One of the questions I get asked a lot as an archaeology tutor is: how can I have a go at excavating? Since digging is all but synonymous with archaeology, this is perhaps not surprising, but the answer is not quite as straightforward as it might at first seem.
The first question is are you interested in getting a job in archaeology or are you interested more in the amateur and community side of things?
If you are interested in the first option, I would recommend getting in touch with your local archaeological unit or checking out websites such as BAJR, which advertises archaeology jobs in the UK. If you’re interested in working outside the UK, you might wish to try the Archaeology Abroad bulletin.
However, for most of my learners, it is the second option that is most relevant and this is the one that I wish to focus on primarily in this blog post.
The option I always recommend first and foremost is to get in touch with your local archaeological society, if one exists. Not only will this allow you to meet like-minded individuals, but by doing so you will be able to take part in the activities that they organise. This can range from listening to invited speakers through to fieldwalking, geophysical survey and even full-scale excavation. All societies are different so check out what yours is like. You might be surprised at how active some of them. Don’t turn your nose up if they tend to focus on things like fieldwalking more than excavation either. Fieldwalking is an inexpensive, non-invasive procedure that can be useful for identifying which areas of a site might be worth further investigation so it really isn’t a bad way to get started.
The reason I recommend that option first and foremost for the interested amateur is that most archaeology these days is conducted under the auspices of the National Planning Policy Framework by contract units. Because they are working on construction sites in advance of building houses, roads etc, these units are often expected to abide by similar Health and Safety legislation as any other construction company. That being the case, as well as the fact that they often have tight deadlines to meet, may well discourage them from taking on inexperienced volunteers. That is not to say that it’s not worth asking them, but don’t be surprised if they say no.
Local societies, on the other hand, typically accept anyone of any level of experience and ability. What matters most to them is that you are interested.
Alternatively, you could try seeing if there are any field schools running that you might find interesting. The Past Horizons website is one way to find those, as is the Go Digging section of the Current Archaeology website. Please be aware that you will need to pay to participate in some of these field schools, although there are some that are free. However, if you don’t mind paying, these can be great ways to get involved with an interested project and get training in archaeological excavation at the same time.
Last but not least, keep an eye out for smaller projects and events be held as part of the Festival of Archaeology. The 23rd Festival of Archaeology will run from Saturday 13th – Sunday 28th July 2013. This is an annual festival with many different events being hosted by museums, historical buildings, universities, contract units and so on throughout the UK. These events can range from talks and guided walks through to family days and visits to excavations. Check out their website to find out what is going on near you.