My Fieldwork Experiences: From Reading to Reading.

My current position in the Archaeology Department involves being largely chained to a desk. However, in the preceding 12 years fieldwork was a daily reality for me as I worked for Commercial archaeological companies. I hope to outline some of the fieldwork experiences I have had below without it reading too much like a personal statement for a job application.


Like so many archaeologists plying their trade today, my first real experience of fieldwork was a training season at the Silchester Town Life Project in the summer of 1999. I had archaeology A-level and had carried out a couple of weeks digging at Colchester in 1997 so was not entirely new to the trowel, yet the 4 weeks spent in that field in Hampshire cemented in my mind that digging holes was something I was always going to do.

Silchester in 1999. Shallow.

Silchester in 1999. Shallow.











On completing my undergraduate degree I began working with Oxford Archaeology, a company I was to work with for a further six years. It was with OA that I worked on a number of infrastructure projects such as the Channel tunnel rail link in Kent and the expansion of Heathrow with the construction of Terminal five.


Pete and me at Terminal Five……It was this nice.

Pete and me at Terminal Five……It was this nice.














Projects on the scale of an airport expansion can make you feel like a pretty small cog, with the huge amounts of machinery, noise and not to mention aircraft. It was also sometimes difficult to focus on the Bronze Age ditch I was digging when Concorde was taking off in the background. Every time I fly from Heathrow I reminisce about several of my trowels that lie forever buried beneath the concourse….
After seven or so years of commercial archaeology I realised that I should probably attempt working somewhere more exotic that required less high visibility clothing. The opportunity presented itself with the WF16 project at the magnificent Wadi Faynan in the Jordanian desert.

Standing on a high rock on the site at WF16 in Jordan.

Standing on a high rock on the site at WF16 in Jordan.














I was prepared as well as I could be with sun cream, mosquito repellent and multiple jabs, yet nothing could have prepared me for the incredible landscape and archaeology I was to experience. Excavating 10,000 year old mud walled structures surrounded by mountains, Bedouin tents and many, many goats was far removed from the world of commercial archaeology I’d temporarily left behind. It was an equally eye opening experience getting to know the local Bedouin workmen. Watching the moon rise over Wadi Ghuwayr while drinking tea with Ali and Abdullah is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

Making tea the Bedouin way in Wadi Hammam Jordan

Making tea the Bedouin way in Wadi Hammam Jordan











Over the next few years I participated in a project in Crete excavating a Late Minoan mountain top settlement at Karfi, a few weeks digging a Roman iron working site Austria and a five weeks of hellish northern French winter excavating an Iron Age settlement in Brittany. Subsequently I’ve also been involved with the Hebridean projects co-ordinated by Professor Steve Mithen, working on Islay, Mull and Gigha. The Mesolithic site at Rubha Port an t-Seilich on Islay, overlooking the sound to Jura is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been let alone worked.

Packing up after a day digging on the mountain in Karfi Crete. We carried that lot down…

Packing up after a day digging on the mountain in Karfi Crete. We carried that lot down…














Recording Mesolithic occupation on Mull.

Recording Mesolithic occupation on Mull.









The view from the site on Islay over to Jura.

The view from the site on Islay over to Jura.











Returning to the less glamourous world of commercial archaeology, the most challenging fieldwork project I co-ordinated was for the widening of the A11 in Suffolk. This was composed of numerous sites extending over 11km and was subject to strict deadlines. Despite the regularly stressful day to day of such a project I really enjoyed working with a talented team of archaeologists and responding to the often leftfield demands of the construction managers. Could I just move everyone from the carefully timetabled excavation areas to dig the bit they want to stick an oversized newt tunnel through….of course I can.

Excavating a late Medieval tile kiln in Hertfordshire.

Excavating a late Medieval tile kiln in Hertfordshire.










