of whom were working in the early 20th century, or even earlier.

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Just a few of our 80+ articles – some famous faces, some less so.

From the start, we aimed to only use open access images, or where these weren’t available, to source permissions directly. We also wanted to make TrowelBlazers a community effort, so we also opened the project up to crowd-sourced submissions. We can safely say, the last 14 months since our beginnings as online chit-chat have been a roller-coaster of discoveries, fun collaborations and a lot of hard work. The latter is why TrowelBlazers is “extra-curricular” to my official job- all four of us (working as a team spread across France, UK and the US) are early career researchers, who work on this project voluntarily, in our spare time (which may or may not be weekends and evenings…).

While some colleagues are non-plussed that we put so much energy, for free, into this project, others really get what we’re doing. We are also kept going by the wonderful feedback we get from non-professionals, and the fact that it’s fantastic fun. We’ve been involved with many organisations including the British Geological Society and Science Grrl, with mainstream media (including CNN and the Guardian), made a film on what palaeontologists do with the very cool Catherine Bennet (alter-ego of performance artist Bryony Kimmings), and connected people together, such as linking up a real Egyptologist (Petrie Museum curator Alice Stevenson( with Jump! Mag to help them base their educational story in fact. We also put together a Wikipedia Editathon hosted at the Natural History Museum to try and sort out the deplorable state (or total lack in many cases) of trowelblazers’ entries.

Plus we’ve made efforts to get involved with the scholarly communities who work on this type of thing, resulting in multiple conference papers (Royal Society Revealing Lives, AAA, EAA and ESHE), one book chapter and further publication possibilities. We hope that we can therefore, in the absence so far of funding, at least ensure our invested energy also goes towards our CVs, something all early career researchers have to constantly think about.

To celebrate our own first birthday, we launched a brand-spanking new website in May this year, This is one of the activites I’m doing today on the Day of Archaeology- writing new content for our site. I’ve been really into palaeontology for a long time out of personal interest, and only recently discovered this fossil finder who should be better known than she is. Without wanting to spoil the story, it’s a great example of a girl whose sharp mind and eyes spotted something others didn’t, but who wasn’t believed. Only the next year a boy with the right connections was able to convince people of what he’d seen, and ended up with one of the most important fossils in the history of palaeontology named after him. Was it just bad luck, or was it thanks to 1950s ideas of what young girls were capable of? Either way, this is one trowelblazer who needs to be celebrated much more widely.

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The homepage for our magnificent website (designed for us by Neil Monteiro!). The circles link to articles, and change each time you refresh!

As well as our website, TrowelBlazers has a strong presence on social media (Twitter and Facebook), so I and the rest of the team will also be looking out for other cool Day of Archaeology posts, and sharing those for our many followers.

So, to the second New Thing- becoming a parent. I found out I was pregnant at the end of last year’s field season ( which involved hauling a lot of rocks about, oops). After recovering from the surprise, I took a look at how this new adventure was going to fit into the one I was already on- working in France on my first postdoc. I was extremely fortunate to be on a good contract that guaranteed me the same rights to maternity leave as a French employee (thanks to it being a Marie Curie Fellowship). Coming from the UK, the 16 weeks I was entitled to felt quite short – 9 months is routine there – but as I work for the Universite Bordeaux, a public sector entity, I would receive full salary for the period of leave. I’m well aware that compared to US archaeological colleagues, I was very lucky indeed- they often only get paid 2 weeks, if any! My maternity leave officially finished in June, but I’ve stretched it out a bit by adding on several weeks of this year’s holiday allowance, meaning I can be at home right up to when we head off to the field at the end of July.

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The newest addition to the TrowelBlazers team- and something I’m occupied with today!

