PhD reading with distractions

In my English Heritage team meeting on Monday one of colleagues who works in PR chastised me and a colleague for being too sun-tanned. “Get back in your libraries, historians!” he exclaimed. My indignant response: “But I’m an archaeologist!” (yes my job title is Senior Properties Historian but I like to remind people I gave up history at GCSE).

In an e-mail conversation on Tuesday a colleague was encouraging me to join the CIFA. My response: “I’m not sure I’m enough of a proper archaeologist to join” (she told me stop making excuses and sort out my paperwork).

Ah, the old dilemma! Can you call yourself a real archaeologist when you sit at a desk most of the time and haven’t picked up a trowel for over a year? Well, today I am preparing to head out in the field and really do some archaeology – in a couple of weeks I’m heading up to Orkney to take part in the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar. How am I preparing? By sitting at my desk and reading. I last went in 2008 so need to refresh my knowledge!

The Ring of Brodgar, taken on my last visit to Orkney

The Ring of Brodgar, taken on my last visit to Orkney

So, here I am reading about the lovely and fascinating Neolithic archaeology of Orkney. As well as working for English Heritage, I’m undertaking a funded part-time PhD on Neolithic ceremonial monument complexes, and Orkney is one of my case studies. Not a bad way to spend a very rainy Friday. I wanted to make sure that I was up to speed on all things Orkney so that I can make the most of my time up there – visiting specific sites at the weekends and talking to people with knowledge about the latest discoveries etc. I start with some draft chapters for Colin Richards’ forthcoming book on his excavations in the Bay of Firth which I’m lucky to have been sent by my supervisor. This soon leads me to look at a lovely paper about the whether or not Orkney was wooded in the Neolithic (Farrell et al 2014) and then into some more general papers and books. Luckily there are so many blogs, online articles and lots of lovely pictures that its very easy to get lost for quite a few hours!


The books I brought back from the library and/or pulled off my shelf for today. Cat for scale.

I’m interspersing my Orkney reading with some theory reading for Chapter 1 of my PhD – hence the rather old-school books that you might spot in the above photo. I’m looking at ceremonial monument complexes in relation to power and competition so have been spending a lot of time reading and writing about previous archaeological theories about social stratification, power structures and social organisation.

So, my day has been full of reading and writing, interspersed with the following distractions:

1) Checking my work e-mails (I don’t work on a Friday but usually check in to make sure nothing blowing up). Today I just had to provide a few sentences for our press office on the discovery of a burial in the ditch of Wilsford henge at the University of Reading excavations – very interesting, I guess it’s an early Bronze Age burial and quite a common thing to find later burials like this at late Neolithic sites.

2) Finding a really fascinating looking conference at Cardiff on British medieval myths and legends and deciding to fire off a quick abstract (today is their deadline). I’ve been spending the last year or so at EH researching Tintagel Castle, where we opened a new exhibition last week, and I think a paper on the site and its legends, and how they relate to Cornish, English and British identities might be really interesting, plus I might learn quite a lot by attending!

3) Sharing on Twitter the fact that our grumpy letter to New Scientist about the portrayal of prehistoric people in a recent article had been published.

4) Booking a B&B near Penzance for a work trip, firing e-mails to the Royal Cornwall Museum and Penlee Museum to see if they have objects from Chysauster and searching the Cornwall Record Office catalogue to see what they have that’s relevant – Chysauster ancient village is another current interpretation project of mine. I have to go down at short notice for a site meeting on 3rd-4th August to discuss conservation, so I’m trying to make the most of it by visiting museums and the record office while I’m down there. These tasks just didn’t fit into my 2.5 EH days this week and if I don’t kick them off today it’ll be too late (Cornwall + August = little accomodation!).

5) Making a list of books to look at in the British Library on Monday – I’m there for a union meeting but am going to make the most of it to see things that aren’t available in Cardiff or Bristol university libraries that I need for my PhD reading for Chapter 1.

6) Reading other posts and writing this! Thanks Day of Archaeology for showing everyone the many and varied ways in which people can be archaeologists 🙂

Better get back to that reading….