Spring cleaning and dig fashion


What not to wear: On Site Edition

Lucy Shipley tells us all about the best clothes to wear on a dig

There was actual sunshine this weekend. There were birds singing. There was a hint that just maybe, this longest and horriblest of winters might be over. It is spring, the season when a young (or not so young) archaeologist’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of summer excavation, to heading out to site in the glow of the morning sun, to sweating in the open air, rather than thermal fleece.

Unfortunately, this time of year also seems to result in me needing to tidy up my wardrobe. I don’t think I’m the only one, either: a tweet by Maria Duggan, seen on the 7th April, introduced the cycle of archaeological clothing: “Do archaeologists ever throw clothes out or does everything get downgraded to ‘dig clothes’ until they’re just rags? #digclothes”. So it made me wonder: which clothes does one send on this journey? If you’re new to digging, how do you know what to wear?

The obvious answer is: clothes you don’t mind getting filthy. You will get covered in mud if it’s wet, dust if it’s dry. You will work hard, creating attractive sweat patches. If you dig somewhere hot, like I do, then this effect will be supercharged. If you dig somewhere cold, or changeable – layers are the key. Ancient jeans cut down into shorts provide useful pockets, and feel nice and recycled. Vest tops or t-shirts you wore on holiday five or ten years ago are perfect digging fodder- extra points for obscure band logos or conferences on these items which are close to being artefacts themselves. High-vis is essential for commercial sites!

Ladies, there is a continual debate (at my dig, anyway) about the merits of the sports bra. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. I have friends who swear by extreme-sports cantilevering underwear which keeps them comfortable while mattocking- whatever makes YOU feel secure and happy is the key.

On to shoes and socks. I think almost anywhere the rule is close-toed shoes, and sometimes protective boots. Where I dig, I wear trainers – boots in the heat make my feet sweat and swell until they feel like rocks, which, with a two mile walk back to the dig house, is not fun. If you are digging in the UK, you may be asked to wear shoes with a bit more oomph- just in case you do manage to pickaxe through your foot.

Oh, and socks? Cotton. You know why.

From bottom to top – hats and accessories. Phil Harding, Indiana Jones – all the big names wear hats. So should you. No matter what. Baseball cap, leather sort-of cowboy, floppy Aussie surf hat – whatever floats your boat. Sunglasses are a no-no- you can’t see changes in the soil with a continual shade affecting your vision. Gloves are a must for clearing spiky vegetation, unless you want to battle brambles with your bare hands. A word on tool belts – if you can rock it, go for it – you can even buy special trowel holsters, to hold perhaps the most important aspect of your excavation outfit – your “precious.” At the end of the day, you can wear a t-shirt from 1989, which you last washed ten days ago, and nobody will care as long as your trowel is sharp, and your mind is sharper.

What do you wear to dig in? How old is your oldest dig t-shirt? Can anybody rival Phil Harding for hat- wearing panache? I’d love to know your answers to these deeply important, life-affirming questions….

Lucy Shipley is a doctoral student in archaeology at the University of Southampton, working on the archaeology of Etruscan Italy.

Twitter: @lshipley805

Personal blog: http://potsplacesstonesbones.blogspot.co.uk/

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