It’s thanks therefore to the fact I’m still sort of on baby-time that I’m able to be here writing this Day of Archaeology post- albeit most of one-handed! However, as many people tried to convince me beforehand (but I didn’t believe them), getting much done for my postdoc during the past four months has been virtually impossible. Trying to work when raising a very young baby means attempting to fit things into very short free blocks of time every few hours, if you’re lucky, while operating on very little (and broken) sleep, every day. Not a recipe for success! I was hoping to get more done than I have, but am pleased that I managed to get a blog post of my own out (following some fun news about Neandertal poo!), and more recently get back into TrowelBlazers writing, as well as academic work through reviewing journal articles, organising a conference session in September and resuming final edits on a paper from my PhD research.

I’m returning to work in the field very soon, but in the meantime have been working out logistics of being a new parent that are specific to aspects of being an archaeologist- fieldwork and conferences! Again very luckily, my husband is at home during my postdoc, so childcare is not a problem. As she’s breastfed, we will probably try a mix of him bringing the baby to the field station and excavation site so I can feed her directly, alongside some expressing to provide morning and feeds while I’m working. Similarly, I’ll be at three conferences in September, two of which the family will be together, but the third in Turkey I will probably be attending alone. While this will be my first absence from the baby which is nerve-wracking, I will still also have to manage expressing milk while I am actually at the conference, in order to protect my supply (if you miss too many feeds, not only does it get physically uncomfortable, but your body assumes you don’t need milk in future). So the final activity of today will be planning accommodation for these conferences, but also deciding whether to purchase a light-weight transportable breast pump I can use while at the conference (provision of space to do this is another question!) as well as on fieldwork, and continuing to express milk now between feeds in order to have a stock in the freezer for my absence.

There you have it- a day at home, technically on holiday post-maternity leave, but still full of activities related to my archaeological life. If only I could get my hands on one of those time-multipliers that Hermione Granger had, this would all be a doddle!

75 Years of the Institute of Archaeology, or, my day #1,383 in the IoA House…

Archaeology has meant many things to me – Archaeological musings in Bahrain circa 1986 (aged 4);

Bahrain 1986 Archaeology

So it begins…the author, aged 4, exploring the desert…

Archaeogical digs in Colchester; Archaeology BA from Southampton 2000; Archaeological reconstruction Scottish Crannog Centre crazy Iron Age Woman 2003;  UCL MSc Archaeology and Human Evolution 2005; Archaeological reflection St Kilda 2006; Archaeological Consultancy 2007: Archaeological Administrator 2008-present…as I enjoy day 1,383 in the Institute of Archaeology house I can reflect on my time here, which has flown by (thanks to my tremendous colleagues and the most splendid of students!!!) and my Admin Archaeological work…

A typical day:

8.27am arrive…drink coffee

9am commence work – emails / tours / forms / UCAS / meetings / external meetings / student meetings

11am more coffee under the auspicious gazes of Wheeler, Grimes, Childe and Kenyon in the Staff room…


Wheeler Method – the father of the IoA (on this our 75th Anniversary year!)

12pm sometimes desk cover for the reception – lots of waving at people (should a receptionist wave?)

1pm – ham, salad cream and rocket on rye – hearty lunch of archaeological champions

2pm – 5.30pm – forms / liaise / meetings / sort / web / social networking (for work!) etc and so forth.

As far as an admin job goes this particular one rocks – it’s the best of both Archaeological worlds – I still get the chance to dig / attend some lectures / talk to archaeological folk / do some archaeological outreach but I get an office, with a fan, a musical boombox and a computer – less problematic for my tired archaeological knees.  I also get to administer the applications of the new generation of Archaeologists.

This year has been our 75th Anniversary – the anniversary of Mortimer’s dream coming to fruition and his wife, Tessa Wheeler, securing the money for the IoA in Regents Park (St John’s Lodge) –  super photos from the 1950s onwards.

We have had the following events in the IoA this year:

6 Inaugural Lectures

5 75th Anniversary Debates

1 Alumni Party (IoA Director Prof Stephen Shennan’s speech)

…and 1 Massive World Experimental Archaeology Day in Gordon Square – Pics here!

