field archaeologist

Where is the WAC Student Committee today?

Hello! The WAC Student Committee is run by archaeology students for archaeology students. We’re a diverse group representing 8 different countries including: India, Iran, Australia, Italy, Honduras, the United States of America, Nigeria and Mexico. In this post four of our committee report on their DoA.

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Photo courtesy of Natalie Marquez.

Marta Lorenzon

Somewhere along the way apart from being a field archaeologist, I specialized in analyzing building material from archaeological contexts. So this year leaving behind the obvious glamour of being 24/7 in the field digging through mud, sand and rock- usually covered with my own feature of dust and sweat – I focus on analyzing mudbrick particle size and creating a report on mudbrick typology for a dig in Egypt. In this region, mudbrick architecture is quite common in both domestic and public context. Thus I spent my DoA examining the data collected last month in order to show how microscopic and macroscopic analyses of mud brick material are quite relevant to investigate raw source materials, building material techniques and production.


Photo courtesy of the Limina Collective

Jacqueline Matthews 

As an archaeology postgraduate student my usual day sees me sitting at a desk; reading journal articles and books, writing, seeking out literature, using my library’s special collections to collect ethnographic data, and meeting with supervisors and peers. My DoA started with some fantastic news: my MPhil research proposal, which I started four months ago, was approved! This approval is a key milestone in my degree; it ultimately means I’m now officially ‘doing’ this research. The rest of my day was quite out-of-the ordinary as I was in-transit as I headed out on fieldwork in the Pilbara region of Western Australia for a couple of weeks (more information and pictures in my personal DoA post). While I love my research and am lucky enough to receive a scholarship to allow me to focus on it, it is nice to have a break from my routine, get some fresh air and reconnect with some of the practical realities of ‘doing’ archaeology, which I often miss as I focus on theory in my research.


Rock Art site selfie, southern Arnhem Land

Jordan Ralph

I work on a casual basis as an archaeologist in two different sectors: academia and consultancy. My day of archaeology was spent travelling from my research assistant job at a field school in remote Northern Territory to my cultural heritage management job in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

I’m often asked if my job takes me to interesting places all over the world. Unfortunately, although I have travelled quite a bit, I haven’t had the pleasure of working outside of Australia. But that doesn’t make my experiences any less interesting. My job does take me to a lot of places within Australia – many places I’ve been to need different levels of permission, a good chunk of which is needed from local Indigenous communities. It can be a long process, but it’s right.  Last week for example, I visited a number of rock art sites in southern Arnhem Land, where I conduct my research, which only a handful of non-Indigenous people have ever seen. Today, I’m on my way to a new adventure in the Pilbara. While I’m relatively familiar with southern Arnhem Land, I’ve never worked in, or even been to, Western Australia. For the next two weeks I’ll be living in a mining camp and exploring, recording and excavating sites in the impact zone for mining development along with the rest of my team.

As for today, I’m travelling between jobs. In the last five days I have travelled 6,570km – something that has come to be part of my life.

Kate Ellenberger

Binghamton University Archaeological Field School, Courtsey of Kate Ellen

Excavation at the Binghamton University Archaeological Field School. Photo courtsey of Kate Ellenberger.

It’s the DoA, and I am on a speed-vacation between teaching my first archaeological field school and the annual week-long public archaeology program I help teach each year. One of my best friends from college is getting married tomorrow, so I traveled across the country to be here for a couple of days. I will return home for 7 hours before arriving back at work, ready to teach teenagers about archaeology.

This is a slice of my life for the past 5 years since I began graduate school for archaeology;  many small commitments and pockets of work that add up to a very full work life, with the occasional social intervention. If I’m lucky, when one demanding commitment ends, there’s another job to get me to the next step in my career. This week that means transitioning from educating college students to teaching young teens, and after that I’ll be installing an exhibit (did I mention I am a museum curator, too?), and after that revising websites for a local archaeology company. As a young professional I’m asked to take on many varied tasks. I’m happy to do them. Looking to the future, I am contemplating just which of those tasks is the one that I could stick with for a while. For now, I’m riding the adrenaline roller coaster of being a young archaeologist.


More Companies, More Changes

(Chris Webster – President and PI at DIGTECH, Co-Founder of Field Tech Designs, LLC, and host of the CRM Archaeology Podcast)

First, a big thanks again to the organizers of this event! It’s a lot to put on something like this. Go and buy something from their store to support this for many years to come!