During my commercial career, Silchester was a permanent summer fixture (to the possible annoyance of my employers). Over the fifteen seasons I attended, supervised and finally co-ordinated I had the hugely rewarding task of teaching students and volunteers the techniques of excavation and recording. Witnessing people who were so shy they could barely speak develop confidence over a few weeks to work as part of the team was always amazing as was witnessing students eventually returning as staff member and passing on their learning. Seeing the trench I cumulatively spent the best part of two years in backfilled last summer was a very strange experience.
And now I find myself back in the Archaeology department working for the very project that kick started the whole process. In a few months I embark on a new phase of excavation at Pond farm, just outside Silchester and with knowledge of what’s gone before await the trials, tribulations and (fingers crossed) excitements to come.


NickPankhurst_wA bit about today’s blogger:  Nick Pankhurst

Nick works as Project Assistant for Silchester Town Life project, combining overall site supervision for the field school and post-excavation analysis of the late Iron Age and Early Roman stratigraphy. He has participated in the field school since his first year as a Reading undergraduate in 1999 and as staff member since 2001.

Prior to his current role, Nick worked for 12 years with commercial archaeological units in Oxford and Cambridge. During this time he co-ordinated numerous rural and urban excavations including projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5, the A11 widening in Suffolk and in Winchester, Cirencester and Oxford. He has also supervised on research projects in Jordan, Crete and Austria and worked on excavations in the Hebrides and northern France.


Digging for Britain

On 3rd February BBC 2 broadcast ‘Digging for Britain’ – ‘Professor Alice Roberts and archaeologist Matt Williams present 2014’s most outstanding archaeology. In the summer, archaeologists have been unearthing our history in hundreds of digs across Britain. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to uncover long lost treasures – retelling our story in a way only archaeology can.

Dr Alice Roberts follows a year of British archaeology, joining up the results of digs and investigations the length of the country

Dr Alice Roberts follows a year of British archaeology, joining up the results of digs and investigations the length of the country










In this episode, we’re in the east of Britain. Sites include:

Must Farm: The Cambridgeshire site is called the Pompeii of the Bronze Age and gives an unparalleled glimpse of life 3,000 years ago.

Colchester: Roman treasure hidden as Queen Boudicca rampaged through the town.

Oakington: Burial rituals revealing the secrets of Anglo-Saxon childbirth.

Lyminge: Investigating a mysterious Anglo-Saxon royal hall.

Basing House: Examining the final days of this 16th-century Tudor complex.

Silchester: Important Roman finds from the longest-running archaeological dig in the country tell of the Emperor Nero’s personal involvement.

You can still watch this episode here –

Keep a look out for Gabor Thomas and Alex Knox at Lyminge, as well as Mike Fulford, Amanda Clarke, Nick Pankhurst and Sarah Lambert-Gates at Silchester (Amanda, Nick and Sarah – are voices behind the camera!)


Life-changing fieldwork in pre-war Syria

The reason I stayed in archaeology is my first fieldwork season in Syria. Halfway through my undergraduate degree, I found archaeology certainly very interesting and enjoyable, but I had started wondering how relevant it really was to society. Was it not more a sort of elaborate hobby, fun for a while, but not worth spending my whole life on? I was planning to start taking a few non-archaeological modules after the summer break. First though there were ten weeks of fieldwork in the Middle East that I had already signed up for, an opportunity I did not want to miss in any case. So, off I went to rural northern Syria.


1.View from the main archaeological site to a smaller adjacent site, the cotton fields, and the village where we stayed. Photo by Ben van den Bercken

1. View from the main archaeological site to a smaller adjacent site, the cotton fields, and the village where we stayed. Photo by Ben van den Bercken












The archaeological site I went to was a small Neolithic tell (Arabic for artificial mound) with an Middle Assyrian (about 13th century BC) fortress on top. Its name is Tell Sabi Abyad, which translates as ‘mound of the white boy’ – the place is believed to be haunted, although an attempt by some of my fellow students to spot the ghost one night was not successful. The site is located in what currently is a steppe zone, or an area with a limited amount of rainfall. However, extensive irrigation makes the landscape look rather greener than the Sahara desert many people back home appear to think all of the Middle East looks like! On the photos you can see the green cotton fields surrounding the site.


2.Early morning hot, sweet tea with my team. Later in the season, in October, the very early mornings could be chilly. The site and village are currently in IS area - I very much hope everyone in the village is all right!

