It was whilst watching ‘Time Team’ that I first came across Wessex Archaeology. I study Geophysics with Geology at Durham University, where we don’t have enforced holiday placements. But having just finished my first year at university I enquired about work experience with them. They kindly agreed to offer me a work placement for three weeks during September at their Sheffield office. Their communication was top notch, with all my questions answered, much more quickly than I expected. During the fantastic, well-managed placement, I got a comprehensive walk-through of each of Wessex’s departments, getting a firm understanding of how each department fits together within the commercial archaeological sector. I soon learnt that the process of recording geological fieldwork isn’t that different from commercial archaeology. I also learnt that the geological applications of geophysics aren’t that dissimilar to the shallow counterparts of archaeology.

My placement consisted of two weeks in the Sheffield office and one week out on site with the Salisbury office staff. 

In the Sheffield office the first day was spent writing trench reports, a completely foreign topic to my geological background. The guidance I got from a number of staff members enabled me to get to grips with the task very quickly and to start summarising trenches. This gave me an insight into the paperwork/hidden side of archaeology. I thoroughly enjoyed the task and was happy with my somewhat concise report. The next few days were spent with the Finds department, where I got to clean, quantify and archive finds with both Jenny and Laura. The quantification stage was definitely my favourite, I found it ever so satisfying. After Finds, came the Environmental department. A less foreign topic, where the staff walked me through the whole sorting of flots and residues. We then took a look at a few microscope slides of particularly significant environmental finds; seeing these was just breathtaking.

Cameron undertaking magnetometer surveys during his work experience placement at Wessex Archaeology

My department rotation continued in the next week when I was with Beth in the Heritage team. We covered the importance of laws in planning, which have helped protect archaeology. Then, using GIS and regional archives, I began undertaking a desk-based assessment. This assignment was awesome because it had a particular personal significance to me, being exactly the region in which I grew up. Next, I went back down to the Environmental dept, this time to work-shadow a geoarchaeologist. We analysed a soil monolith sample, assessing each layer, and then began writing up our finds using the Munsell standard. We then had a quick look at some borehole samples and more monoliths, where the succession of materials and their water content gave us the indication that it was in fact the site of a well.

I moved onto finds processing next, revisiting Jenny, where we looked at the process of museum deposition and finds databases. I got to fill in a few entries for some finds I had cleaned up earlier in the placement and began sorting boxes ready for paperwork to go to some local museums and into storage.

The final day in the office was spent with Geomatics, where I got to work with some Leica survey kit, this was in preparation for my sitework. I then got to process my survey data through CAD software and output it in GIS. Next I spent some time with Alex and Chris, where Alex walked me through the geophysical differences within archaeology. We then processed some exciting magnetometry data and analysed a few features in the data set. We then discussed the best settings to apply soil resistivity, magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar. Then, I spent a few hours drawing Romano-British finds (a spoon and potsherd) with Ian, and looked at the conventions of archaeological drawings. Finally, we took a look at photogrammetry and its incredible result of creating lifelike virtual settings/scenes.

The final week was spent on site and this was a dream come true.  During the week on site, I conducted some magnetometer surveys using both cart-mounted and handheld machines. We encountered many technical problems, but these were very good experiences for me to witness, as it helped me to build up an arsenal of troubleshooting techniques. I was able to pick up the awkward controls of the cart and covered a number of hectares over the week. When problems occurred, we were able to troubleshoot them and were soon underway, surveying the land once again. We were put up in incredible accommodation (I had expected to be in a cheap hostel). Before the placement, I thought that I wanted to get into shallow geophysical surveying, and now that I have done it for real, it is safe to say that I really want to do it as a career.

Cameron Lee, Student