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Archaeology: Excavation Job Roles

Meet the members of the project team at the Field School who ensure that everything runs smoothly on their excavation site.
People gathered on a trench at an excavation site
© University of Reading

The Field School has over 100 people working on the site every day, who live and work together for a defined period of time. This requires a lot of planning and organisation and there are key people who work behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly. In this article, the Director of the Field School, Amanda Clarke, explains how the excavation works on a day-to-day basis and outlines some of the key roles around the site.

As we are both a research and a training excavation, our job roles must reflect this; we need people who can teach, as well as work on site in specialist roles. Selecting the right people for the jobs is an important part of the pre-excavation planning. The Field School is larger than most excavations, and differs because of its dual research and teaching role, but these job roles will be found on most archaeological excavations.

Excavation Director(s)

They are responsible for everything. Running the project all year round they divide their time between excavation and post excavation. With excavation season usually being the more demanding of their time, the Director/s oversee the running of the site on a daily basis, and their responsibilities can be divided into 4 areas:

  • Life outside the Dig: they organise and oversee site logistics, both on the dig site and on the campsite. They have overall responsibility for Health and Safety, and need to make sure that their diggers are fed and watered regularly.
  • Life on the Dig: they lead the process of excavation, meeting with site managers and guiding on policy and strategy. They have overall responsibility for the site budget, making sure that the money is spent wisely on a wide range of things.
  • Teaching: they give on site lectures, one to one sessions or hands-on workshops. They organise the teaching done by the site managers, assess the students and provide daily feedback.
  • Research: they ensure that the research aims for each trench are being met, and make daily decisions based on what is found. They are public facing, and must communicate the excavation results on a daily basis to the team, the press and the general public.

Site Manager (logistics)

The Site Manager is responsible for the smooth running of the campsite and the excavation site, making sure everyone is in the right place, every day, at the right time. They are practical and are able to turn their hand to anything; if something goes wrong, they are the ones to go to. They have responsibility for the site vehicles, the transportation of participants to and from the station, the doctor and the supermarket.

Site Administrator

The Site Administrator has the task of dividing over 100 people into a dozen different excavation site and campsite rotas. They are also the repository for all participant information such as indemnity forms, registration forms, health forms etc. The Site Administrator tends to know where everything is and is the backbone of the excavation.

Site Staff – Supervisor & Assistant

The Field School usually has around four excavation trenches, each of which is looked after by a Site Supervisor. These are experienced field archaeologists, most of whom have an undergraduate degree in Archaeology. They have at least one years’ excavation experience within a commercial archaeology unit, and ideally have prior teaching experience of the Field School.

They oversee the excavation and recording of all the archaeological deposits in their trench, ensuring that the project’s research objectives are met. A key requirement of their role is their recording ability: all archaeologists know that excavation is destruction, and if we do not record what we find (through description, drawing, measuring, collecting, conserving and listing), then knowledge is lost forever.

Supervisors help create and check detailed site records. This information is then entered on a bespoke archaeological database. The more site records (plans, pro forma cards, finds records, science sheets, photographs etc) that can be digitally entered on site, the easier and quicker is the post excavation task of manipulating the data to create a sequence. Site Supervisors also contribute to trench strategy, and lead a small team of up to 15 excavators.

Finds Manager

The Finds Manager works in consultation with the project finds specialists and, if something fragile or valuable is found, in consultation with a specialist conservator. They have a small team to manage, consisting of student trainees and placements, and also up to six excavation participants who are on the finds rota each day.

The Finds Manager is responsible for collecting the trays of artefacts excavated on site each day (and sometimes being on hand to give advice as to how to lift an artefact), and overseeing their cleaning—whether by using water, a brush, or simply by stabilising until a specialist can advise. The Finds Manager will identify (if possible) the category of find, and make a decision about strategy. The find will then be recorded, first on paper and then digitally before being stored in a cardboard or plastic box, until removed from site for specialist assessment.

Finds managers are team leaders, motivators and hard workers, with a love of ‘pretty’ artefacts and lists.

Science Manager

The Field School has two ‘areas’ of Science; Environmental Archaeology (exploring the diet and physical environment of our ancestors, by taking samples for a variety of specialist techniques) and Geoarchaeology (studying the formation of a site by looking at soils and sediments). The Science Manager oversees them both. They work in consultation with scientific specialists, help determine sampling strategies, and organise and train a small team to carry out the day to day processing of bags of soil. They organise the sieving of samples, the sorting and drying of the residues, and the identification of microscopic evidence for past lives.

Visitor Manager

The Field School has over 500 visitors each season, and the Visitor Manager meets and greets all visitors to the excavation and gives them a site tour. They are the ‘front of house’ for both the project and the university, and must be knowledgeable, polite and respectful—as well as passionate and motivated about archaeology. They run the on-site ‘shop’ and visitors’ cabin, and are knowledgeable about every aspect of the project. They train the students in the delivery of site tours, run the Open Day, host school visits and organise public events.

Our top tips for archaeologists

  1. Everything we excavate must be recorded or that knowledge is lost forever.
  2. Excavation is not all digging. There is something for everyone – a role for everybody, whatever your skills or interests.
© University of Reading
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Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond

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