2. Early morning hot, sweet tea with my team. Later in the season, in October, the very early mornings could be chilly. The site and village are currently in IS area – I very much hope everyone in the village is all right!












We arrived in the middle of August, and temperatures were up to a scorching high 40s in the shade. The sort of covering, lightweight clothing Kevin wrote about ( was certainly essential! We stayed in a traditional mud brick house in the nearby village – very lovely, although also very dusty, as was the archaeological site. In the mornings, the raspy voice of the imam coming from the mosque would wake us around 4 o’clock. This was the signal it was almost time to get up, in order to be on the site before sunrise, so we could do some work before the worst heat would set in. In the afternoons we would mostly work in the slightly cooler excavation house. Not used to the heat and the food, everyone fell ill almost immediately. So, heat, hard work, and sickness. But I loved it. The archaeology was amazing, 8500 year old mud walls, still preserved. In the buildings we found some of the earliest pottery in the Middle East, and many beautiful (as well as less beautiful) artefacts of daily life, like grinding stones, and figurines. The local people were extremely friendly, especially considering they were dealing with inexperienced students who could not speak their language but yet were commandeering them around (or well, trying to). On an almost daily basis we were invited for strong, sweet tea at people’s houses. The other students and archaeologists were also great. While dinnertime political discussions were frequent, in our ‘bubble’ we did not really worry about the global news; generally, we just focused on our daily work and survival.


3.From sunrise… (photo: Ben van den Bercken)

3. From sunrise… (photo: Ben van den Bercken)










4.… to sunset (photo: Willem Londeman)

4. … to sunset (photo: Willem Londeman)











I decided that I did not care if archaeology was not that important to society: I simply loved it and would continue to do it. But more gradually I also realised something else: that in fact archaeology is all about society. We do not just want to find some fancy things (right?), but we want to figure out what it was like for people to live back then. What did they do? How did they do the things they did? And, mainly, why did they do them? Of course, this is something that I had already learned in my university courses. But, and Duncan also referred to this in his blog (posted on the 5th December 2014), it is the actual digging that can lead to new ideas, or in this case, that can make us really understand the ideas that until then we just knew in theory.

5.Drawing 5 metre high sections. A few days previous, there was a large snake in one of the holes to the top! (photo: Ben van den Bercken)

5. Drawing 5 metre high sections. A few days previous, there was a large snake in one of the holes to the top! (photo: Ben van den Bercken)















About today’s blogger:

PascalFlohr_wPascal Flohr is a post-doctoral research assistant in Middle Eastern Archaeology, working for Professor Dominik Fleitmann. Her main aim is to assess the impact of climatic events on Holocene Near Eastern societies, by compiling and re-analysing existing data using a database and GIS, with a current focus on Early Holocene rapid climate events, such as the 8.2 ka event.

Pascal’s doctoral research focused on reconstructing past water availability by using plant stable isotopic composition, with a main aim of reconstructing past water management practices in the Near East. She was involved in experimental crop growing in Jordan (led by the Water, Life, and Civilisation project in cooperation with NCARE), conducted charring and burial experiments with cereal grains in Jordan and the UK, and applied the method to archaeological plant samples from the Jordan Valley.

Pascal has been involved in several archaeological projects in the Near East, including the experimental building of a replica Neolithic structure based on the site of WF16, Jordan, and documenting and repairing experimental structures at Beidha, also in Jordan. In addition, she has got extensive fieldwork experience in the Near East, at sites like Sabi Abyad in Syria, WF16 and Barqa in Jordan, and Bestansur in Iraq.

Gender and archaeology: my experiences in the field

1. Lyminge Archaeological Project 2014, the grand finale to our three year AHRC-funded project excavating an Anglo-Saxon Royal settlement in south-east Kent, directed by Dr Gabor Thomas.

1. Lyminge Archaeological Project 2014, the grand finale to our three year AHRC-funded project excavating an Anglo-Saxon Royal settlement in south-east Kent, directed by Dr Gabor Thomas.