Welcome to my fourth Day of Archaeology post! Hard to believe this has been going on for four years now. Every year, so far, I’ve been at a different stage in my life. Nothing stays the same around here, ever! Here are my last posts: 1st year here and here, 2nd Year, and 3rd Year.

Logo - No Back 900x400Last Year

When I wrote my 2013 Day of Archaeology post my new CRM company was just seven months old. I had done a few projects, but, I was mostly focused on the arduous task of business development (BD). I’ve never been good at BD. It seems that no one actually teaches you how to do it. So, I never really learned the ins and outs. I do have some networking skills, which helps, but that’s not all BD is about.

This Year

I’ve got a few more contracts down, but, I seem to have put the CRM side of DIGTECH on the back burner. That’s not to say I would turn down a contract if I were approached, I just don’t have time to go seek them out right now. What I’m really focusing on is my other company, Field Tech Designs.

FTD Banner SmallField Tech Designs

This is what I’ve been working on for much of today’s Day of Archaeology.

Excavation Forms

I’ve been subcontracted to do the excavation for a project in Lake County, CA and the fieldwork starts next week. It’s actually a pretty sweet gig. DIGTECH will do all the fieldwork, but, we aren’t doing any of the artifact analysis and report writing. While I do enjoy those phases of work, I don’t really have the time for it right now. So, this gets me out in the field, shovel in hand, and then allows me to get back to other tasks.

For the fieldwork, we’ll be using iPads rented from my other company, Field Tech Designs, to record the shovel tests and excavation units we’ll be digging. I’ve created custom forms for the shovel tests and spent a portion of today creating the excavation forms.

Working digitally will allow us to transmit the completed paperwork (should digital forms be called, electrowork? digiwork?) to the PI at his office 200 miles away every day. With cell service, we can transmit the forms as we finish them.

Tablet Rental Program

I’ve also spent some time coming up with the various pricing models we’re going to have for our tablet rental program. Over the last few months I’ve gotten the sense that some companies are a bit apprehensive about buying a fleet of tablets for their fieldwork. I don’t know if it’s the upfront cost of the tablets or the thought that they could easily break (which isn’t true). Either way, I thought that since they are used to renting things like Trimble GPS units anyway then a tablet rental would just make sense. Renting the tablets allows Field Tech Designs to assume the burden of keeping them maintained and updated while always giving the client the latest and greatest.

Video Tutorials

For the custom forms we are creating for our clients I always make a video detailing the use of the form and how to turn the digital data into a CSV file and then a Word Document. It’s pretty straight forward, but, if you’ve never done it there are a number of steps that just make more sense when you can see them.

Working on video editing this afternoon made me realize just how old my MacBook Pro is getting. I could really use an upgrade soon!

Podcast LogoPodcasting

I spent some time thinking about, and taking notes on, some things we’re going to talk about in the podcast we’re recording on Saturday. The CRM Archaeology Podcast is up to episode 38 and we’re still going strong. We’ve released an episode every other Monday for the last year and a half and we never lack for things to talk about. That’s why I’ve come up with another idea…

New Podcasts

I feel that the current podcast could really be split into a bunch of other shows. The shows would be essentially single topic shows that focus on really digging into whatever issue they are concerned with. I’m not going to go into too much detail right now, but, stay tuned for a lot more content about CRM Archaeology in the coming months.

Third Company

The last thing I did today was some research for a new company. This new entity will have something to do with aerial drones but I’m not going to go into it right now. We’re in the research phase right now. Since the FAA here in the U.S. is still up in arms about using drones for commercial purposes, we have some time. I’m a licensed pilot, though, and that might go well for me if the regulations go the direction I think they are going to go based on some information I recently received from an FAA official here in Reno. Interesting times are ahead in the world of Drones.

So, working on tablets with Field Tech Designs, researching a new drone company, and trying to, sort of, find more work for DIGTECH so I can test out all my ideas…busy day. Unfortunately, nothing I did today directly made me any money. One thing you learn while you’re indulging your passions and chasing your dreams is that money isn’t always the reason to do things in life. If you keep doing what you love and work hard at it then the money will come.

