Countdown to Completion

I am an archaeologist – a very tired archaeologist.

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham


My original completion date for my PhD was to be December of 2014. I lost six months due to a family death and there is just no way I will meet that goal. I am now shooting for a March deadline. My dear husband has only eleven weeks until his four year mark and must turn in his thesis for his PhD in archaeology on that date. So our family has two very stressed eleventh hour writers and a never-stop-even-to-sleep toddler. (He is awesome! To the full extent of that great American world).

My Day of Archaeology is a how a typical day goes:

7:00 – Toddler decides we have slept in long enough the sun is up (and has been since 3 am) so it is now time for us to be up. We resist waking up as we staid up the night previous until 2 am working on our thesis. Husband and I decide to cheat and bring the tablet into bed with a bottle of milk. Toddler feels like king of the world getting to watch ”The Incredibles” while kicking mummy.

8:00 – Everyone finally awake, fed, and most importantly dressed.

8:15 – Husband takes toddler to nursery. Yeah, both husband and I get to work today. I feel extra inspiration and excited to work as Thursday was mummy day, the day I get to stay home all day and just be a mummy with toddler. Thursdays are great days – most of the time.

8:30 – Laundry monster!!!! Housework is a huge distraction, long laughed at in PHD comics. I have a theory though. A PhD is a long term stressful event that seems to have no end. Housework also has no end, but when you get a sense of accomplishment when you finish the dishes or have filled the airer to max capacity (thus cannot do any more laundry).

10:00 – Arrive at office at University of Central Lancashire. Decide to go against norm and check email, as I know there is one I really want to read. (I peeked at my email the night before). Glory in receiving information for the former Soule Steel of San Francisco on their production of T-posts. (I do a lot of rural archaeology). The have sent me some great research material. Husband arrives at office minutes after me.

10:30 – Check out a Modern Conflict Conference in Bristol in October, papers due at the end of the month. Put a pin in that one.

10:45 – Discover for Day of Archaeology Routledge has 100 free journal articles. Downloaded a few but for the most part not really my subject area.

11:50 – Husband fetches some printing and brings mine down.

11:00 – Am really excited to read the Soule articles.

11:30 – Finish Soule articles (very short but very promising – hint #133 is a weight). Feel even more excited at having decided to try my luck with the TESS database from the United States Patent and Trademark office.

11:35 – Start to read a chapter of Husband’s thesis on Incised Stones of the Great Basin. The things we do for love!

12:45 – BRAIN HURTS – Can’t shake this dreadful feeling I have already willed away half the day and I have not yet written a single word for myself. I must quite all distractions and get some REAL work done.

12:46 – Start trolling through GPS and photo logs to make sure all artefacts are accounted for in the artefact log for Santiago Corrals in the San Emigdio Hills. (Link is my blog.)

13:00 – Husband surprises me with Subway. Yeah Husband. Start eating but continue working as long as I can do so one handed.

13:20 – Delude self a minute of Facebook is allowed as I am technically on a lunch break.

13:40 – Distracted by a chemistry video on the way different chemicals interact in very cool ways. Can’t remember a single name but the cool feeling remains. (Sorry I can’t seem to relocate the video for your enjoyment. )

14:00 – Get back to work feeling overrides, yet feel like I have forgotten something… Yikes we forgot to sign in for the month per the UCLAN understanding of Tier Four Student attendance compliance. The Government wants to make sure we do not secretly desire to live here forever, and falsely use a student visa to gain entrance. I have missed a sign-in before and received a note that I could be reported to the Home Office if I miss another sign-in. The thought of the Graduate Research Office reporting me to the Home Office feels like some crazy black and white spy movie plot, but a very real fear. Unlikely, but the though of getting kicked out of the UK this close to completing my PhD would kill me.

14:05  – Rally husband and we set off to the Graduate Research Office to sign in. Small talk on archaeology that cleans the air of stress begins.

14:45 – Return to office. Demand of myself more focus. Continue to sort out artefacts for non-feature artefacts.

14:50 – Finish non-feature and send all documents to the printer.

14:55 – Start on description for Feature#1 a pasture with no artefacts but a good selection of wooden and metal t-posts. (Now you understand my excitement about the Soule email.)

15:30 – Finish description and other paperwork for Feature #1 and send to the printer, decide to head upstairs to pick up printing. Actually a fun thing to do as they have builders in demolishing and rebuilding a lab (not for the archaeologist so not sure what is for). The builders have put down sticky plastic to protect the carpets, but someone was not very good at their job, THANKFULLY, and the sensory experience of popping floor bubbles as you walk is highly entertaining and stress relieving.

15:40 – Return from printer and correlate work into respective binders.

15:45 – Check email, and for once have an important email. Finance office telling me to sign a promissory note if I want to get any money off of them. I am very happy to oblige not even thinking about future pay back of student loans.

15:50 – Start paperwork for Locus #1 a homestead which predates the Corrals. Spend a lot of time checking photographs to photo logs and turning them into slides ( A holdover from my CRM days with Pacific Legacy), and check artefact logs.