An extremely vivid memory for me is my recollection of walking into a sandwich shop in Spitalfields dressed top to toe like any of the builders and construction workers also in there for their 11am sausage roll and cup of tea, elbowing my way through to grab a sandwich from the cooler. In 2006 I was working on a site not five minutes from Liverpool Street station, in the middle of some of the most exciting urban archaeology in London. It was just me and a (male) supervisor on a relatively small excavation, and it was really my very first experience of acknowledging that I was a woman in a very masculine working world. We were excavating for the foundations of a new office building and had broken the relative monotony of Roman quarry pits with the discovery of several Saxon graves.

Up until then, most of my experience had been on training excavations or sites that were in the middle of nowhere with a mixed demographic that didn’t seem to emphasise gender at all, apart from acknowledging basic differences that might affect digging directly, such as overall strength, which didn’t always apply. Many female archaeologists I have worked with over the years were quite as capable of shifting just as much dirt in a day as their male colleagues. I am extremely thankful that my very first training dig, the Silchester Town Life Project, introduced me to a working environment based around equality and equal expectations for all genders, ages and abilities/disabilities. Amanda Clarke is pivotal in creating this supportive and encouraging environment at Silchester.

In this atmosphere of masculinity in central London, I was actually surprised to find that aside from a few sideways glances, I didn’t receive any of the harassment or teasing that British builders are famous for. Certainly I have no direct recollection of anything like this. I was there to do a job, and it seemed to me very much that they acknowledged that we were all there to work. I have since understood that my experience is anomalous, but what I did know was that should anything have occurred, my male colleague would have ‘had my back’, something I experienced many times on digs. Archaeology, from my experiences in the commercial field, can be incredibly equalising, often because of the need just to get the job done in time and on budget – everyone is relied upon to do an equal share of the work. Any shirkers, male or female, were grumbled about quietly in the pub after work. What I did feel, however, and often still feel, was a need to prove myself just as up to the task as others. I know that if this had been an all-female working environment, I would have worked hard, but not felt the additional pressure to prove I was just as good as the men.

2. Working hard on site, on the phone, records under my arm and a find in my hand, making sure everything goes smoothly at Lyminge in 2009

2. Working hard on site, on the phone, records under my arm and a find in my hand, making sure everything goes smoothly at Lyminge in 2009

The surprising things for me came later on, discovering that many people do experience marked gender discrimination in archaeology and many other disciplines, and that many people actually expect to be treated differently because of their gender. Since my earliest experiences in commercial archaeology, I have gone back to academia, and am currently in charge of the day-to-day running of an excavation that trains both students and local volunteers. The Lyminge Archaeological Project is deeply imbedded in the local community, but also provides many university students with their first or second experiences of excavation in the UK. Despite running the excavation with equal expectations for men and women, with the aims not to discriminate and of encouraging everyone to take part in all the different jobs on-site, we often still see people falling into supposedly gendered roles. Many of our female volunteers spent a day or two digging initially and have since decided that working with finds (sometimes referred to as the ‘housework’ of archaeology) is much more their cup of tea, a choice that is also completely valid. When we ask for volunteers to dig a big ditch slot or pit section, we mostly get male volunteers, despite encouraging everyone to have a go. Gender equality in opportunity must allow for the fact that many people will be quite happy to choose an activity or role that appears to be highly gendered. We could not run our dig at Lyminge nearly so successfully without our dedicated team of self-named ‘Lyminge Scrubbers’, and in fact we have been told many times that on our dig they feel really useful and engaged in both the project and the local community.

3. Some of our most dedicated finds processors on our last Friday of the dig in 2013, commonly known as 'Cake Friday' as you can see from the groaning tables!

3. Some of our most dedicated finds processors on our last Friday of the dig in 2013, commonly known as ‘Cake Friday’ as you can see from the groaning tables!