Oh, I also turned my popular series of blog posts, the Shovelbums Guide, into a helpful guidebook for CRM Archaeologists at any level. The book was published by Left Coast Press in April and is called the, “Field Archaeologist’s Survival Guide: Getting a Job and Working in Cultural Resource Management”. You can find it on Amazon and at the Left Coast Website.

Enjoy the other posts for the 2014 Day of Archaeology!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!


3 things your mother should know before you become an archaeologist

When a non-archaeologist listens to my answer to his/her question about what I do as my day-job, they always say: What a beautiful job! or (even worse) Wow! Like Indiana Jones!

But in the life of a field archaeologist, you have to deal with strange, dangerous, and even awkward situations that common people and some students can’t really guess.

That’s the reason why we want to share with all of you some of these anecdotes that really happened to us during the course of our work as a small archaeological company here in Spain: Lure Arqueologia.

Bullfighter for a day

In some places in Spain (I hope there are not similar places out there) you can easily find loose fighting bulls, and sometimes (not just a few as we desire) a group of archaeologist have to survey those beautiful fields without knowing that there are those kinds of animals around.

This is a true story that happened to us in the north of Madrid.  On that sunny winter day we were about to start some surveying in a yard full of signs warning us of lovely black, fighting bulls. For our own tranquility, the landlord told us that it was just cows and no bulls, but he suitably informed us that we have to be very careful all the same.

We ended up digging with the car nearby as close as we could park it, with all the doors open wide. As we were two archaeologists, one was surveying while the other was watching trying to keep an eye on the black, fighting cows.

2 survey

You might think that our caution was rather excessive, and that it wasn’t that dangerous.

The situation seemed to be under control until a group of 20-30 fighting cows with their small, young, cute fighting bulls showed their faces behind a little hill 100 meters away from us. Finally nothing happened and we could finished the work, but what if?

Do you really like barking dogs?

You may say, of course, “yes”. And we do love dogs, too. But when you are alone in the  middle of nowhere, far away from the nearest isolated town, and a dog (or a few) run to you barking, as a fool you change your mind and start hating dogs all of a sudden.

It was a few years ago, in a small town in Jaen, in the south of Spain. We were surveying in an olive grove in a torrid August day among old twisted branch olive trees.

We were trying to figure out if some stones we had just found were just a natural arrangement, or if they could be some kind of building foundations.

5 prospection

All happened in a second: suddenly we started to hear a resounding noise close to us, and saw an undefined number of wild dogs barking and growling (I now know that they were a couple of mastiffs). We were paralyzed, far away from our car, armed only with our cameras and surveying rods, trying to find a quick solution to this dilemma: which part of my body is less necessary?

I ordered my colleague to climb the nearest olive tree and find the GPS location in order to call the authorities who surely would find our dead bodies eaten by wild dogs. In that moment I decided that my left arm was the perfect part to get sacrificed for the archeology cause.

We still didn’t see them, but we could listen perfectly even their breathing and the indescribable sound of their teeth gnashing one with another! I brandished my surveying rod ready to deal my strongest archaeological blow when we finally saw them.

I was in a shake mode. All things around me just disappeared and it was a weird silence surrounding us. Time went  by so slowly trying to figured out why they didn’t attack me yet when I barely opened one eye trying to see the dammed dog and all I could see was two enormous dogs behind a metallic fence we didn’t realize was there before.

Of course after that experience we didnt keep on working that day. We’d  rather go have some beer to heal our badly damaged archeological faith.

Being attacked by Wild Pigs

Little more I have to add, isn’t it? This is something incredible, but…this has happened to me twice in recent years.

The first time, we were digging in the mountains of the Almería’s desert (SE of Spain), each archaeologist on one side of a gorge. We were walking, careless and happy, when I began to hear a strange noise in front of me. Suddenly a herd of wild pigs appeared in front of me running as quickly as a wild pig can do (believe me when I tell you that this is more fast than you’re surely thinking right now) heading directly toward my colleague.

Archaeological Prospection

As usual, we were armed only with our camera and our so handy surveying rod. I shouted her to be careful and she started to scream like a fool trying to scare the animals. In the meantime, completely paralyzed, I turned my head, and just a few meters away from me, I could see the biggest wild pig I had never seen in my life (well, until then I’d never seen a wild pig before), running fast and furiously at me. I started screaming, and hit the surveying rod on to the ground (yes, I broke it).

