Community Archaeology DigVentures

Got some spare time on your hands? Fancy trying something a bit different? Then why not give archaeology a go?

Community archaeology can be a great way to meet new people, gain a new set of skills and get out and about in your local community. What’s more, volunteers are vital to archaeology, so much so that many excavations couldn’t run without their help.

As anyone who’s ever dug with DigVentures knows, we bend over backwards (with triple backflip somersaults!) to make sure that all our new Venturers get a proper site welcome and introduction to the basics of archaeology. Unfortunately not every community archaeology project has a crew full of professional archaeologists on hand to help, and it can sometimes feel a bit daunting to the novice – especially if they are volunteering for the first time.

So to help any would-be volunteers make the most of the multitude of opportunities that are out there, we’ve put his handy survival guide and check list together.

If you’ve more than a passing interest in archaeology (and fed up with just reading about it on the internet) why not have a read of our volunteer excavation survival guide, roll your sleeves up, don your waterproofs, and hopefully we’ll see you in the trenches soon!

1. Tools

The trowel is an archaeologist’s best friend.  One is never far from the other and many get so attached to theirs that they christen it with a nickname. Prolonged separation can cause discomfort, anxiety and even the occasional panic attack. Thus it’s never a bad idea to invest in your own trowel so as not to risk endangering a fellow archaeologist. They can easily be purchased from all archaeology retailers e.g. at Past Horizons.

Other useful equipment is listed in the checklist though will usually be supplied by the project organisers.

2. Travel

Carefully plan how you are going to get to your chosen project. Archaeological sites often have the annoying habit of being in the middle of nowhere so make sure you have a map, a good, calm voiced sat-nav and the phone number of the site director for if you do end up lost. There’s nothing worse than getting the wrong bus and ending up stranded in the middle of nowhere, especially if you’re in Turkey and it’s 40°C (as intern Aisling knows only too well!)

3. Facilities

Now we’re not going to lie, the accommodation at digs can be a little basic. Don’t expect to be put up in a 5* hotel. In fact don’t expect to be put up in a hotel at all. As general outdoorsy people many archaeologists opt to get as close as possible to nature and bed down in a nice trusty tent. However camping isn’t for everyone and there are often alternative options, like cabins, B&Bs etc. The most important thing is to check the details before you set off. You may need to provide your own tent and sleeping bag and you will be in for a more than chilly few nights if you forget these.

4. Clothing

Clothing essentials will vary due to obvious factors such as time of year and location, but one thing is for certain. Archaeological excavations are no catwalks, no matter how hard you try not to; you will end up each day up to your ears in mud. Sturdy boots are a must, preferably with a steel toecap, and be sure to wear them in before to avoid blisters. Pack for all weather possibilities. If forecasts predict the sun will be out, there will no doubt be torrential rain, and if it’s meant to be gloomy and grey you’ll probably come home with sunburn. Kneepads, gloves and a hat can come in handy too.

5. Health & Safety

You will be briefed on keeping safe when you arrive on your project but being prepared can be a plus. It’s a good idea to take some basic medical supplies with you – plasters, paracetamol, anti-septic wipes. Also it is essential that you have an up to date tetanus vaccination. Lastly it’s important to remember that excavation can be physically demanding work, especially as you’re outside and exposed to the elements. However this should never be a put off. If you’ve any concerns let you’re project supervisor know before you go and something will be sorted out. A BAJR guide to safe digging can be downloaded here.

Happy digging!

Community Archaeology Project Checklist:

Travel and Money

  • Travel tickets and insurance
  • Maps, directions, phone numbers
  • Jabs and medication

Packing

  • Long and short sleeved t-shirt, comfy trousers
  • Sturdy boots
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Hat
  • Socks and underwear
  • Clothes for days/evenings off
  • Towel
  • Mug
  • Torch and spare batteries (or wind-up is even better)
  • Camera
  • Book/magazines/iPod
  • Pack of cards (essential!)

Medical kit and toiletries

  • Sun block and after sun
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Prescription medicines
  • Insect repellent
  • Tissues/toilet paper

Archaeology tools

  • WHS 4” archaeology trowel
  • Gloves and kneepads
  • Small rucksack/bag
  • Water bottle
  • Other: measuring tape, pencil, ruler, pens, notebook, compass

Always wanted to try archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Support one of our digs and you can choose to watch our discoveries as they happen, or roll up your sleeves and excavate alongside our team!

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Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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