I decided to do a week of work experience with Wessex Archaeology as I had already done a dig at the Barrow Clump site with them. I really enjoyed the dig, and so decided to come back to do a week of work experience. As I am considering studying archaeology or archaeology and history as a degree, this would be a great opportunity to learn more. The week not only gave me an insight into how all the different parts of archaeology worked but which parts I might like to study further – such as environmental archaeology.
My first day, I was introduced to staff and was shown around the Coastal & Marine department and Unit 2 which contained both dive equipment and artefacts such as the remains of Junkers plane engines and wooden panels brought up from shipwrecks along with hand axes and cannonballs – one of the most intriguing finds for me was a mammoth bone in which you could see the hole in the bone that would have held a vein or artery roughly the same size as a £2 coin.
My second day was spent in the Graphics department drawing pot sherds as you would see them in publications, split half and half so one side shows what the pot looks like and the other shows the profile and the thickness of the pottery. I also worked in the GeoServices department to see how GIS and CAD are used along with surveying equipment such as Magnetometry, Radar, Bathymetry are used to look at what is found buried under the ground or sea bed.
My third day was spent processing soil samples in the environmental department, so I could then sort them on my last day – it involved running and sieving mud through mesh until it was clean and then again so only the larger parts remain that could be processed and studied. The types of snail, vegetation and charcoal found in the samples could tell you about the environment and activity at the time the sediment was originally deposited. Different types of snails live in different types of habitat and so give an indication of the conditions and vegetation that existed at the time of deposition. I was also in the finds department labelling artefacts with site and context numbers using permanent ink.
My fourth day was spent on a site visit to a proposed development, to take photos and then to the Records Office to assess whether the new buildings would have any impact on near-by sites such as a motte and bailey castle and Listed buildings and also how the village had changed over time looking at old tithe (ownership) maps of the area.
My Last day was spent looking at the contents of soil samples I had processed earlier in the week, such as charcoal, snails (indication of the habitat) as well as seeds which can tell us about habitat and farming practices – germinated grain would indicate brewing, and parts of wheat sheaf would indicate different methods of harvest such as threshing.
Overall: I have really enjoyed my week at Wessex Archaeology and working with the staff in all the different departments. I have been able to see all work the various departments do as well as being able to follow processes such as environmental processing and finds sorting from initial stages to the finished products. It has definitely given me a clearer idea of archaeology departments such as environmental processing which I knew little about; there is the fieldwork but also laboratory work and computers used to process data, samples and reports for sites and finds as well as desk-based assessments beforehand; I would also like to thank the staff at Wessex for being so welcoming and making the week possible!
by Charlotte Harris