Fortunately nothing happened because the pigs ran away, but when all finally ended, we were trembling. In that moment we started running away trying to reach the car as soon as possible wishing to arrive at a civilized place as soon as possible.

The second time I encountered wild pigs was in the Basque Country, digging with our colleagues of Suhar Arkeologia. Suddenly I started to hear a strange sound and when I turned my head…(no, not again, oh my god!) I saw a herd of wild pigs running around us. My colleagues had joked since that time about my desperate expression “Companions, Take Care!” (I can’t confirm that version because honestly I do not remember it).

As you can see, surveying in remote places can be really dangerous.

And to end the article we want to show you a photo that doesn’t need further explanation. What do you think we should expect to find here?

6 burial site

This article is dedicated to all of you,  archaeologists who love this poorly understood profession but keep on fighting to make archaeology public. Happy #DayofArchaeology!

This is me

This is me enjoying my job


Mapping the Archaeology of Scotland

Name: Mike Middleton

What do you do? 
I make archaeological maps. I work in the data section meaning I work with three RCAHMS maps:

  • Canmore (the index to the RCAHMS collection) which to me is lots of distribution maps all in one. Filtering Canmore can help us map regionality.

Defining Scotland's Places - Roman

How did you get here? 
I studied Archaeology at Glasgow then went to France where my wife and I busked and volunteered on archaeological sites for a while before I got a job as a field archaeologist with the French state archaeology service (AFAN – Now INRAP). After seven years I returned to Scotland where I worked freelance for a bit before becoming a manager with Headland Archaeology Ltd. in Edinburgh. I joined RCAHMS in 2008.

Mike digging in France

Mike digging in France

Favourite part of your job? 
The favourite part of my job is the sense of discovery. I interact with the data in Canmore a lot meaning I’m always learning new things but by far the best part of my job is when we get out into the field and visit sites. That’s when you really get to learn about sites and landscapes.

What did university not teach you?
How to dig. I learnt that in Yorkshire volunteering on the Heslerton Parish Project. Thank you Dominic Powlesland!

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
Volunteer for everything…experience counts!

Dig as much as you can while at university.

Dig as much as you can after university.

Make sure you have other strings to our bow for when your knees go!


Eve Boyle (RCAHMS) – Angus

Angus. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Angus. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

Eve Boyle, RCAHMS

A complex ancient landscape at Wheen, Glen Clova

My name is Eve Boyle, and for over twenty years I have served as a field archaeologist with RCAHMS. This job has led me all over the country, identifying, mapping and describing visible remains of our ancestor’s homes, farms and fields. It comes as a surprise to many people (and sometimes ourselves too!) to learn that there are still many areas of the country, particularly in the Highlands, with an abundance of unrecognised and unrecorded sites. The Angus Glens, on the edge of the Cairngorms, is one area that still has archaeological riches awaiting discovery. As an illustration of this, I have chosen as my favourite site this small area of pasture at Wheen, straddling the public road running into Glen Clova.

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

Prehistoric and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova, as mapped by RCAHMS in 1999, against modern vertical aerial photograph. South is at the top of the image. Licensed to: RCAHMS for PGA, through Next Perspectives ™

We mapped all the sites you can see in the picture in 1999, but it was only in the previous year, when this aerial photo was taken, that we realised there was anything of significance to be recorded in the glen. The crisp low light on a November afternoon throws up long sharp shadows that cause the low banks and knee-high footings of stone walls to jump out at us, almost shouting ‘Here I am! Look at me!’

The most exciting features are the prehistoric round houses, dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Three of these are clearly visible, one just left of centre in the foreground, another (which is oval rather than truly round) at the bottom right corner, the third in the middle distance, close to the right-hand edge of the frame. But there are others for the sharp eye to find. Our survey map shows seven round-houses in the area of the photo, with another six in the forestry and on the moorland to the north (the survey map has been turned to have south at the top to match the aerial photo). These are big structures, up to 50 feet across, the homes of farmers and herdsmen living in the glen two or even three thousand years ago. Around them the low light picks out small heaps of stone, now overgrown with grass and heather; these were formed as our ancestors threw into piles the stones dragged up by their ploughs.

