Time Team

General antics of Public Archaeology student

As a student archaeologist, life is routine but fairly relaxed. I am currently finishing my Masters with only my dissertation left to do. I spend most of my time in the Institute of Archaeology library and talking to fellow Institute students in the park. I like the fact that we all do a range of subjects for our dissertations, from archaeology and art to conservation; it is surprising where archaeology plays a role. My dissertation is part of a project at the British Museum – I am helping to develop a new video-conferencing session, related to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the work it does with treasure finds. The session is going to be structured around challenge-based learning – this involves a real life situation where students have to make their own decisions based upon the resources/evidence available to them.  Its main elements consist of allowing students to work by themselves with minimal input from an adult, using teamwork and applying technology. Having fun is a key aspect of the activity. I am currently making Top Trump cards of treasure finds… this should make my next presentation more entertaining, will also help me to decide which artefacts should be used for the session.

I am a Public Archaeologist. Frankly, I admit that my knowledge of historical periods/civilisations is very superficial. However, I am comfortable with this as I am primarily interested in how the public perceive archaeology – through television, newspapers, museums and even politics.  I work as a facilitator at the British Museum, a job I love and enjoy; it is always good to see children getting really stuck into an activity (trying to get a balance between entertainment and education, of course) and I like hearing the questions they ask. Sometimes they approach objects with a completely different perceptive, which is refreshing after reading so much academic literature. The activities I am involved in range from following museum trails, presenting arts and crafts to schools groups and making news reports. I actually spent most of my time in the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where we use technology and the museum’s collections to create both family and school activities. One example is the Sutton Hoo Headline, where  school children create a news report of the discovery using a video camera and a green screen – we get them to gather content by visiting the galleries using a video mobile phone.

On the ‘Day of Archaeology’ I attended the Mortimer debate, an organisation named after Mortimer Wheeler which focuses on archaeology and the future, using the tag line ‘our past, our future, our choice!’. There have been problems of late with the government trying to reduce the amount legislation that protects our environment and heritage. The debate had four panel members: Tony Robinson (Time Team), Cllr Alan Melton (who sparked recent media fury by calling archaeologists ‘bunny huggers’), Andrew Selkirk and Andrew Richardson. Some interesting points were made about sustainability and the costs of commercial archaeology, ie who should pay. The debate got quite heated, especially between Tony Robinson and Alan Melton. Melton suggested that the public were not that interested in heritage, with Robinson arguing that it is human nature to be interested in the our heritage. Does the past have value to you?

I can iz archaeologizt?

Where were you on the Day of Archaeology, 2011? I’ve spent my day (so far) moderating posts for the Day of Archaeology and spreading word about the event on social media. I suspect the other members of the organising committee for #dayofarch are stuck with the same predicament. We’ve been amazed by the response to the day; it’s great fun to be involved in something with such a wide breadth of contributions and such international interest.

As much as I like the metablogging aspect of dedicating a post to a day of reading other posts, spending a day overindulging in coffee and chatting online I’m left thinking “So what is there to discuss?” And yet things like today are not that different than how I’ve spent some of my time in my last 3 years as the head of digital at L – P : Archaeology. The task of collecting and organising data from archaeological projects, excavations or otherwise, and getting that data into a format which is useful to archaeologists and the public is an overwhelming one. I’ve worked with commercial excavations in London (Prescot Street); with research projects abroad (Villa Magna); with community-driven archaeological projects (Thames Discovery Programme); with international collaborations (FastiOnline). In all of the above there’s been a focus on engaging people with the past, on opening information to a wider audience, and encouraging new voices in the discussion.

I finish up my 6 years at L – P this month, today in fact although courtesy of some unused annual leave I’ve had my last week off, to begin a programme of (yet further) study at Brown University in the autumn. We’ve recently finished up a new release (v1.0!) of the ARK open source archaeological database system. If you’ve not heard about it already, or if you’re interested in this much-improved latest release, you can check out our website. The team from Villa Magna are working toward a comprehensive digital publication for the site stratigraphic narrative which, paired with ARK, will help future researchers to use the data from our excavations to ask new questions. The Thames Discovery Programme finishes up a stream of Heritage Lottery funding this September, passing the project on to the local volunteers originally trained by the project. Working with the team at Day of Archaeology, contacts and friends from the last six years, to encourage online discussion and narrative about archaeology serves as a pretty apropos bookend to this digital work.

Based solely on impressions external to the discipline (and some particularly old-school archaeologists), ‘archaeologists’ are the people in the trench with mattocks and trowels, the sandal-wearing beardies and the tweed-jacketed academics, occupying a space somewhere between Indiana Jones and Time Team in the imaginations of the public. But the profession covers so much more ground than that, and there are so many other important skills needed to make a successful project or to get the story of archaeology to the public. The characterisations above are no more the only archaeologists than are heart surgeons the only doctors, or robins the only birds. Archaeology as a discipline encorporates aspects of classics and history, anthropology, chemistry, computer science, geography, forensics/medicine… The list is, truly, endless. This variety of interdisciplinary interests results in a variety of interdisciplinary professionals, a variety of interesting jobs and a variety of interesting personalities. It is maintaining and expanding this variety that is most at risk when we talk of the impact of the global recession on the archaeology in education and in practice. Let’s hope the content from today’s posts helps both to reinforce the importance in protecting and enhancing our unique skillsets and to celebrate the diversity of archaeological practice.

A Day in the Life of… a PhD Student!

Hi folks!

There are all kinds of contributors to the day of arch and I feel extremely proud to be one of them.  This is just an introduction to me and setting the scene for what I will actually be doing tomorrow.  My name is Rachael Reader and I am currently writing up my PhD thesis, hopefully handing in within the next three months.  My interest in archaeology began when I was eight (no, really!) when I was introduced to Time Team.  It seems a little cliched, but it is the God honest truth! My parents were more than happy to fuel my interest and let me dig up the back garden of my house in a little town, just outside of Barnsley (my best find to date is a 1980s ten pence piece…).  My parents found out where digs were happening and took me along to them, including one in York where I learnt the real truth about archaeology.  I had an illuminating conversation with someone working in the museum gardens who told me that archaeology was poorly paid, nothing like Time Team and definitely nothing like Indiana Jones (which meant little to me as even to this day, as I have still not seen the films!).  I asked the archaeologist why they still did it and they replied simply “because I love it”.  The enthusiasm he had, even when describing the negatives, sealed it for me and off I went to university to pursue my career.  I studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Birmingham University before doing my Masters at Cardiff, where I developed my current research interests in the later prehistoric period and particularly, the landscape approach to archaeology.

Whilst writing my Masters thesis I was pondering over what to do next.  I had spent several weeks here and there, excavating with the University but also community digs, including SHARP at Sedgeford in Norfolk.  I loved digging but had yet to know how commercial archaeology worked, so I began putting my CV together and waiting for jobs to come up at units.  However my supervisor directed me to an advert for a PhD position, at Bradford University and it involved two of my favourite things: Iron Age stuff and landscape! I could not resist and I eagerly put together my application, was offered an interview and ultimately the position, which I was thrilled to accept.  I began my current position in October 2008 and I feel a little sad that I am beginning to wind down and *gulp* hand in.

(more…)