It is surprising how many times I have discussed with a female student what I expect them to do and have had them protest that they aren’t able or will be slower because they are ‘a girl’. Contrarily, it also surprises me how annoyed some of our male students are at seeing a female archaeologist out-perform them (I must emphasise that this indignation is rare, but has happened). Having grown up with confident and out-going sisters, an inspiring working mother and an extremely supportive father who worked in archaeology and museums, and having gone to an all girl’s school for the majority of my secondary schooling, it never occurred to me that I could not or should not do something because I am female, or that my hard work might threaten others’ gender identity. I think as a result, many of my students over the years probably remember my disdain of comments like these, particularly in combination with my partner in crime at Lyminge, excavation and training manager Rosie Cummings. At Lyminge, you just don’t get to cry off a task or get assigned a task because of your gender – Rosie never misses the opportunity to point out that her record is 10 post holes fully excavated and recorded in one day whilst 8 months pregnant! Indeed, Rosie has been pregnant twice while working at Lyminge, and for me provides the ultimate role model as a female archaeologist who is completely focused on her job and career, has never let anything get in her way and has been able to organise her working life around her family life always to her advantage. She talks very positively of the support she received from the department at Reading, enabling her to work during the latter stages of her pregnancies – although I must of course point out that Rosie was well used to heavy archaeological fieldwork prior to becoming pregnant, so it was quite safe for her to undertake some excavation work.

4. Rosie (in the black jumper and cap) teaches our students section drawing at Lyminge in 2009, two months before giving birth to Archie.

4. Rosie (in the black jumper and cap) teaches our students section drawing at Lyminge in 2009, two months before giving birth to Archie.

Our primary aim at Lyminge is to excavate a fantastic Anglo-Saxon site whilst providing training for students and volunteers of all abilities, genders and ages, but I am certain that many come away with a better understanding of their abilities and with their preconceptions about gender challenged. I had a great sense of achievement when a male colleague informed me, after my having mentioned something about sexism, that he didn’t see me as a woman but primarily as a colleague and friend, and I hope that many of those who come to Lyminge take away at the very least the understanding that both men and women can successfully run an excavation without discrimination, and with a new confidence in their abilities as a person rather than as a gendered individual.

5. Gemma Watson, current Post-Doc in the archaeology department and one of our Lyminge Finds Supervisors from 2008-2010, teaching finds recording in LYM09.

5. Gemma Watson, current Post-Doc in the archaeology department and one of our Lyminge Finds Supervisors from 2008-2010, teaching finds recording in LYM09.

I have been lucky thus far in my career, and I know my generally positive experience does not speak for every female archaeologist. I am well aware that I speak from a position of privilege, as a white, middle class, educated cisgender female who is unafraid to challenge sexism when I see it. Sexist attitudes or gender-related issues I have experienced have primarily been when working outside of archaeology, and surprisingly have tended to come from other women, (incidentally, something that women collectively really need to work on). While working in archaeology I have been extremely lucky to have had fantastic female role models all the way through my university experience and in the world of work. Male supervisors and employers have too only been encouraging, judging my ability rather than my gender. Never once has it been expressed to me that I might achieve less because of my gender, although it has become clear that women often have to work harder to achieve the same as men. Any difficulties I myself have encountered over my career so far seem less about working in archaeology but rather in academia overall. As a woman, there are many issues I face that my male colleagues will not in such an obvious way. Should I want a family, how will that affect my academic career that is thus far based on short-term contracts for post-doctoral positions? How do I even know when I am being discriminated against because of my gender? I can perfectly understand why many women in science choose a less obvious path to that of their male counterparts as their careers progress. I hope I will continue to aim high and not let my gender dictate my career path, but enhance it. In doing so, the benefit is passed on to men too, where the inequalities or difficulties that they face are much less debated and understood. Empowering women in academia and ‘in the field’ benefits everyone and I am happy to be part of a department that is working hard on doing this.


6. Yours truly blogging from the edge of trench at Lyminge in 2012

6. Yours truly blogging from the edge of trench at Lyminge in 2012


7. End of dig photo at Lyminge 2014 - all ages, genders and abilities!

7. End of dig photo at Lyminge 2014 – all ages, genders and abilities!

Alexandra-Knox_1957_wA bit about today’s blogger: Alex Knox

I am currently the Post-Doctoral Research Assistant on the Lyminge Archaeological project, a 3-year AHRC funded project that is excavating the Anglo-Saxon origins and remains of the monastic settlement in the village of Lyminge, Kent.