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

Oblique aerial view of prehistoric, medieval and later features at Wheen, Glen Clova. Taken from the north. Copyright RCAHMS (SC437236)

But there are many other structures here – rectangular buildings occupied in more recent times, perhaps no more than three or four hundred years ago. The largest group of these, at the top of the photo, represents the remains of a farmstead from the 18th century, while the other small buildings (all shown in red on the survey map) were once perhaps the homes of labourers. The survey map also shows (in brown) short lengths of ruined walls and earthen banks, the remnants of a system of fields, some of which may be medieval or later, while others perhaps are as old as the round houses.

This photo is a marvellous example of the great wealth of archaeology in our countryside, often no more than a stone-throw from roads we drive along every day.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

For further information you can also contact the local authority archaeologist. Contact details in this case are:

Bruce Mann – Regional Archaeologist
Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service
Aberdeenshire, Moray & Angus Councils


Friday in the Office. Jake Streatfeild-James, Field Archaeologist, AOC Archaeology Group – North

I was in to work early this morning.  The sun was out as I headed around the bypass to the office. As soon as the key is in the door it starts to tip down outside, so I’m glad that, whereas I’m usually in the field, today I am helping out the conservation department process a large assemblage of Roman ceramics.  The finds come from Roman fort in central Scotland, near the Antonine Wall. During the last four days I’ve been labelling pot, some of which I remember from last summer’s excavation.

I will have worked for AOC in their Edinburgh office for a year this July, first as a site assistant and now as a field archaeologist.  In my first year I’ve learnt a lot: what it means to do a ‘watching brief,’ what to look for during an evaluation and the art of report writing, even picking up some experience of community archaeology along the way.

Carrying on from where I left off yesterday afternoon, I’m continuing to excavate the material left inside a Roman bowl.  The bowl was lifted from ground in one piece, and was discovered in the backfill of a pit which contained other Roman material. On Roman sites, pots like this often contain human or animal remains- burials or ritual deposits, but in this case there is only the backfill of the pit, suggesting that the bowl had outlived its use and was discarded.

Next there is a collection of Samian, high status pottery from Roman Gaul.  This group of sherds was discovered in a concentrated area of the site, and might make an entire vessel: time to break out the adhesive! This is a first for me and my only comparable experience is gluing a mug back together.  This is a tad more complicated.

It nearly goes back together, and I don’t have any bits left over. The conservators agree it’s a success. Would they lie to protect my feelings?

Finally there’s some preparation to do for a watching brief on Monday morning. My site box, spade, and personal protective equipment all need gathering together and checked before I leave for the weekend.


Hope it doesn’t rain on Monday.

A day in the life of the Archaeological Research Project at Dobri Dyal, Bulgaria

On Friday 29th July 2011 I was working as site surveyor on a site at Dobri Dyal, a Roman fortified hilltop camp believed to date from the early 6th century AD and located in the central region of Bulgaria approximately 200km east of the capital Sofia. The Dobri Dyal project has about 50 participants mostly students from Nottingham and Cardiff universities but also with a smattering of students from Edinburgh, UCL a couple from Oxbridge and some from other places. There are a dozen or so supervisors, mainly professional archaeologists, covering all the main field functions, finds and environmental management, surveying and digital documentation, under the direction of Professor Andrew Poulter of the University of Nottingham. The British part of the project works in co-operation with a Bulgarian team organised through the regional museum at nearby Veiko Turnovo.

The Dobri Dyal team….

Project Background*

From northern Italy to the Black Sea coast, the only identified human impact upon the landscape during the early Byzantine period is the appearance of countless hill-top fortifications; only a few have been partially excavated, and none has been subjected to systematic archaeological research, employing the full range or modern techniques. The function of these sites and the character of the countryside during the final years of Byzantine rule, central as they are for understanding the period, remain unknown.

