I have always had an interest in archaeology so when my work experience week arrived I was keen to secure a placement at Wessex Archaeology, in Salisbury. Luckily, I got the chance. Linda Coleman (Wessex’s Quality Director) emailed my week’s schedule in advance – it was going to be a busy week! Unfortunately, the Beast from the East pt. 2 arrived and Monday became a snow-day. The rest of my placement certainty made up for this missed day.
Tuesday 20 March 2018 – Sample processing and Marine archaeology
On my first day I met Sophie Clarke, who would be my supervisor for the week. She gave me a quick tour of the offices, which are housed in a former pre-World War II Operations building, and the all-important safety briefing. My first role was within the Environmental Department where I helped process the many soil samples that are dealt with daily. I was given personal protective equipment (PPE) as it was going to be a messy job. It was also freezing outside − thanks to the Beast from the East pt. 2. We poured the buckets of chalky soil into a large, plastic tub and turned the pump on. Water flooded in, causing the soil to dissolve, leaving the chalk and any artefacts behind. I transferred the residue into trays, put the context and sample number on them, and placed the samples into the oven to dry. Small shells and snails remained in the flot to be looked at later. I had to mix the samples by hand so I certainly got my hands dirty (and cold even if I did have gloves on!). I really enjoyed my morning getting straight into some practical archaeology was interesting and fun.
After lunch, I worked in the Coastal & Marine Department. Here, I met Lowri who showed me cannonballs, engines, bottles and all sorts of artefacts found in the sea or on a beach. Lowri pointed out two WW1 hangers on Old Sarum Airfield, Wessex is surrounded by history. One of my favourite objects was a mammoth’s tooth which I was able to hold. I didn’t know anything about marine archaeology and left my first day filled with knowledge.
Wednesday 21 March – Site visit
One of my favourite experiences that Wessex provided me with was going on an archaeological site visit. I was shown the difference between sub-angular flint, burnt flint and humanly modified flint. It was hard work and my shovelling technique wasn’t the best, but I really enjoyed working as a field archaeologist for the day. The entire team treated me like an equal and I had a brilliant day.
Thursday 22 March – Graphics and osteoarchaeology
On Thursday, I was back at the office and in the Graphics Department with Nancy. In Graphics, they make drawings for all reports and material that Wessex Archaeology produces including publications. They also create 3D images of ancient environments and artefacts. Nancy assured me that archaeological drawing is technical and anyone, even a bad artist like me, could draw these diagrams. After a quick lesson, I was able to draw Roman and Victorian pottery − they actually turned out quite well!
In the afternoon, I went to the Osteoarchaeology Department where I met Kirsten. She showed me a human skull that had been subject to an autopsy. She explained how they think he was a bit of a character because his nose had been broken and his teeth had a notch from smoking a pipe. I learned how important context and social factors are in osteoarchaeology. I found the afternoon really intriguing and learned a lot about pathology and osteoarchaeology.
Friday 23 March – Environmental and Finds Departments
On my last day I was back in the Environmental Department with Sam sorting through the residue that I had previously sampled on Tuesday. I found: animal bone, worked and struck flint and little shells. The best find was a drilled shell which would have been a bead for a necklace. Sam said it was very rare and a great find.
For my last task, I was in the Finds Department working with Sophie. She showed me how you wash, label and sort the finds. I enjoyed washing the finds as I could get up close and personal to history. The items I washed were mostly pot and animal bone. We washed them meticulously, so the specialists can study them.
My work experience at Wessex Archaeology gave me a great insight into the different aspects of archaeology. I learned so much and loved every part of my work experience. I am very thankful to Linda and Sophie, for organising my time at Wessex and making sure everything ran smoothly (which it did). In addition, thank you to Sam, Lowri, Bianca, Nancy, Kirsten and everyone who I interacted with on my work experience. Everyone was kind, helpful and eager to answer my many questions about archaeology. I had an amazing time at Wessex; I would recommend doing work experience here as I enjoyed it immensely.
By Maddie Curran