Dr. Kate Leonard is an archaeologist who will be spending 2016 traveling around the world lending a helping hand to interesting archaeological projects. The concept is 12 countries – 12 projects – 12 months. Global Archaeology: a year of digs.
When I tell people that I’m an archaeologist often they say ‘Wow! What a cool job!’ and go on to ask questions about the ‘best’ artefact I have ever found or the most exciting excavation I have been on. These questions are great because they remind me that archaeology is not all horizontal rain and scrubbing bone fragments with toothbrushes! There are many things that fuel my love affair with archaeology: the puzzle of the unknown, the physical action of revealing the past, spending days outdoors surrounded by beautiful vistas, interpreting what is found, and above all else learning about the strange and fascinating things we humans do and have done.
I was always curious about the past but as a teenager I didn’t think it would become my career. When I left my small Canadian hometown to do an undergraduate degree in Toronto I thoroughly saw myself as a Visual Art major. When I enrolled in Introduction to Anthropology in my first year, I was trying a variety of interesting courses, unsure of what my other major would be. If I hadn’t signed up for that first year pre-requisite course, I would not have become an archaeologist.
Facing the final year of my degree I decided to see if I could hack it on an archaeological fieldschool and headed to the west coast of Ireland. Not only could I hack it, but I was enthralled with excavating. This experience propelled me to take the plunge and return to Ireland after graduation to try my hand at the private sector side of archaeology. I learned more about archaeology in my time as a contract archaeologist than I thought possible – enough, in fact, to give me the confidence to join an excavation being run in Lesotho, Africa.
Up until this point my traveling had been mostly restricted to North America and Europe. Consequently, my six months in southern Africa affected me more than I could have anticipated. In Lesotho I encountered fantastic archaeology and for the first time understood how an archaeological project could positively affect local interest groups. I also met brilliant people and had my eyes opened to the privilege of a Western lifestyle.
After my time in Lesotho I wanted to continue challenging myself. I had completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies via distance learning, and the next logical step seemed to be graduate studies. I explored a few options and decided to undertake doctoral research at the National University of Ireland, Galway. My thesis focuses on ritual practice in the Late Bronze Age of Ireland: what objects and materials people used to enact ritual practices, where these practices were enacted in the landscape and what it all can tell us about the people living in Ireland at that point in prehistory.
After finishing my PhD in 2014, I went through months of receiving rejection letters from Post-Doc positions and other job applications in my field. A graduate student can feel a lot of pressure to pursue an academic career after their studies and I was no different. I felt utterly defeated by my lack of prospects. I had spent much time and effort gaining my credentials and yearned to use them to do something I was passionate about.
It took a lot of persistence and soul searching to overcome the potential depression smoldering under that pile of rejection letters. But I realised that while I was having so much trouble landing a ‘good academic job’, I had lost sight of what I really love about my profession: the adventure! When you participate in archaeological fieldwork you interact with the landscape and its inhabitants in a way you never can as a traditional tourist. With this in mind I started coming up with some wild ideas and when the concept of Global Archaeology came to me and it felt right. I had an idea, now the real work begins!
Over the 12 months of 2016 I will travel to 12 countries to participate in 12 projects and share my journey on the Global Archaeology website and Facebook page (links below), as well as through DigVentures. By sharing this adventure I hope to communicate the importance of our shared global past and the value in acknowledging the diverse beauty of our planet and its peoples. I wish to infuse others with the excitement I feel when I immerse myself in a different culture or reveal the past through archaeology. Hopefully this will stimulate my readers to participate in archaeology in their own way!
My goals for the project are to create an engaging blog, and produce a book based on the endeavor and develop a wider perspective on archaeology as it is practiced around the world. Of course, I will also gain new skills and insights from the exceptional archaeologists I meet. I have the feeling that Global Archaeology is just the beginning of a bigger adventure and at the end of the year of digs I hope to continue moving in a positive direction with my archaeological career.
If you would like more information on Global Archaeology and the destination projects have a look at globalarchaeology.ca. Or, if you would like to support my journey visit gofundme.com/globalarchaeology
DigVentures will be following Kate’s digging journey around the world in the coming months. We’re still jealous – and can’t wait to hear more!
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. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!