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My Week of Work Experience

Day 1

My work experience began with a tour of the building by Rachel and provided my first glimpse of Wessex as a company on a daily basis. 
 
In the late morning and rest of the afternoon I worked in the archives department with Thomas and Jennifer, the two new archivists. Jennifer showed me the new processes of archiving including digitising everything for easier access and availability as well as regulations and guidelines for both the company and the country. We worked on two cases and I was impressed to see the dedication and perseverance of both Jennifer and Thomas in a job which involved so much scanning!
 

Day 2

3296 On day two I did environmental sampling with Tony and Mai. I found out how environmental research is extremely important to discover past environmental conditions, old changes in landscapes like rivers and the progression of things like farming or cooking from charcoal fragments. The most surprising thing I learnt was the role of mollusc shells in establishing these facts! 

 
I helped Tony wash some samples which are collected in huge buckets and then sieved to collect flotsam like charcoal pieces. Not even a broken pump could diminish Tony's enthusiasm who then showed me a second method of sieving which was actually lots of fun! Afterwards I filtered off the charcoal pieces and washed clay off the rest of the sample. I was nervous as I found sieving a lot harder than expected and didn't want to wash away any of the samples but the whole team were very encouraging and helpful throughout. 
 

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In the afternoon I helped Erica and Sue in the finds department. They gave me a job of 'marking' which involved labelling pottery shards and CRM (ceramic building material) from Winchester. I had to use a fine nib pen and black Indian ink to write the location number on each piece which was tricky but got easier as you got into the rhythm of it. It was satisfying to know I was helping their finds process and helping contribute to the historical conservation process in a very small way. 
 

Day 3

I spent the morning of day three with Roberta. She taught me how to use GPS and how archaeologists rely heavily on technology nowadays to accurately pinpoint and locate finds. She helped me map out a ditch, posthole and an 'imaginary sword' in the car park which was fun although it was raining (although this did help set the scene of a real archaeological dig). 
 
When inside we uploaded my 'finds' and I could see the areas I had plotted using the equipment. She showed me various techniques used in surveying including the work of lasers which was fascinating. She showed me many examples of the department's work including various skeletons and a laser scan of a church. I even got to draw an electronic outline of a skeleton which was quite eerie since I was drawing what was once a living person. Roberta gave me a real insight into her job, and told me many stories of previous sites she had worked even including sites in Afghanistan!
 
The rest of the afternoon I spent in archiving helping Thomas with another case which now has a digital copy. In this particular case one of the only things found was the remains of a pig!
 

Day 4

I spent day four with Peta and Tom of the Coastal & Marine department of Wessex. The biggest department of its kind in the country it showed me the extraordinary circumstances archaeology can be found. First, I had an introduction to the services and work the team do with Peta showing me various maps, photos and books used to research and find artefacts. Peta also carefully explained the various maritime services and organisations such as ORPAD who help preserve and regulate the locating of historical finds. Next I helped Peta scan some maps for another of her colleagues to use, highlighting the enormous amount of work the department puts into their research of possible sites. Peta made me feel very welcome and impressed me with her stories of the Iona II which sank off Lundy Island.
 

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I then worked with Tom, who gave me the task of photographing, sketching and measuring the remains of a gun from the 18th/ 19th century. Once again, I was terrified I would drop and break this valuable object but Tom was very reassuring and helped me get the best possible angles for the photographs. I finally finished my sketch and measurements (which took a while as I’m a terrible artist) and Tom asked me what my favourite era of history was in the hope of being able to show me some finds from the time. I replied with the very specific era of Tudor but even so Tom was able to find some Tudor cannonballs to show me. I think working with Coastal & Marine was one of the best experiences of the week and has definitely made me consider other career options in archaeology.  
 
In the afternoon I was lucky enough to work again with the finds team cleaning Roman pottery, bones and pieces of lead. Using only lukewarm water and a toothbrush I cleaned the pottery and bone and let them dry in a paper-lined tray. It was quite humbling to be the first person to see these objects clean again after they had been underground for hundreds and hundreds of years. 
 

Day 5

My last day at Wessex was spent with the environmental department. The first half I spent sieving and dividing my previously found samples from Tuesday. Using different sized sieves, I separated my finds and bagged them up, picking out any unusual finds such as burnt rock, pottery or bone. Several times Tony had to tell me I had not picked up a lovely shard of pottery but actually a smooth rock but that did not dampen my spirits to find a ‘thing’. After labelling (and writing on the wrong side) several bags I started the process again with finds from a location with lots of chalk. It was a bad day to wear black jeans as I discovered but it was still lots of fun. Next, I went inside and using the charcoal and small flots I had collected on Tuesday I used a microscope to examine them. It was amazing to see all my work so close and be able to pick out snail shells, burnt grains and even a tiny piece of slag from my small glass dish. 
 
Thank you so much to the entire company for the wonderful opportunity to experience a field and sector of work I knew very little about! I’m extremely grateful.
 
By Tabitha Gulliver Lawrence
 
 
 
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