A Day in the Life of: A Community Archaeologist

I don’t know about you but I have always wanted to be an archaeologist. As such I wanted to ask one what it was really like to ‘live the dream’. Annie Partridge, a community archaeologist working for Canterbury Archaeological Trust, kindly agreed to answer my questions and shed some light on what it is really like to live life in a pit.

A word of warning: it will make you want to give up the desk job.

CAT IMAGE 1Annie in a hole, or to be more specific a Norman cess pit at Lyminge (Image property of Annie Partridge)

Source: Image courtesy of Annie Partridge

HH: Hi Annie, we all know archaeologists are incredibly fashion conscious, how long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

Annie: If I’m working on site it depends on the time of year. In Summer it can take me less than 15 minutes (including a liberal covering of suncream!) but in the Winter it takes me a bit longer to find and get all my layers of clothes on. I really feel the cold and have been known to wear at least 3 jumpers when the temperature drops below freezing!

HH: Aside from having a cuppa, what’s the first thing you do when you get into work?

A: When working on site we have to wear PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) which includes steel toe-capped boots or wellies, a high visibility vest or coat, and a hard hat so I put this on while having a chat to my colleagues. We often have to work closely together for a long period of time so it’s good to get to know one another.

HH: So, what’s going on in Lyminge this summer?

A: Reading University is leading a project to investigate Anglo-Saxon Lyminge. Although it is only a village today, 1400 years ago Lyminge was the site of a royal hall of the king’s of Kent (Kent was a powerful independent kingdom in those days) and later an Anglo-Saxon monastery. We will be providing archaeologists to help with this Summer’s dig, and also helping work with local schools.

HH: Found anything exciting yet?

A: At Lyminge last year the foundations of a large wooden hall were found, possibly one of the royal halls. This is one of the most important archaeological discoveries to have been made in Kent recently, although CAT has made many amazing finds over the years.

In terms of finds I’ve been involved with, I once spent 6 months excavating a graveyard, that was exciting! My personal favourite thing I have found is a very small pot (often called Pygmy Cups) full of cremated remains which came from the middle of a Bronze Age cairn. The oldest things I have had my hands on are struck flints from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period; that’s around 10,000 years old!

HH: Did you study archaeology at University? If so, what advice would you give a recent graduate?

A: I went to the University of Wales Lampeter and studied single honours archaeology. My advice would be to volunteer on excavations, there are plenty going on all over the country for free, and contact your local archaeological unit to see if they have any space for you to volunteer with them. Try to have a go at different aspects of archaeology (like working with finds, excavation, and surveying) to enhance your CV. Most units like you to have at least 6 months fieldwork experience, it may seem daunting but perseverance will pay off!

HH: Our Head Honey wrote her dissertation on Canterbury Castle. Can you tell me something about it that I wouldn’t find in an archaeological journal?

A: Erm, that’s tricky. The first place I’d look for information on it would be the book that CAT produced about the defences of Canterbury! I suppose I would go with the fact that a surprising number of people who live locally don’t actually know there is a castle in Canterbury and quite a lot more have never visited it. Although it is right by a major road, it is in a very ruinous state and isn’t anything like as noticeable as the cathedral or even the city walls. I think some people just regard it as part of the city walls, rather than as a castle, which in fact is what it is.

HH: What’s been your favourite project so far?

A: Working at Hereford Cathedral excavating the graveyard ahead of landscaping work. I love skeletons and I was there for 6 months excavating them and another 3 months washing them with a toothbrush. Lately I have been working closely with volunteers and these projects are always very rewarding as I get to teach people about the past and get muddy whilst doing it!

HH: I’m sure it’s not all field work, are you stuck in the office a lot?

A: At the moment I am because of my placement and we do not do a lot of archaeology over winter (it’s difficult to dig into frozen ground!) but I hope to be out in the field soon. Office work is as important as the fieldwork because this is when we wash, analyse and write up what we’ve been excavating during the warmer months.

HH: After a long hard day digging, what’s your tipple of choice?

A: In the summer it’s nice to go to the pub with the team and have a nice glass of wine or a pint. In winter I prefer hot chocolate with tons of whipped cream!

HH: And finally, what’s the very worst thing about being an archaeologist?

A: The weather! You never know if you need sun cream, a jumper, or an umbrella – and some days you need all three!

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