16:50 – Another trip to the printer another trip across bubble floor. Life is awesome.

15:00 – Correlate. Oh no missed a few documents need to go back to the printer, Oh darn.

15:10 – Get back from printer. Have a quick chat with husband to see who cooks and who get son from nursery. I get the sacred bus pass, and he gets to battle the oven, I win. Toddler loves the bus.

18:00 – Return from nursery find Husband has bought kebabs so we finish watching The Incredible.

21:30 – Toddler FINALLY goes to bed. Ditch all plans for working.

1:00 – Not sure how it happened again but finally make it to bed. Feels like a scene out of Date Night.


Archaeology From Indoors – A Day in the Life of a Small Unit

We are a small archaeological unit (C.R Archaeology) based in Bangor, North Wales and because of our small size we often have very varied days! The Day of Archaeology 2012 is no exception with the two of us working on aselection of different tasks throughout the day.

Matt Jones started his day washing out a load of empty beer bottles – not our glass recycling but a lovely assemblage of Victorian bottles found at Benarth Walled Gardens, Conwy. The gardener working there seems to have had a fondness for the local ale and the bottles are all from Conwy and Llandudno breweries.

Once this washing was finished Matt stuck with finds and went to work on his assessment of Roman finds recovered during a 2001 excavation at Segontium, Caernarfon. The Roman Fort has undergone some difficult times recently but luckily Cadw have now stepped in to administer the site. This work is being carried out as part of our commitment to help charities & community groups and is being conducted free of charge.

Whilst Matt had a day of finds Cat Rees had to attend to the much more mundane side of running a small business. The day started with checking the company emails and facebook site, writing a tender and then off to the bank to check that the money from a client had been paid in. That done it was time to process a batch of RAW photograph files into TIFFs so that they could be burnt to disc to accompany a building recording report for submission to Gwynedd Historic Environment Record. Not entirely sure this was what I had in mind when I made the decision to become an archaeologist – bit more Marcus Brody than Indiana Jones!!!

After Cats breakneck start to the day it was time for putting together a projected income for an appointment with the banks small business adviser. Then onto starting a bit of a revamp of the company website and designing some new promotional material. If this wasn’t exciting enough the day ended with the printing out and binding of a set of reports for submission on Monday.

This all sounds a bit dull but it is an important part of what we do – by setting up an independent unit the reality is that we sink or swim based on our own work and the effort we put in. But we have the flexibility to do our own thing and take on jobs simply because they interest us and having control our own time is fantastic. Not everyday is like this – the Day of Archaeology 2012 came at a strange time when we have just finished one project and are starting another on Tuesday so luckily next week will we will be free range rather than battery archaeologists!

still alive

This is one of those days that feels wonderful in retrospect, and while it’s not over yet I can see things starting to fall into place. I’m a freelance archaeologist who makes a living from writing, broadcasting, taking photos and such like, and I still get the occasional chance to do a bit of research or fieldwork (I suppose technically I’m not freelance anymore, as I work for my own company Digging Deeper, which we set up last year).

For some time now, my biggest single contract has been editing the Council for British Archaeology’s magazine British Archaeology. The job definitely has its moments, but overall it’s one I love doing, and I’m very proud of what the magazine has become – I really think there is nothing else quite like it, and it’s good. But it does take a bit of work, and as people close to me know to their cost, the couple of weeks leading up to printing are, shall I say, tense. In the case of the next issue, that has been the couple of weeks leading up to now.

I’ve come to realise that unless you’ve experienced real deadlines, you cannot understand what they mean. When a printer is expecting a magazine by a certain time on a certain day, that is a deadline. If you miss it, you risk messing up something on which thousands of people are depending (for which they have paid good money), and which involves a chain of businesses (van drivers, printers – there’s more than one involved in this job – a mailing house, a designer, a retail distributor and so on), all of whom are working to the same timetable. And most of all, of course, in this case it means risking letting down the charity that funds it all, the CBA.

So that means that on every page of the 68 page magazine, every word, every punctuation mark, every image, every line and box, from editorial (which I wrote this afternoon) and adverts (one of which was substituted this afternoon), to book reviews (13 reviewers in this issue, only one of whom is really late… I’ll be writing mine imminently) and the major features (seven in this issue, including an exclusive I’m very excited about, though who knows whether anyone will share my enthusiasm?), has to be in the right place, doing the right thing, and looking right, at the right time. And it means that news stories, which are some of the last things I research and write so they are topical and exclusive, have to be right, even if that means allowing everyone involved to have their say, and changing a one-paragraph story 18 times (it happened, in British Archaeology over the past three days).

And the most important thing of all, is that when someone buys the magazine in their newsagent and, perhaps, flicks though it on the train as they go home from work, they should have no idea how much blood was spilt to produce it. All they should see is the excitement of archaeology, the great stories, the beauty of old things – and, inevitably now, a bit about the difficulties archaeologists are having keeping the past alive.

So today I have, almost, finished British Archaeology number 120 (in the shops on August 12!). Right now, that is as intense a day of archaeology as I ever get. Phew!