I  completed my PhD at the University of Reading, examining the expression of worldviews and belief systems within Anglo-Saxon settlements during the conversion period. My research focuses on the expression of beliefs in supposedly ordinary activity evident through the archaeological record, which I attempt to access through comparing associated burial evidence and developing theoretical approaches to investigating ritual action.

I undertook my BA in Archaeology at the University of Reading and my MA is in European Historical Archaeology from the University of Sheffield.




TrowelBlazers – a celebration

While discussing our blog many people have also told us about TrowelBlazers –

TrowelBlazers is written by Brenna Hasset, Victoria Herridge, Suzanne Pilaar Birch and Rebecca Wragg Sykes, and is a ‘celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realise.’

Two of our very own TrowelBlazers who have recently featured on our blog are pictured below

Me multitasking. Maximising time

Macarena Cardenas multitasking in the field

Amanda Clarke, our very own trowelblazer

Amanda Clarke, another of our very own trowelblazers


Trowelblazing Part 2: A career in the field – Amanda Clarke

Glass half empty? Fieldwork is uncomfortable – let’s be honest about it. We are usually stuck in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere – nothing convenient about that. And talking of convenient – one of the first tasks I ALWAYS do, regardless of whether on a 2-day geophysics escapade or a 6-month road scheme, is to work out the toilet arrangements. That may sound trivial – but believe me to women on fieldwork – and probably some men too – the proximity of the nearest convenience is what it is all about! clarke1And then there is the weather……a never ending topic of conversation in any site hut. But the weather IS all important…too much of it and you are destined to sit in a pool of mud for days on end, vainly searching for context differences; not enough and you are consigned to digging soil set like concrete whilst vainly trying to keep the sun off your neck and the back of your knees. My most dreaded and unlooked for Silchester experience was planning what to do with 130 people during a rainy day….25 people sent to work on Finds, 10 people to the Science hut, 15 people to work on site records – that still leaves over 60 people thumb twiddling in a leaking marquee. Other fieldwork challenges: earwigs in tea and tent; learning to live with the feeling that you are actually sharing your one-person tent with 78 other people (who all snore), never finding anything in ‘your’ patch on site, and a dawning comprehension that there are at least a dozen different ways to effectively remove dirt.


And from our foreign correspondent I love that moment when you step off a ‘plane into a new culture, a new environment – a new archaeology. Never let the fact that you may not be familiar with the material culture and archaeology and history of (say) Belize stop you! I believe that once you have been (properly) taught the basics of excavation and recording (as we do at Silchester) – then the world is literally your archaeological oyster. You can dig anywhere – and see the world. And this is what I did – Lebanon, Central America, St. Kilda, Minorca, Jamaica. Setting up Field Schools – and working – abroad can be exceptionally challenging. It can take a while to find your routine and to become comfortable enough in the new environment to enjoy the archaeology. It is hard to experience the thrill of archaeological discovery for example when working amongst the worlds’ deadliest snakes. I once spent 2 weeks being observed on a daily basis by a python in a tree overhanging the trench – an experience which concentrated the mind beautifully. Luckily it had just eaten. Showering in a jungle with my boots on to avoid scorpions and baby snakes can also temper enjoyment. But, the archaeological excitement will and can balance out any negativity, and without a doubt the best field archaeologists I have ever encountered have been the local workmen who can disentangle stratigraphy with their teeth and create a work of art out of a trowelled surface.


clarke2Team Silchester The success of the Silchester Field School is based on team and community spirit. People just seemed to love it. I pride myself on the quality of teaching we delivered, and also on our high standard of excavation and recording, regardless of external time pressures. My supervisors were amongst the best in the world; and most of them started their adult lives as students at the Department of Archaeology at Reading, and subsequently at the Silchester Field School. It is a legacy to be proud of. However I cannot claim any credit for the juggernaut that is the Field School – I simply facilitated it each and every year. The head of successful steam was entirely built up by people who loved it, benefited from it personally and professionally, spread the word, and wanted to return year after year. Every dig has its fans of course, but an 18 year excavation inspires a special kind of devotion.