It is generally accepted that the early Byzantine Empire was at its height during the 6th century: Justinian retook North Africa and Italy and the emperor Maurice campaigned on and beyond the Danubian frontier. The lower Danube was of fundamental importance; it represented the economic hinterland and frontier, supporting and protecting the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Literary sources for the region, describing the second half of the century, have generated opposing interpretations; on the one hand, that this period witnessed a revival in Byzantine military strength or, on the other, that this century saw the progressive collapse of the empire’s economic and military power (Whitby and Liebeschuetz in Poulter 2007a). In particular, there is no agreement as to the veracity of The Buildings written by Procopius: a key reference point for any discussion of the period. However, book 4 (which covers the eastern Balkans) is unique in that the text was never completed and, in its rough form, it can be demonstrated that the author relied upon a variety of different sources, including itineraries (Poulter 2007a, 9-11). Although this conclusion does not necessarily discredit Procopius’ narrative, it raises suspicions about the authenticity of his detailed descriptions which can only be tested by targeted archaeological research.

The project requires the total excavation of the well-preserved 6th_ century fortress of ‘Dobri Dyal’ in north central Bulgaria. The objective is to discover the economic role of the type site during the 6th century. Essential projects will include zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, small-finds and ceramic research, providing datasets which can be directly compared with the substantial results from the first two programmes (cf. 24,000 bone fragments from Nicopolis and 10,000 from the late Roman fortress). The excavations will explore the functionof the site during the 6th to 7th centuries.


* written by project director Professor Andrew Poulter and cribbed from the project handbook

5am…..I leave the farm in Nicup and walk the kilometre or so into the middle of the village We have commandeered a restaurant in the middle of the village to provide us with food, starting with coffee and a snack at 5.30 each morning, before we leave for site at 6am. The site at Dobri Dyal is about 45 mins drive south of Nicup, so today like most days we are standing at the bottom of the hill at about 6.45am. The Nottingham team opened 5 excavation areas on the top of the mound last season. Three of these areas (A, B and E) are being dug again this year and two new areas (J and K) have been opened in locations where the 2010 geophysical survey indicated areas of high resistivity. A Bulgarian team from Turnovo museum are opening a trench on the southern downslope of the hill where they think the main gatehouse and approach road to the hillfort are located.

7am….The actual change in level from the bottom to the top of the hill is only about 30 metres, but some days it seems much much higher. Especially when you are carrying tools from the caravan to the top, or in my case two tripods, a total station, a prism pole and a box of assorted grid pegs, tapes, club hammer and nails. I am the site surveyor at Dobri Dyal. Most of my recent archaeological work has been in Norway and Qatar although I have been involved in a couple of English Heritage projects back in the UK in the past 3 years. Today I am assisted by two student volunteers (Hannah and Jade) and the main task for the survey team is to locate grid pegs around trench E to enable the students to practice their planning skills.

In addition to laying out grids we are 3-D locating small finds, as and when they are discovered and plotting the defensive walls on the south side of the fort currently being uncovered by a Bulgarian archaeological team. We are using two Leica 400 total stations for the day to day survey work. These are fairly straightforward machines to use and so far all of the students I have tutored have learnt to set up the machines and carry out simple survey functions (point location, setting out grid-pegs and trench locations using the stake-out function). I of course miss the robotic Leica 1200 machine that I normally use in Norway, but for training purposes it is probably more useful for the students to get acquainted with the simpler machine……For some reason I have not been able to work out, we are burning through batteries today and by lunch time have used 4 sets…..hopefully there is just enough left in the last set to see us to the end of the day…(there was – just!!)

10am…..Lunch!! Each day we are supplied lunch by a local supermarket. Like most archaeological projects we have a mix of carnivores and veggies, a smattering of vegans and the occasional allergy sufferer as well as the downright awkward, making the supply of suitable ‘off the shelf’ sandwiches fraught with difficulty. Today’s vegetarian offering is just about inedible, but I have a large jar of pickled chilli peppers in the site hut that disguises the tastlessness of the cheese and peps up the cucumber. And an apple. And a litre and a half bottle of water. The temperature in central Bulgaria gets into the high 30s in July…which is very nice, but does require drinking plenty of water if you are out on site.

10.45am…back to work. We try to make sure that all of the students cover the basic skills needed to work as a field archaeologist (digging, recording, planning, section drawing, surveying) and in the store (finds processing, environmental processing, sieving, sampling etc etc)…..but this is a real research excavation and we try and maintain a high standard of work. Our research aims are to establish the plan and phasing of the settlement, its development and demise using all the facilities and methodologies available to us. The Bulgarian team use a more traditional method and are constantly amazed at how slowly we work. Attempts to explain our ‘single context – stratigraphic excavation’ methodology are met with blank looks by our host archaeologists. It’s about time that someone translated ‘Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy’ into one or more of the eastern European languages…..

