What's it like being an archaeologist?

What's it like being an archaeologist?

As well as co-creator of Archaeodiscovery, Odile is also manager of the archaeology unit TVAS South. Here she is to tell us more about being a REAL archaeologist:

Becoming a manager at TVAS South was a big change in my career. For over twenty years, I have been a field archaeologist, working in commercial archaeology.

Spoiler alert: no Indiana Jones vibes here!

We mostly work on housing estates and road schemes and clear the archaeology ahead of development. But don’t get me wrong, we get our fair share of amazing discoveries and also feel like heroes at times!

Working on site means a lot of digging. Once a site is stripped down to the natural geology (we use machines, usually excavators and dumpers) to take off the topsoil and subsoil, the archaeology will be visible. It usually appears as darker patches on the ground: our only evidence that something was dug here before but has been backfilled. The exposed archaeological features then have to be dug by hand. And by hand I mean with a mattock and shovel, or with a trowel for the smaller features.


Most people think archaeology is all about the digging. Let me stop you right there.

The digging is just the tip of the iceberg!

Our main job? Making sense of it all. Once we have excavated the site, recovered the finds (pottery, bone, metal finds, flint, etc) and taken soil samples (to be further analysed for seeds, charcoal, wood types, etc), we have to piece the clues together and produce a report. We have to interpret our findings and tell the real story behind it all: who lived here? Who were these people? What did their houses look like? What did they eat? What other activities did they partake in?

And to be honest, it’s probably the best part of the job. Yes, even better than the digging and finding things!

We get to understand the past. And especially when it comes to prehistoric times (when there are no historical records), it’s about learning how our ancestors lived and it’s about their relationship with the land WE now occupy... and there’s nothing more fascinating than that.

Believe me, holding a loom weight, or a flint axe that is over 2000 years old is a feeling unlike any other. It is your window to the past. Who was the last person to touch this object before it was buried? Why did they bury it there? Or was it simply lost (in the case of coins or smaller objects, it does happen!)? Of course we’ll never be able to read these people’s minds: we already struggle to understand the generation of our great-grand-parents! But the more clues we gather, the more we make the puzzle fit together.

Archaeology has evolved so much since the days of the Antiquarians. Before, it was all about the finds, the objects, the “goodies”. Archaeologists in Victorian times even discarded human bones: they were only interested in the valuables.

But now? Not only do we keep everything, record everything, analyse everything, we also record nothing. Bear with me. The absence of archaeological remains is as interesting to us as the presence of archaeological remains. Why did people settle here? And not there? Is it to do with the landscape? The geology? The fact that the whole area was wooded? That it had no exploitable resources?

Archaeology is such a multi-faceted domain. You have to be the hands-on, on-site person, you have to be the researcher, the photographer, the detective, the interpreter. It never gets boring!

And at Archaeodiscovery, that’s exactly the message we want to send people: archaeology is not just about the few that make a professional career out of it. It is now accessible to a wider audience and we want everyone to be included: it is YOUR past too!

So yes, I may not have retrieved the crystal skulls or escaped the Temple of Doom, but here I am, here we are, making sense of our past, one flint at time, one step at a time.

Join us at Archaeodiscovery, let’s share this amazing journey!

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