The Transformers And the Field School did literally change the lives of many people. Some of my most inspiring – and humbling – moments have been watching tentative, socially fragile students develop from pale, shrinking mud-averse undergraduates to confident, tanned, trowel-wielding individuals who build up social networks they will retain forever, and develop a rainbow of skills which will carry them through life. Not bad for a hole in the ground!


Blank Page In my book, fieldwork is the beginning of it all – that first tentative clarke3sentence of a whole chapter of new research, the beginnings of a love of all things outdoors, the start of diverse skills and adventures. Nothing can ever quite match the excitement of uncovering a swirl of gravel, bounded by linear ditches, which turns out to be part of a hitherto unknown and only guessed at Iron Age street layout – its discovery giving a tantalising glimpse into the organisation of a long ago way of life. Fieldwork is the very first booted steps which will echo down the centuries – and how many things can you say that about? Many archaeology books published pay homage to that very first day of putting the boot in, putting the trowel in…..lifting the turf on Day 1 may allow a glimpse 10 years hence to a 5* publication hot off the press. It’s a wonderful motivator!


Bullseye Fclarke4ieldwork is a darts board of possibilities. A big project like Silchester has room for everyone. The most important people on any project are by no means the Directors….no, it is all about the people who dig, who uncover, who wash and scrub the artefacts, who fill bag after bag of soil, who stand with their hands in cold water day in and day out, microscopically tweezering out evidence for past lives, who communicate daily discoveries to our visitors (one of the huge successes of our Field School). But fieldwork also celebrates the (possibly) less glamorous jobs…..the site manager who picks up the litter, rescues crisp packets from food recycling bins, recovers lost mobile phones from the innards of portaloos, drives the vehicles, looks after the stores and equipment….the cook who sweats over a hot portakabin to produce meals which don’t touch the sides on the way down, and are never enough…..the project assistant who lovingly crafts the spaghetti junction lists and rotas for who does what day in, day out. A dig is a kaleidoscope of opportunities.


clarke5(Earth) Worm wisdom And if I can leave prospective fieldworkers with some advice? Firstly, just because you are in a field in the middle of nowhere does not mean that style goes out of the window along with personal hygiene. Secondly, wear layers, cherish your waterproof trousers and always have a clear sight of the portaloos. Thirdly, remember that all fieldworkers are an equal and important part of the project and always make time for everyone. And smile. And fourthly and finally – remember – it’s just a dig. Nothing more, nothing less.





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… 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.


A passion for fieldwork: Jim Leary

I became a professional fieldworker in 1998 – the year I graduated from university. I had done fieldwork before that, but this was the first time I was actually paid to do it. I joined what was at the time a small company in London that specialised in digging archaeology in advance of building developments. These were the boom years; the housing market exploded and the company I worked for grew in size, becoming one of the largest in the country. I was hardly ever out of the field. Initially the plan was to get a few weeks digging experience before starting a masters degree, but commercial digging seemed so much more relevant to me than abstract, blue skies academia (plus it was a lot of fun) and so I stayed. In fact I stayed for seven and a half years. I dug sites of every period, mostly in London, and they were good sites – deeply stratified with tonnes of finds – the very best in Britain. We dug Roman and medieval sites in the City of London, and sites in Convent Garden, which was once the beating heart of Saxon Lundenwic. We dug prehistoric sites in Southwark and post-medieval industrial sites along the foreshore. Everything and anything – it was pretty much the best training ground I could have asked for.


It was hard work, of course, and working on building sites wasn’t always easy. These were unashamedly masculine spaces, and I know it was easier for me as a man than it was for my female colleagues. Certainly when I worked in that environment (perhaps things have changed now) most construction workers were men and talk had more than a hint of testosterone to it. That is not to say that everyone lived up to their wolf-whistling stereotypes, but it wasn’t uncommon to find a rolled up porno in the Portaloo. In fact, women on site were largely restricted to archaeologists and although it may not have been common, they did at times find themselves subjected to inappropriate comments. When this happened, though, our team were always quick to pull them up on it, and on one site I was supervising in the City we all walked out after a scaffolding team offended a female archaeologist working below. The whole site shut down until we agreed to return after an apology.