Sat 9th June World of Archaeology!

Working at the IoA is a joy – every day is different…and for me it provides the perfect balance of admin and Archaeology – plus it is really close to the British Museum for all the best outings!

So…to plug the IoA once again – you can follow us on Facebook there are pics and news about the workings of an Archaeological Institution (thanks to the Guardian and the student survey – the UKs number one Archaeology Department! Thank you graduands!)

Charlotte Frearson – Undergraduate Programmes Administrator / Museums Placement Organiser / Fieldwork Administrator / Social Networker / Moodler…

Archaeology on the web

My name is Tom Goskar, and I am Wessex Archaeology‘s web manager. I am also one one of the team behind the Day of Archaeology, an international online event which has taken months in the planning.

Like the rest of the Day of Archaeology team, my day has been an incredibly busy one. Essentially it began in earnest yesterday evening (if that’s not cheating) putting the final touches to the DoA website, through to seeing the first post from the Guardian’s Maev Kennedy go online.

After some sleep, I have been helping to keep the website well-oiled and ticking along. I have been doing this whilst publishing and planning web content for Wessex Archeology, who have helped to support the Day of Archaeology by providing some of my time during the day to help run it. Today, I have published some updates about a large excavation that is happening in the heart of Dorchester, the Roman town of Durnovaria. I’ve also been following back people who have recently started following Wessex on Twitter, planning some future web content for an industrial site that we are working on in the north of England, and looking at ideas for publishing some of our content as e-books (in EPUB format) and how we might fit that into our existing design workflows. There are some promising tools out there, and it’s exciting to think of the possibilities of publishing content that will look good on devices from smartphones to Kindles, iPads, etc. Especially when you have a back-catalogue of titles which are now out of print. We could give some publications a new lease of life. Specialist books which when printed are only ever available to a small number of people could have global distribution and benefit many more. Keep your eyes on the Wessex Archaeology website, there’s lots of exciting things planned for the future.

Today I have also just finished an article for a forthcoming publication based upon a talk I gave earlier this year as part the Centre for Audio-Visual Study and Practice in Archaeology (CASPAR) “Archaeologists & the Digital: Towards Strategies of Engagement” workshop in May 2011 at UCL in London. My paper is called Wessex Archaeology and the Web, a simple title, but one that explores how the organisation’s website has grown from a small nine page brochure-style website in 2001 to the  socially connected 4000+ page site that it is today. Major archaeological discoveries, such as the Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen amongst others were catalysts to expand and change the way we published information online. We’ve been earlier adopters of many “Web 2.0” (despite my hating that term) technologies and web services, as well as starting the first archaeology podcast, Archaeocast. Many other heritage organisations have looked to us for trying things out first, so we have been in the spotlight on many occasions. It’s been some journey since I relaunched the website in May 2002, and it still feels like this is just the beginning.

My philosophy has always been that archaeology is all about people; as archaeologists we have a duty to make our work available to as many people as possible, otherwise there is little point in what we do. We run the risk of becoming irrelevant to society if we do not broaden access to the information that we uncover. The web is instrumental to helping us to help people learn about their pasts, and the Day of Archaeology is a fantastic way of showing the sheer diversity of work that goes on inside archaeology, and how exciting and relevant it all is.

It has been wonderful to, throughout the day, read many of the posts as they have been published. It makes me excited to see so much happening in the world (literally – see the map of posts!) of archaeology, and that so many people have been passionate enough about their subject to tell the world about it through the Day of Archaeology website. I do hope that it inspires more archaeologists to shout about their work (we’re often quite shy) and see the benefits of the web, and that it inspires readers of this site to follow up the projects that they see here. Maybe some will be moved to take up archaeology in some way, maybe as a volunteer, joining a local dig, or even thinking about archaeology as a profession.

