Trowelblazing Part 1: A career in the field

Amanda Clarke, our very own trowelblazer

Amanda Clarke, our very own trowelblazer

The Final Context How very rare it is to have the satisfaction of starting something…and then finishing it! I have worked on countless excavations since I began my fieldwork career…many I joined half way through, some I left half way through. Each was memorable in their distinctive way – but nothing quite matches up to my experience on the Silchester Field School. I began this in June 1997 with a JCB and a handful of excavators – and I finished 18 summers later in August 2014, with 130 excavators, a fleet of JCBs and dumpers, a barn full of finds and samples, 16,303 units of stratigraphy recorded – and a tearful Professor. What kind of journey has it been? (scroll down for some photos!)

Childhood ambition? I have always loved being in the field, and my job as Director of the Silchester Field School at the University of Reading has allowed me to combine this passion with a desire to teach the few things I know, and the chance to develop my managerial and organisational skills in ways I never dreamed possible….

Trowelblazing As a woman in fieldwork I have always taken the attitude that there is nothing I cannot do. My early days in commercial archaeology toughened me up quickly – leading an archaeological watching brief on the site of a multi-million pound multi-storey car-park on a cold December morning in the middle of York, surrounded by a team of hardened contractors intent on getting their job done – was a baptism of fire indeed. Women in site supervisory positions were a rarity in the 1990’s when I was leading teams…..there were women running the finds hut, the environmental aspects, the drawing office ….but outside in the crisp York air I was in a male dominated environment. I have always fought against any kind of ‘gender divide’ on my project teams – but that division does still cast a shadow. Sadly it is a self-perpetuating stereotype….trench work is often seen as ‘physical,’ mattock-wielding, trowel twirling work, whereas finds are all about housekeeping ‘pretty things’….still. 18 years of running the Silchester Field School gave me the opportunity to challenge these preconceptions and actually do something about them. And now that I have just finished running the biggest, boldest, brightest excavation on and in British soil (no bias showing here) – I am pleased to say I feel the scales tipping. In the final Silchester season 58% of participants were women, the majority of my Silchester Supervisors have been women, and the Department has an excellent track record of our female graduates working in commercial archaeology. It’s a good feeling.

Team Tactics Running the Silchester Field School has never been hard for me. Yes of course it is challenging in terms of sheer numbers of hours in the field, and on some of those days when nothing goes right…..the portaloo emptying lorry is stuck in the mud, half the students have a crippling summer cold, the site wifi has dissipated, a dozen tents have blown over, the pump for draining the water from a well under excavation has choked and stopped, 125 unbooked in visitors have arrived for a tour, I can’t find my coffee mug and context 14725 is not where I would like it to be stratigraphically…..But I instinctively know how to make it all work…..it is simply about the teams and the working environment you create. And the rest just follows. The archaeology may be a repetitive mix of wafer thin gravel layers – but it is still possible to teach and learn, to inspire and aspire.

Opportunity Knocks I love digging, I love excavations – wherever and whatever they may be – and my desire to communicate this passion can verge on the intimidating! I believe that attending an excavation is a life-altering experience – and everyone should try it at least once. My goal is to demonstrate that regardless of age, gender, skill, ability, aptitude, there are many many different experiences and opportunities an excavation can offer – something for everyone. Never think ‘I can’t’ – always think ‘how can I’.

 

Last day on the Silchester site

The final Silchester site tour

Challenge Amanda!

Challenge Amanda!

Some of our other trowelblazers!

Some of our other trowelblazers!

The Silchester Field School campsite

The Silchester Field School campsite

Working as a team: celebrating 10 seasons on site

Working as a team: celebrating 10 seasons on site

More to come from Amanda next week in Part 2!

Field archaeologist and trowelblazer!

Field archaeologist and trowelblazer!

A bit about today’s blogger: Amanda Clarke is a field archaeologist appointed by Reading University to help train its students in all aspects of field archaeology. She is Site Director for the Department of Archaeologys training excavation at the Roman town of Silchester, and for fieldwork in Pompeii, Italy. When not in the field she is involved in the post-excavation work for these projects. She has spent many years in the field, on sites all over the world including Norway, Beirut, Jamaica, Belize and the northern and western isles of Scotland. She has worked most recently for York Archaeological Trust on many of their large urban sites, as well as directing two seasons of work on the early Christian site of Whithorn in Galloway. She also works as a Teaching Fellow for the Department of Archaeology at Boston University on the student training excavations in Belize, Central America.

 

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