You don’t have to be an academic or a commercial field archaeologist to appreciate and theorise about the past. Although most people are aware of and agree with this view, archaeology as a discipline (arguably) retains an exclusive membership of ‘experts’ who are given responsibility for the majority of construction and discussion of narratives that are made on the past. For these narratives to be intellectually well-rounded and personally relevant, it is essential that the discipline is accessible to as many people as possible and participation is encouraged.
I am a student at the University of York, have just graduated with a BSc in Bioarchaeology and am about to commence an MA in Mesolithic Studies. During the past year I have had the privilege of being Editor-in-Chief of a journal called The Post Hole. The Post Hole is run by undergraduate students at York and other universities across the UK. It stands out against many other journals by its inclusivity and engaging tone, making it a brilliant platform for literally anyone to share their research and views on the past.
A diverse audience of people read and have written for The Post Hole, including: Undergraduates, postgraduates, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and professors, commercial field archaeologists, conservators, professionals from public and private-sector heritage organisations, community archaeologists and even one or two members of the public not formally involved with archaeology. Consequently, each monthly issue of The Post Hole is always interesting to read!
I am proud to have been involved with an initiative that has put me into contact with so many people who have fascinating interests and involvements with the past – whether it’s a student with a unique and otherwise under-acknowledged dissertation project, a member of the public running a community project that engages local school pupils with the past, or someone reflecting on their experiences of interacting with the past in their job or visit to a museum. I recommend a browse of the journal’s archive to find out more about what The Post Hole publishes.
Beyond The Post Hole and focusing specifically on the involvement of students with archaeology, I and two other students at the University of York held the 1st Annual Student Archaeology (ASA) Conference in June 2013. The two-day conference brought together undergraduate, Masters and doctoral students from universities across the UK, from as far afield as Aberdeen and Southampton. The purpose of the conference was to establish a new forum for students to engage with academic archaeology by sharing and discussing their research and volunteering activities with each other and people following the conference on Twitter and via a live-streamed video.
The 1st ASA Conference proved to be an enormous success. More than 70 students came to York and left with new ideas, new connections and well-deserved recognition for their contributions to archaeology – whether it be running the Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project in schools, carrying out innovative experimental research on the phenomenology of Old Babylonian oil divination, or zooarchaeologically revealing undiscovered practices of cock-fighting in Roman Britain.
I do occasionally find time to carry out my own research on the past. I specialise in the chemical identification of organic residues that have been absorbed into archaeological materials, such as pottery. My undergraduate dissertation involved me carrying out analysis of organic residues from modern food that was experimentally cooked in replicas of Jomon pottery from Japan, some of the earliest ceramic vessels in the world. The purpose of this work was to build a reference dataset for analysis of actual Jomon pottery that my supervisor is currently carrying out. Current results have been published and I hope to begin my steps towards becoming a lecturer by making further publications and conference presentations.
Although I would like to become a lecturer in order to research the past for a living, I hope a result of many of the activities you will read about via the Day of Archaeology will be that my career aim will not exclude me from fascinating and truly-valuable individuals who follow alternative paths to mine.