A Day in the Life of a Trainee Archaeologist

Hi my name is Emma and for the last 6 months I have been training to become a professional commercial archaeologist with Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. As part of my training I have also been undertaking an NVQ in archaeological practice.

Today, much like every day this past few months, I spent my day in a muddy field, digging –  pretty stereotypical of what one might expect an archaeologist to be doing on a daily basis, only much less glamorous than in films or on the television. But there is so much more to archaeology than just digging. As archaeologists our job is to uncover (literally and metaphorically!) and record the past; past people, objects, and places.

I am currently based on a development site near Stratford which as you can imagine is rich with archaeology. Today was a particularly interesting day (conveniently!) I started it by excavating and recording a crouched burial that had been uncovered during the machine stripping of the site. In crouched burials the individual is typically laid on their side with their arms flexed towards the head and the knees are bent. This type of burial practice is most commonly seen in the Bronze and Iron Age.

Having never excavated a grave before I was both excited and nervous; under the expert supervision of my colleague Elspeth, we began. Using small hand tools and brushes we carefully removed the soil to reveal the shape and position of the skeleton. Once cleaned it was time to take photographs. For this type of feature we took a few different types of photograph; both in black and white, and in colour, some with and without scales, but most importantly we took pictures from directly above with ‘rectifying points’. The exact location of these points will be recorded using a GPS . This will allow us to know the exact location of the burial and to scale photographs. All too soon it was tea break – an essential part of every archaeologists day! And as a Friday treat our project officer Richard had even bought us donuts!

Following the photographs our next job was to fill out the context sheets, describe and number the fills, and sketch the skeleton. This provides further information about the position of the skeleton for the specialists during analysis. Our final task before lifting from the ground was to measure levels on the skeleton directly and to do this we used a dumpy level. This task isn’t normally necessary however as we did not have a GPS on site today we needed to use the dumpy to record the position before the skeleton was lifted.

(Image of myself and Project Officer Richard recording the back-site with a dumpy level)

Finally it was time to remove the skeleton from the ground. During this process of the excavation we also took soil samples for further analysis from the areas around the head, chest, and pelvis. The reason behind this is to ensure that all bones and potential grave goods have been recovered, and for further environmental analysis. Just before lunch the weather however had other plans for us and took a dramatic turn for the worst, which led to the frantic creation of the make-shift tent below (now you see what I mean about not being quite so glamorous!)

(Elspeth and I excavating under our tarpaulin tent!)

After helping lift the skeleton, followed by some lunch, I was given the task of aiding my colleague Jesse with starting to dig a new feature; a very, very large ditch slot! I left Elspeth to finish recording the grave cut.

(Elspeth recording the grave cut)

At 8m long some might call this a monster of a ditch slot! It is part of the external enclosure of the site, and likely Late Iron Age or Early Roman in date. We also think that it is likely to contain two inter-cutting ditches, however,we will spend much of next week working out if this is true! Starting any new feature is always hard work, especially one this big, but we were rewarded for our efforts and right at the end of the day we were all very excited to have recovered a Roman coin.

(Jesse and I starting to dig our giant ditch slot!)

(Roman coin recovered from the ditch slot)