1.45pm….Well that’s it for today. We pile back into the minibuses and return to Nicup for lunch. Soup and some baked cheese dish for me, some kind of sausage for the meat eaters. Our restaurant has a bar where drinks are very cheap. A 500ml beer costs 1 lev (45 pence). A double gin and tonic 1.5lev (67 pence). A quadruple gin and tonic 1.9 lev (85 pence), a 330ml glass of local wine 0.60 lev (27 pence)……the local speciality is ‘oblek’ a mixture of green mint liquor and ouzo much loved by men of a certain age (described by one non-archaeological acquaintance in the village as a cross between viagra and laxative!!) and rakia, the local plum or apricot brandy. Being sensible abstemious folk we tend to stick to a small gin and tonic and the occasional beer. Some students sit at the tables outside the bar playing cards, some return to their houses to sleep. Meanwhile….

3.45pm…..A surveyor’s work is never done!! I spend a couple of hours most days downloading the site survey data and preparing maps etc. Today a number of students are working extra hours in the finds store to make up time lost on other occasions during the week or as we like t call it ‘detention’. I slip along to Ann’s digital documentation office to print out a couple of maps. I use Leica Geofffice to download today’s site data. Normally I would use ArcGIS to process the data, create the survey database and make the maps, but as this is a ‘free’ project for me, I am using as far as possibly freely available open source software (not least so I can make the site data available to any students who request it). At present that consists of the Quantum GIS (QGIS) and the ProCAD (AutoCAD clone) packages. I am not a great fan of using AutoCAD for archaeological puposes, but find ProCAD useful for coverting GIS-based shapefiles to dwg and dxf formats for those that want them. The students in detention seem to be fairly happy with their punishment and are discussing whether universities should ‘give up’ student protesters to the Metropolitan Police…..No way!!

6pm….back to the house for a cold shower and then down to the Directors house for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. The gin on sale in the local bar is cheap, but it’s not Bombay Sapphire …. unfortunately Andrew is out of tonic so I end up with gin and lemon.. I manage to struggle through two glasses!! The project works on Saturday mornings so Friday nights are not as relaxing as a normal weekend, but we always manage to have a reasonable time. The nearest large town (Veiko Turnovo) has a culture festival on at the moment with ballet and opera performances most weekends. We have been offered cheap tickets (10lev circa £4.50) for all performances and some staff are going tomorrow to see the opera. Weather permitting, as the performance is open air….

12am……The bars are closed. Some folk drift off to houses, others to sit and chat for a while. Some of us are thinking that we have to be up again in 5 hours…

Field schools are fun, especially when the students are as nice as the bunch we currently have at Dobri Dyal….. Not so sure that many of them will end up with careers in archaeology though. Not through a lack of willingness but just the haphazard way that archaeology is organised in the UK and the failure of the profession to respond in any meaningful way to the current economic and political situation. It may be that in future years, training schools such as Dobri Dyal just won’t be available to UK students. One of the current student participants told me that next year, the archaeology department of his university plan to carry out a series of test pitting exercises in the gardens of houses close to the university campus instead of offering a field school through a project like Dobri Dyal. I think that is very sad….but if this is to be an end to a long standing archaeology tradition, we hope that the next 3 weeks at Dobri Dyal will provide long and happy memories for all those taking part…

Kevin Wooldridge, Bulgaria, August 2011

The Dobri Dyal project staff have a Facebook group called ‘Never Mind the Balkans – Summer Excavations in Bulgaria 2011’


notes from an archaeology webmaster

Couldn't do this every morning without COFFEE!

It’s 5:00am here at my house in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, USA. The baby is sleeping, the house is blissfully quiet, and the first pot of coffee is on. I sit at my computer and begin work on updating an archaeology website I’ve been maintaining in one form or another for the past 16 years. This early morning ritual of job postings to is well-known amongst my colleagues (and the poor souls I’ve had to share a hotel room with on projects).

