Mike Bamforth started his archaeological career in the mid-1990’s at Flag Fen, and has recently joined DigVentures as one of our key staff members on the Flag Fen Lives project. We thought it would be great to hear from him about his experiences at the site, and what he hopes will come out of the 2012 season!
I ended up being an archaeologist completely by accident.
If I hadn’t been placed at Flag Fen on a work experience scheme from school, I think my life would have panned out rather differently. Having always had a fascination with planes, I’d been seriously considering joining the RAF, with the hope of flying fast jets – every school boy’s dream. There had always been a nagging thought, however, that perhaps I didn’t have quite the right mentality for the armed forces – I hate being told what to do!
I think I must have been 14 years old when I first came to Flag Fen, in 1995. The first week was pretty dull – I cleaned the glass in the museum, helped with a stock check, and priced up stuff in the gift shop. I must have looked pretty down in the dumps, because the park maintenance team took me under their wing – and the next couple of weeks were great fun. I cleared fields of nettles, helped put fencing up and generally enjoyed myself in the sunshine.
I liked it so much that I came back as a volunteer in the school holidays to help out with the park maintenance. Over the summer the ‘grown up’ university students (some of them were in their twenties!) looked to b
e having a great time on the research excavations. So, at the end of the summer I plucked up the courage to ask Maisie Taylor, the resident wood specialist, if I could come back as a volunteer on the dig the following summer. I did, and it was brilliant. I had the time of my life! The following summer, in 1997, I came back as a supervisor, and I’ve been involved in the site ever since.
I was pretty laid back in my teens, and what I originally liked about archaeology was hanging out with my friends, in the sunshine, digging holes. I still absolutely love this aspect of the profession, but the more I’ve had the opportunity to learn about archaeology, the more fascinated I’ve become. I mean, digging up an old post is fun, but unless you have a deeper understanding, it doesn’t really mean much.
It seems strange now that it is second nature for me to be able to look out across the fens from a site, and ‘see’ what we think was there in the past. The landscape has changed so much over the last 4000 years… and once you’ve got a picture of the landscape in your mind, then you can start the real fun – populating that landscape with people.
Through Flag Fen, I got my first professional job in archaeology, and haven’t looked back since. Over the years I’ve honed my digging, learned how to run projects, and finally had the opportunity to work in my favourite aspect of archaeology: wood! From my first ever day in the trench at Flag Fen, I’ve been pretty fascinated by being able to excavate, handle and ultimately try to understand, pieces of wood from 4000 years ago (that’s twice as old as the Bible!). So I’m pretty happy that my working life now revolves around the stuff.
I’ve always enjoyed coming back to the site, be it to carry out a watching brief, or to be involved in research excavations. The latter have always been the most fun, as there really is something special about living and working with a team of people. The hot summer days digging great archaeology are perfectly balanced by sheep roasts and beers in the evenings in the roundhouses on site.
The most important part of being an archaeologist, and of working at Flag Fen, for me has always been the great people I’ve met. I’m still friends with the supervisors who taught me during my first summer season, and I can now proudly say that there are a few archaeologists out there who I supervised on their first dig at Flag Fen. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to most with being back at Flag Fen – I’ll be back on site with old friends, and I know I’m going to have great fun meeting new people.
See you there!
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