So, a big thank you to all who have contributed an entry to the Day of Archaeology so far, and to fellow organisers Lorna, Matt, Dan, Jess, Stu, and Andy. And thank you, dear reader, for supporting us by visiting and reading all about a day in the life of what is now 422 archaeologists.

It’s been a fun journey, and fingers crossed, there will be a Day of Archaeology 2012!

A deskbound archaeologist at work…

I’m Joe Flatman and I have two jobs in archaeology – I’m both a county archaeologist and a university lecturer in archaeology, working part-time between both in theory, full-time in both in reality. So this ‘Day of Archaeology’ is a standard very long one for me – a solid 12+ hours a day split between both jobs is not unusual, sometimes it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

I began today at 0700 when I dealt with the first of my work emails over breakfast (with a speedy sift through Facebook, Twitter and the Guardian for good measure – all increasingly ‘work’ related). After commuting into one of my two offices (a 30 minute bus ride), I have then spent the rest of the morning so far (its now 1100) doing various admin to do with my two jobs – a mixture of emails replied to and sent relating to my local government job and some book editing relating to my university job. This editing will take place all day long until at 1800 I go off to an evening work meeting, grabbing a meal on route. With luck I’ll finally get home about 2200 and have a beer while watching some dumb TV show with my wife to unwind. What I do is not exactly the kind of work I expected to be doing when I started out in archaeology and it doesn’t fit the popular image of archaeology either – I’m working in an office in central London wearing smart clothes, not out on an archaeological site in some exotic location. But my work is interesting and challenging all the same, which is what I am after, and importantly I feel that i make a difference: my two jobs mean that I get to tell a lot of people about archaeology and also get to visit and help protect a lot of sites.

The majority of today will be spent quietly working on editing two different books, a side of archaeological work that many people are not aware of. These books are important for both of my jobs – they are about communicating archaeology and advising people how they can become more involved in archaeology themselves. Those two tasks are some of the most important things anyone in my position can do. If people don’t have the opportunity to learn more about and become more involved in archaeology, then we as a discipline are failing.

The first book I am working on today is an edited volume entitled ‘Archaeology in Society: It’s Contemporary Relevance’. I am co-editing it with an old friend, another archaeologist based in the USA. The book has 21 chapters, 30 authors and over 300 pages – it is huge! The book is all about how archaeology plays a role in modern society – how archaeological data is used by people from all walks of life, how archaeologists work in different sectors of society and contribute to the economy, and how archaeology can help us make a better and fairer world. The book originated from a conference held back in 2007 – five years later the books is now very nearly done, we’re just checking the final set of ‘proofs’, the last draft of the book before it gets sent off to be printed. This is our last chance to check that the spelling and grammar are correct, the pages properly laid out, and so on. It is an intimidating thing to do – the next time we see this book it will be on the shelves of a bookshop for sale, so we have to get things absolutely right now.

The second book I am working on today is a much shorter introductory guide to archaeology. This book is ‘only’ 50,000 words long and I have been commissioned to write it by a publisher. I have spent the last 18 months slowly working on it off-and-on, and in two days from now I have agreed to submit a complete draft of the book to the publisher – a rough version of the whole book. The book is designed to be an introductory text for anyone interested in archaeology, explaining what archaeology is and how archaeological work is undertaken. It has been really fun explaining the entire practice of archaeology in interesting and accessible terms, choosing examples from around the world to illustrate my points. But it will also be a relief to send the book off to the publisher! That will only be the start of a whole new cycle though: the book will then have to be checked by an editor at the publisher for mistakes, ‘peer reviewed’ (read by another archaeologist who will judge its writing and data and make suggestions for improvements) and revised in the light of these peoples’ comments. Then I’ll have to arrange images for the book and also work with the publisher’s art department on its layout and format. Then the book will be ‘typeset’ – its pages laid out; and then finally I’ll be able to check these pages for errors before the book is finally printed and ready for sale. so my submission of a draft on Monday is merely the start of another 12 months at least of further work.