The struggles of being a geophysicist

Rob Evershed, Project Officer, Geophysics

Many people see geophysicists as the movie stars of the archaeological world; after all we can arrive at a random field and within a few hours reveal the wonders of the hidden archaeology buried there without once lifting a spade or shovel. In many cases the need for random trenches across a site can be replaced by fewer targeted trenches, allowing a quicker and potentially more thorough archaeological evaluation of an area.

However even geophysicists can run into problems occasionally. There have been more than a few times where the geophysics team have excitedly headed off to a new site, filled with joy at the chance to once again wield our magic machine, that goes beep a lot, and hopefully uncover lots of hidden unknown archaeology, only to arrive on site to find…

Jedlee and Ryan in a sea of nettles

Jedlee and Ryan in a sea of nettles

For those uninitiated in the dark arts of geophysics, when we arrive on site we set up our 30m or 20m grids using canes at the vertexes with help from our GPS. So far the knee-height nettles are only an inconvenience. However the next step is for the glamorous assistant (in this case Jedlee) to divide up two sides of each square with 6 inch plastic pegs that allow the surveyor (Ryan) to walk across the grid in regular traverses while the machine goes beep. Not only would the pegs be tricky to see, but a quick health and safety check would suggest that perambulating across the field could be hazardous with hidden rabbit holes or surprise vegetation ready to trip you up.

So sadly we had to wend our disappointed way back to the office to report that the field was unsuitable for surveying on that occasion. Fortunately since then the nettles have been cut and we returned to successfully complete the mission (and found some possible medieval features).

Other examples of unsuitable fields:

Rob looking wistful in the wheat

Rob looking wistful in the wheat

Deeper wheat

This one looks worse…

Tall flowers

This is just getting silly…

A river that is unsuitable for survey

Ok, enough already, that is definitely a river!

However sometimes even with adverse conditions we still struggle onwards to get the job done.

Surveying in a waterlooged field

Little can deter the plucky geophysicist