A Trainee Archaeologist’s First Week

I have just finished my first week as a trainee archaeologist with Oxford Archaeology East. I am based in their Cambridge office as I live in Peterborough (and adore Cambridge!). It has been an amazing week, and it’s been a long and twisting road to get here – I graduated with a BA in Archaeology in 2007, but through a series of bad choices ended up in retail jobs for the next 7 years. During this time I did a lot of volunteer work with museums, historic environment centers and city council offices, and ended up with an MA in Preventive Conservation somehow as well. I would apply for trainee jobs and internships but did not have enough experience. Then the planets aligned, and a few months after my contract finished at my last job, Oxford Archaeology East had a community volunteer dig – the Romans of Fane Road. I attended almost every day of the 3 weeks, and then applied with OAE as they were looking for trainees to take on.

A month later and I finally get my big break and start working for OAE. Through a lot of perseverance I’m finally getting to live my dream. Enough of my back-story, this is what my first week was like!

First thing I learnt about was the early mornings – everyone has to be in the office at 7am to get to the site by 8!


I was starting along with 3 other recruits. We spent our first day being shown around the office, and talking to all the specialists (pottery, skeletal, human skeletal remains), as well as doing reams of paperwork! All of the Personal Protective Equipment we would need was issued (hard hat, high-vis jacket and trousers, ceramic-toed boots, fleece) and tried on. We spent the afternoon visiting the environmental archaeology unit (out at an old aircraft hanger) and visiting one of our sites to learn how OAE do feature photography.

Day 1 Excavation

The second day was much more exciting – on site! I was paired up with a lovely girl who had been digging for years, had already been on this site for 5 weeks, and had just started mattocking a trench in a long ditch to try and find something dateable – the previous 2 trenches had turned up empty. We took an environmental sample from the top layer, from which we soon found a piece of clay pipe and some vitrified clay. There were rabbit warrens intersecting the feature however, so we weren’t 100% that the pipe was where it should be.

Day 2 finds

We got our 1 metre trench cleaned out, so we did the context sheets for the cut and layers, and did the plans. I was a bit hazy on the specifics, but I’m sure the more I do them, the easier they will become!

Context sheets

Then the most exciting part of the day – I got to start my first solo trench! Further down the same feature, looking for more datable evidence. I only got half an hour, but it was enough to find a tiny bit of pottery in the top layer.

First trench

Day 3 was a total wash out – we only managed to spend an hour on site total in between huddling in the porta-cabin waiting for the rain to ease off. It was getting dangerously slippy, and the archaeology was in danger from us tramping muddy boots over everything.

Rain SiteRain trench

The rain never did ease off, so after an hour or 2 we headed back to the office for everyone’s favorite activity – finds processing!!

Finds Processing

Today was mostly back in the office; we had a bit more induction about the IfA and what our next 3 months will be like – starting a Personal Development Plan with our mentors, taking notes on our learning so we can join the IFA, that sort of thing. Then we all trooped into town to take our CSCS card test (which we all passed!). Most of the questions were laughably easy;

But it’s essential to show we all know the procedures to operate safely on an archaeological site.

Back at the office we learnt how to do the time sheets, and then more finds processing!

Next week we’ll be back on site again (weather permitting!), where we’ll start proceedings with our new mentors.

The Gabii Project: Archaeology in The Information Age

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Racel Opitz demonstrates use of the tablets to students .

Rachel Opitz doesn’t dig much at Gabii, but rather records. Leading a core team of four, her topography, data entry, and photogrammetric modelling unit is tasked with the construction of a digital database on a large scale.

“We have scale issues,” Rachel chuckles, “Well, they’re not issues because the method works.”

Rachel’s team has implemented strategies and introduced technologies aimed at increasing efficiency within The Gabii Project to support a large open area excavation. They upgrade software and propose new methods nearly every field season. Most recently, Rachel brought tablet technology to the scene, replacing almost all of the paper recording formerly done in the trenches with direct to digital recording on Panasonic ToughPads and Android tablets, linked in real-time to the project’s ARK database and GIS system.

“One of the reasons we were able to open such a large excavation area as is that the recording is just so fast,” Rachel states plainly. “You can answer very different archaeological questions working at this scale”

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

Several forms of digital recording can be uploaded and processed in real-time using the current configuration.

The Gabii Project isn’t the only dig using digital recording. Excavations at Çatalhöyük and Pompeii—to name a couple high-profile cases—are also making use of similar systems, and such methods have been increasingly adopted in recent years. In Rachel’s opinion, what sets The Gabii Project apart is Program Director Nicola Terrenato’s insistence on using these systems extensively from the beginning.

“More and more people are doing some variant on what we’re doing, and that’s a good thing. Of course we try to stay at the forefront, so five years from now we’ll be doing something totally different.”


You can follow Rachel’s work at: http://gabiiserver.adsroot.itcs.umich.edu/gabiigoesdigital/

Big School Dig 2012

Today, 31 children from North Duffield Community Primary School conducted a dig on the school playing fields. 3 test pits of 1x1m were dug by the children in groups of 10,10,and 11. As each group of 10(11) were digging , the remainder were washing finds from earlier field-walking We suffered sharp showers and high winds which challenged the stability of the gazebos erected to protect them.

At 12cms below ground level they encounteresd a dirty sand deposit with few inclusions although some charcoal and granules of what appeared to be cbm, were present. At 35cms plain yellow sand with no inclusions was found suggesting that natural had been encountered. The dig was more about introducing the children to live archaeology and the discipline of digging rather than what we found.

They thoroughly enjoyed there day, excited the interest of younger children who were keen to get involved and were impatient to have to wait for their turn nexct year.

Supported by the presence of Dr Jon Kenny of York Archaeological Trust, this was Community Archaeology at its best.