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Tilda’s work experience − ‘much more than digging up bones and pottery’

During my week at Wessex Archaeology (17−21 July 2017) I was given the opportunity to spend time in each of the departments and in doing so I discovered that archaeology is much more than digging up bones and pottery. It was great to learn how each of the departments linked together in order to piece together a part of time history.
On Monday I was greeted by Linda who gave me a tour of Wessex Archaeology and a brief introduction to the different departments found there. It was surprising to see the variety and standard of equipment they had, and I was intrigued to find out how all of the different departments operated during my week.
I spent the morning with Erica and the team in the Finds department. I was shown the final part of the finds process by Rob and Sophie where they are packaged up and referenced before they are put into museums or storage. 
Later, I was taken to Roberta and Vi in the Geomatics department where I got an insight on processes including photogrammetry, surveying and using software such as CAD. Roberta showed me the work she had done using photogrammetry on a grave − it was amazing to see how the program pieced together hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of photos to create an accurate, detailed image. After this, Vi took me to the carpark where I had a go at GPS mapping and marking a stake-out.


On Tuesday, I started off the day working in the Environmental department with Sam where I was shown how soil samples were sieved and sorted once they had been washed. I got to work with a sample taken from a burial site where I used a graded sieve to separate the sample into different grain sizes, then, working with the coarsest bits I picked out anything that was of archaeological interest. For example, I found bits of pottery, struck flint and human bone.
I was then introduced to Inés and I had a go at looking at the flot (anything that floated during the washing stage) under a microscope. The charred seeds and snail shells that were present would help to deduce the type of environment the soil came from.
In the afternoon, I was back in the Finds department, but this time I was helping with the first part of the process: cleaning. With just a toothbrush and a bowl of water I began cleaning bits of pottery, piece by piece.  
Wednesday was the day of my site visit; I was taken to a dig at Chisenbury midden by Phil. The site focused on the excavation of postholes, one of which I was able to dig myself. I discovered a lot of horse bones and a few pieces of pottery. Visiting Chisenbury gave me an insight of the range of skills needed in order for a dig to run smoothly.
When I got back to the office, I was taken to the Environmental department to see Sam again. This time I was shown how the soil samples are washed when they first arrive. After the sample had been washed, the clean sediment was placed into a kiln to remove any water before it was then sieved. 
On Thursday morning I was given a tour and quick introduction to the Coastal & Marine department by Lowri, where she showed me some artefacts which had been discovered by dredgers and how important it is that they are reported if found. The finds included a mammoth tooth, a cannonball and machine gun parts.I was then given a tour of Unit 2 by Joaquín, where many of the finds and their diving equipment are kept. Many of the finds are kept in water to preserve them and to slowly decrease their salinity. It was overwhelming to see the vast amount of equipment needed for diving and how well organised it needed to be.
After lunch, I was introduced to Kirsten, the senior Osteoarchaeologist. First, she showed me a couple of skulls and told me how you can identify the gender from looking at the shape of facial features such as the chin and eye sockets. We then pieced together a full skeleton and explained how you can identify if they had any diseases and wounds. The person we looked at had gum disease and also, because the bone had an odd porous texture in places, syphilis. 
I spent Friday morning with Holly in the Geoarchaeology department. I was really looking forward to this as I study geology at school and am hoping to continue studying it at university; so I was interested to see how much crossover there would be. First, Holly showed me how she would analyse and interpret a borehole sample by looking at the colour, consistency and anything else of interest such as snail shells. 
We then went to her computer where I wrote up my description and interpretation of the borehole. Holly then introduced me to a software called Rock Works, where I input the lithology and stratigraphy of the borehole, which can then be used to produce a stratigraphy diagram.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my week with everyone at Wessex Archaeology, it has opened my eyes to the variety of expertise involved in archaeology and it was great to be able to spend time in each department.
I would like to thank Rachel Brown for organising my week of work experience and everyone I got to work with for making my time at Wessex Archaeology so fascinating.
Tilda Julien


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