I’ve been working as a field archaeologist longer than the website has been up, but over the past few years, my employment has been sporadic. I have two young children, and I can count the archaeology projects on one hand that I’ve participated in since becoming a mom. Being a field archaeologist and working within cultural resource management in the U.S. usually means a life of travel. In the past, a new archaeology project may have found me in Frostproof, FL, Wilmington, DE, or Penn Yan, NY. Quite often a phone call was received on a Thursday or Friday with the news that I would be somewhere across the state, or several states away on Monday morning. I used to spend so much time on the road that I rarely bothered to unpack my truck. Once I went nearly 5 months without seeing my apartment.

Fieldwork for me is on hold for the time being, and I must be content with running The most popular part of the website is the forum for daily employment postings. Sometimes employers come to the site and post their own jobs, and often they are mailed to me to post on their behalf. However, the bulk of job adverts are forwarded from elsewhere on the internet. Each morning and throughout the day as time allows, I laboriously search employment aggregators, government websites, archaeology groups, company websites, e-lists, RSS feeds, and have mastered the art of incredibly targeted Googling. On a good day I’m able to find 20 or 30 new jobs, and on a slow day or a holiday weekend it may only be a few. Through the years I’d guess that tens of thousands of job adverts have been posted to In a way, finding and sharing this information appeals to the archaeologist part of me that I’m still reluctant to give up.

Once you get archaeology in your blood and find yourself doing something else (whether it’s an office job, or being a stay at home mom), you miss it like crazy. I look forward to the day when a local archaeology position may manifest, or the kids are old enough and I may have the opportunity to be a shovelbum once again. In the meantime, running helps me to feel connected to the archaeology community. I’m not actively “doing archaeology” on a daily basis and getting my hands dirty, but by running the website I feel like I’m giving something back to my colleagues. The truth is, is helping me as much as it is helping others, and without this connection to the world of archaeology I would probably miss it even more.

I still have my archaeology dig kit in the closet, though. Hopefully it won’t be gathering dust for too long.

Digging in Denmark

In brief, I’m Joss, and I’m a field archaeologist from the UK, who, due to the financial crisis etc. etc. has failed to find work in that country, and has been forced (kicking and screaming mind you) to relocate to Denmark to get a job.

I’m kidding of course!

I’ve been here in Copenhagen for the last three months, and have one month to go on the project. We’ve been gradually working our way down through layers of the city’s past in one of the major squares in the centre, which seemed to mostly consist of wooden water pipes for quite a while! On one edge of the site we have the foundations for the 16th century city wall and the moat outside it, and last week we finally finished recording it and removed the last of the huge boulders.

Yesterday, underneath where the boulders had sat, I found the remains of a reasonably well preserved wooden structure which appears to be a wattle fence – small stakes situated 30 to 40cm apart, with long thin twigs woven around them, some short thorny twigs amongst those, and a layer of brown organic material mixed with bits of straw surrounding the twigs. This smells quite strong, so our current theory is that it might be a daub made partially from manure!


We’ve still been uncovering the full extent of it today, and I feel like a bit of a fraud actually – most of the time I’m used to using a mattock and shovel, or at the very least a 4 inch pointing trowel (the standard tool of the trade), but right now I’m living up to every cliche by picking gingerly around the fragile remains with a tiny leaf trowel and a paint brush.

We’re coming up to our deadline on this part of site soon, and the contractors want us gone, so I will probably be working this weekend too. A digger’s work is never done… (until the contract expires…)

Archaeology with a foot in three countries

I’m *really* a field archaeologist, but with the financial climate wavering here on the Åland Islands (an autonomous region of Finland) too, when it came to a decision between a nine month contract as a museum assistant at Åland’s Maritime Museum or the probability of no work in archaeology at all this year, the museum won. Still wanting to stay involved with archaeology – I’m also a recent graduate of the MA in Historical Archaeology by distance learning at the University of Leicester – I am now working voluntarily on the ongoing Kinchega Archaeological Research Project based at Leicester. So, at present, my day as an archaeologist doesn’t really begin till I’m home from work, sitting (back) in front of a computer, and right now, inputting entries from early twentieth century stores records into a database. The entries relate to an early twentieth homestead in Australia that has been under excavation since 1998, and the database will enable the records to be analysed in conjunction with evidence from the excavations. When I’ve posted this I’m going to fiddle with some total station data from the same site, with the aim of eventually creating shiny new maps and plans in ArcGIS. One aim of the project is to make the data and research available digitally, to make it much more widely accessible – and this, of course, is a Very Good Thing……