The following is a semi response to a post on Doug’s Archaeology.
This is my story of doing archaeology in the UK. I agree with Doug in hindsight but, back when I was making the decision to move to the UK to pursue a career in archaeology, I was too focused on the dream of archaeology than on the bad things that could possibly happen to me.
Warning! Some of the pictures included in this post are extremely unflattering, but at the time I was too excited about archaeology to give a thought to my appearance. So enjoy how I used to save money by cutting my own hair.
Let us begin. It was pre-2008 and, at first, archaeology in the UK was a dream….
During my MA in Landscape Archaeology I was free to sign out equipment and go wherever I could find a ride, surveying sites, doing Geo-physics. Archaeology was year round, and ALL-AROUND! The only proviso was that I had to get the appropriate permissions and not actually disturb anything during my surveys! Done and Done.
I surveyed Bronze Age Barrows, discovered Roman Kilns in farmer’s fields, spelunked in caves to see Neolithic cave art and surveyed Late Iron Age enclosures. There were projects of course, and trips to local archives to consult maps and records.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic.
Then there was the practicum, 6 or more weeks in the field, doing archaeology every day! At first I followed my passions, camping in a farmers field behind the barn that was HQ for the South Cadbury Environ’s Project. I did more geophysics, working to perfect my technique, processed soil samples, dug test pits.
Then came a call from Belfast- come out here, dig everyday- get paid! Yes! I packed up my gear and set forth and got to work on several commercial projects, roadways, gas lines, construction projects. In the process I got to explore features like 17th c drainage works, medieval kilns. And there were finds too- clay pipes, Georgian beer bottles! And the promise of more work to come.
After my MA dissertation was completed and I graduated (with distinction!), I was soon back out in the field digging things. It was thrilling. I was doing archaeology, for real, everyday!
But, 1 year into an Ancestral Visa my plans to work in the field fell victim to the death of the so-called Celtic Tiger, and my job in Belfast fell through.
It was all a bit traumatic. I was well on my way to building a life for myself over in the UK after all! So I just decided to speed up the plan and move on directly to doing a PhD. After all, the whole economy thing would be sorted out by the time I was finished- right? Everyone advised me that this was an excellent idea. More education- what could go wrong!
Based on pre-PhD reading I chose an area in Europe and found a Supervisor to oversee my project. I drafted a proposal (an extremely naive one), got an application together- and hey presto- I was a PhD Student.
I was keen to explore terrain with a well known Late Iron Age Landscape and poke into how sites had been identified, dated and defined (rural, fortified site, sanctuary, etcetera).
My Supervisor was just as keen to point out that I needed a specific ‘in’- warning me that otherwise I would be looking at too much data and things could, “get rather complicated.”
So during my first year, in the lead up to my APG Upgrade Interview- where the powers that be decide if your PhD project is to go ahead or if you are to return home in abject failure (Here is another student’s take on the APG Upgrade Process).
I was happy to get studying. I did endless amounts of reading. It wasn’t data collection per se, I just devoured everything I could about the Late Iron Age. Trying to refine my PhD process and tackle the dreaded APG Upgrade.
Then one day, during a meeting with my Supervisor, I said something that made him sit up and take notice.
My question went something like this:
“Why sir, when brooches are found at so-called sanctuary and fortified sites are they called ritual deposits, but when the same types of brooches and deposits are found at rural sites they are called garbage?”
My supervisor sat up straight, got this wild look in his eye and exclaimed, “Brooches!”
Soon my PhD was about Late Iron Age Brooches.
What I didn’t know was that choosing to study brooches meant people would assume all sorts of things about my work.
Things were about to get very uncomfortable.