How I got into Archaeology.

So… I went back to Bangor university to give a talk about my job and I thought, well what the heck.. I’m going to just post it on here as well.

Untitled So this is me and all the gubbins.

Untitled1 I did my undergraduate degree with Bangor University.

Originally I had wanted to go to uni to do Egyptology. Of course I had seen The Mummy and thought ‘Well I could give that a bash’ (I may have mentioned this before) but head started to over rule heart and I became pragmatic. I thought I cannot put all of my eggs into one basket so I will go and do history with archaeology (also thinking as a side line that if it all goes tits up, I can simply become a teacher). So I went to Bangor, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, fell in love with archaeology instantly and focussed every module I could on British Prehistory.

Untitled2 As I was going through my degree I pretty much thought I was going to coast on to an MA degree and straight into a PhD (I was young and naive so shush), I had focussed my BA on archaeology, I already knew what I wanted to focus a PhD on (Constructing identity in Iron Age Wales if anyone is interested) so I rightly considered that I should do the middle degree on something a little bit different. I also thought to myself that if my knee’s failed early and I could no longer conduct myself with any measure of decorum on an excavation I could gracefully retire into a museum as a curator (again shush, blame ignorance!).

So off I tottled to the ever prestigious Durham University, I was congratulated by my personal tutor, for A) making that choice and B) getting in. I got there, I loved the first month of it and then all of a sudden like a crash I lost every ounce of interest. I can hand on heart say that this was the worst course I could have possibly imagined taking. I hated every minute of it from December 2011 to September 2012. Mostly I thought I wasn’t earning an MA, I did practically no work, I had 2000 word essays to right (over the whole year I think I had 8 or 9 of them), I had a project to help complete, but there were so many of us on my project team that I think I put a total of 10 hours of work into it over the entire year and finally I had a 5000 word research paper to write. Needless to say my lack of interest and zero effort was reflected in my grades. Up until December I had an average of 74, on my way to an MA with distinction. By the end of the year I dropped to a still respectable 64 (having earned myself some 50’s marks in there too) and left with an MA with merit.

I also quickly realised that if you wanted to get a job in a museum, the last thing they were looking for was an MA in museum studies. They want an undergraduate degree in a related subject, 6 months of voluntary experience and then they want you to start at the bottom and work your way up. If not, they want a major specialisation – to be a curator then have a PhD in the topic of the department your applying for the curators job in. Egyptology gallery – sorry sunshine but that MA in museum studies is useless, you need an Egyptology specialised degree, preferably to PhD level!

But I digress… this is how much I despised that degree. Durham = beautiful, the university consistently ranked in the top 10 in the UK, the degree I chose… not worth the paper it’s written on.

But I rallied my spirits somewhat, I found a modicum of interest in artefact research and report writing and managed to wangle myself a focus on public archaeology (it had to get back in there).

NOW I should point out that I didn’t go off on this tangent of a rant about my course at Durham during the actual presentation. I felt it stir while writing, so went with it!

Untitled3 After leaving Durham in September 2012 (I graduated the following January). I spent nearly 2 months applying to every job I thought I could hack on the BAJR and Museumjobs websites. As time went on I started to go through all of the jobcentre advertisements and found myself applying for sales jobs and trying to become a teaching assistant or cover supervisor in school. Finally in the November I got a weeks worth of work of digging, the same company then had me back for a day in the December to do an evaluation dig. But then back to square one. More applications, more disappointment. Finally landing my first full time digging shindig in the February of 2013.

Now 2 years later and 6 companies after that I have not been out of digging work 🙂

Every time I have wanted/needed to move on I have simply gone onto the council for British Archaeology’s website, gone onto their list of archaeology units and sent every single one an email with my CV on it. I also apply for the jobs that come up on the BAJR website and I’m happy to say that offers for work flood in from both avenues.

Untitled4 Now the best bit about my job is the moving around. I have lived over nearly all of the UK (I just need to make it to N. Irl). I have dug in some of the most amazing and beautiful places this tiny island has to offer, from Edinburgh to Dorset to Wales to scabby Milton Keynes. This weekend I am moving to London to live for 3 months for digging and in July I am scheduled to move back up to North Yorkshire for… more digging 🙂

Untitled5 The bad bits about my job definitely includes the wages. On a construction site you can near guarantee that the archaeologists are paid the least amount. At the end of the week, as a digger, my pay cheque comes back and tells me that after tax I take home £280, a digger driver will take home around £700 and the man that stands by the digger to make sure he doesn’t hit me will take home around £600. All skilled jobs, no reflection in pay scales.

And as two sides to the same coin. The weather! It’s great being able to work outside all day every day (when I get assigned to an office I might as well be like a caged animal).

Untitled6 Most of us think that it will be all lovely digging in the sunshine and don’t get me wrong, the last two summers have been phenomenal. At the end of both summers I have been gloriously tanned, had the best time digging fantastic archaeology, outdoors in the amazing weather.

But let’s not forget folks…. this is Britain after all. Digging means digging in ALL seasons!

Untitled7 Untitled8 And that means all seasons folks. You have to put up with flooded sites, rain coming in from the side and worst of all, feeling like your going to lose your toes to frost bite because the metal plates which keep them safe also conducts that -5C feeling!!

But I have to admit, after everything, I don’t do my job for the money (I’d be desperately depressed if I did) and I don’t do it so that I get to be outside in the great weather.

Untitled9 Untitled10

I do it, because at the end of the day, to me it’s the best job in the world! Same reason all of us archaeologists trudge out into the trenches 8-5 every day 🙂


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