Occasions like that were rare though, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in commercial archaeology – as did, I think, most others working there then – male or female. In fact, we had the times of our lives; working, drinking, laughing, the banter – I miss it, and nowhere else I’ve worked has quite captured that dynamism, excitement, bonhomie and joie de vivre. It was there, too, that I met my wife – a fellow archaeologist enjoying and dealing with the daily trials of working on building sites in London – a relationship forged in the white heat of commercial digging.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

You can’t dig like that forever though, and we eventually moved on. I joined the Research Department at English Heritage, remaining there also for seven and a half years. I directed some fantastic excavations with EH – from the great prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill to Marden henge – the largest Neolithic henge in the country. And now I am the Director of the Archaeology Field School at the University of Reading. We will be going back to dig at Marden henge next year with the Field School and I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t imagine life without fieldwork – it is, as American archaeologist Kent Flannery once put it, “the most fun you can have with your pants on”.

A bit about today’s blogger Jim-Leary

Dr Jim Leary is Director of the Archaeology Field School in SAGES.  Jim Leary convenes the Archaeological Thought and Careers in Archaeology modules, and contributes to the Practicing Archaeology module. In 2007 and 2008, he directed the major excavations into Silbury Hill and has managed the post-excavation programme since. He co-authored the monograph of this work, as well as a popular account (with a foreword by David Attenborough). In 2010 Jim directed excavations at Marden henge, which lies between Stonehenge and Avebury, revealing one of the best preserved Neolithic buildings in England. More recently Jim assisted with work that cored through the Marlborough Castle Mound, conclusively proving for the first time that its origins are prehistoric and contemporary with Silbury Hill. Jim has also researched perceptions and understandings of sea-level rise in the Mesolithic, as well as mobility and movement in archaeology. He sits on the council of the Prehistoric Society, and has written a chapter on excavation and evaluation for the Avebury and Stonehenge WHS Research Agenda. Jim has also written numerous archaeology-related articles for popular magazines and journals.

Think Athena SWAN is only for women? Think again.

Welcome to the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science‘s blog – SAGE(S) Advice – see what we did there? It’s a space for members of our School to share and discuss with you our experiences and ideas about fieldwork, gender and careers.

We’re a School within the Faculty of Science at the University of Reading. In November 2011, we won our Athena SWAN Bronze Award (hurrah!) and this blog forms an important part of our aspiration to create a culture of equality and inclusivity for our staff, students and everyone we work with. We want to engage in a dialogue online and in-person about the fieldwork that is so central to the academic disciplines in our School and to many of the career paths our students pursue. So whilst the title of our blog involved some creative thinking, it is a serious endeavour to widen the discussion and applicability of the Athena SWAN charter. It’s not only for women. It’s a charter for everyone.

So what is Athena SWAN?

The Athena SWAN charter was launched in 2005 “to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics”. There are now 114 Athena SWAN members. This is pretty remarkable but there is much work still to be done.

All Athena SWAN members sign up to the principles of the charter:

  • To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation
  • To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation
  • The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine
  • The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern which the organisation will address
  • The system of short-term contracts has particularly negative consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the organisation recognises
  • There are both personal and structural obstacles to women making the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science, which require the active consideration of the organisation

In our School, the Athena SWAN charter and our work on gender and fieldwork is embedded across the many committees and student programmes in operation. We do this not just for women within our School and beyond, but also to enhance the working culture for all of our staff and students.

A bit about today’s blogger

Fieldwork in Sydney, Australia. Follow @DrHG on Twitter.

I’m Dr Hilary Geoghegan and I am Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Reading. I research ‘enthusiasm’ – specifically the emotional affiliations and attachments we feel towards the material world around us and how this influences our actions, passions and performances in the world. I lead on our School Athena SWAN activities and it is my pleasure to work with colleagues on this blog but also our wider gender and fieldwork initiatives on which there will be more in due course. I’ve always loved geography as a subject, particularly the opportunity to visit different places (even if they are very local!) and talk to people about how they experience the world. My most recent bit of fieldwork was in Australia, but I’ll save that for a future blogpost!