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Meet the Salisbury Finds Assistants

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In Spring 2016, the Salisbury office advertised for full time post-excavation assistants to help process the finds from several excavations, including the exciting Neolithic and Anglo-Saxon remains from Bulford, Wiltshire. A team of four was chosen – Rob Wheeldon, Jen Whitby, Amy Hall and Sophie Clarke. Here is a little more about them, and how they have been getting on. 
 

Rob

My academic background is in history and working with heritage organisations in the north east, and for me, archaeology is a relatively recent and exciting change in career direction. I volunteered with the finds department at Wessex Archaeology’s Sheffield office last summer, before taking up the offer of a temporary contract there as a finds technician.
 
I feel very privileged to have been offered a similar role at the Salisbury office. I’d worked with human remains before, processing finds from a Victorian cemetery in Halifax. Whilst we know a lot about the Victorians, how they lived and how they died, we know comparatively little about the Anglo-Saxons, which makes the Bulford project really exciting to be part of. What I have enjoyed most is listening to the various interpretations of the cemetery and grave goods. As someone coming from a historical background it’s cool to feel I am on the cutting edge of current discoveries and research. 
 

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Jen

I am originally from Northamptonshire and got into archaeology after an archaeologist visited my primary school. I have a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology from the University of Wales, Lampeter, as well as a Masters in Archaeology from Oxford University. My interests are in Ancient Civilisations and I have a background of working with finds through years of volunteering as finds supervisor for my local community archaeology project, working behind the scenes at my local museum, and as a trainee for Cotswold Archaeology. 
 
I feel very lucky joining Wessex Archaeology and have enjoyed my time so far. I have learned so much about archaeology in the South West, particularly from such a fantastic site as Bulford. This is the second opportunity I have had to handle human bone (previously a skeleton dating to the Bronze Age – Iron Age) but I was not prepared for the scale of the cemetery, despite warnings from the project manager, Simon Cleggett. It has been amazing to process the finds and to help rediscover the story of these people, such as the woman buried with the conch shell and work box, and the giant of a man buried with a spear. I have also enjoyed further developing my archive skills.
 
I look forward to processing the rest of the finds from Bulford; delving deeper in the past as far back as the Neolithic, and continuing to learn more about the archaeology and history of the area. 
 

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Amy

Whilst completing my archaeology degree at University of Bristol, I joined Wessex Archaeology as a weekly volunteer working in the Finds Department. This gave me the opportunity to discover an area of archaeology that I found truly fascinating and I was delighted when I was offered full-time employment. There is much to learn about the appropriate techniques for extracting artefacts from their earthly coatings and it usually calls for delicate handling and an eye for detail as they are prepared for x-ray, dating, interpretation, exhibiting and/or archive storage. 
 
To be able to handle skilfully made objects from the past has been inspiring. The recent surprising discovery of a large Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Bulford, has resulted in an influx of human skeletons that need to be processed. We discuss how age may be determined through analysing the different bones and looking at how disease or accidents may have altered their appearance. This and associated artefacts tell us about the life and death of these people. 
 

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Sophie

My interest in archaeology began with an FdSc, progressing to BSc degree level at Plymouth University. I regularly participated in excavations and voluntary projects such as the Bronze Age Boat located in Falmouth, Cornwall. I then went on to do my Master’s degree at Durham University where I studied Museums and Artefacts. I learned more about the aftercare and treatment of objects after excavation, preservation techniques, politics, debates, repatriation and archaeological legislation. In 2014 I became a conservator for Longleat House. I monitored the environment and performed integrated pest management, cataloguing, archiving and participated in the overall care of the furniture and artefacts. 
 
Everyday I find myself considering the finds from the Bulford site in a new way. So far, I have been archiving, washing and marking human bones and their associated grave goods, and I have even spotted signs of injury and disease.  
 
As a team we regularly share our collective knowledge and we have helped each other to improve our skills, as we steadily work through our tasks.
 
Simon regularly discusses his different theories about the Bulford site with us, which really makes us feel involved and helps us understand the importance of what we do in order for the next stage to continue. We find that the communication between departments has made the significance of the site really strong to us; and as a result we thoroughly look forward to continuing our employment here. 
 

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Most of our training has been provided by finds supervisors, Sue (Nelson) and Erica (Macey-Bracken). We have also benefitted from talking to individual specialists such as Kirsten (Egging Dinwiddy) and Jackie (McKinley) on the human bone, and Elina (Brook), Rachael (Seager Smith) and Grace (Jones) on the pottery and other finds, and Lorrain (Higbee) about the animal bone. This has made us feel so much more involved in the team and we really feel like we are now part of Wessex Archaeology. We have been introduced to different departments so we can understand how the archaeology goes from excavation to publication. We are actively developing the necessary skills to document the finds prior to further analysis. This has also provided us with the opportunity to see the complexity and variety of archive requirements museums have before any archive deposition can take place.
 
Over the next few months we are expecting to develop and broaden our skills further, and work on similarly fascinating assemblages from other sites. 
 
By Rob Wheeldon, Jen Whitby, Amy Hall and Sophie Clarke, Finds Assistants
 
 
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