A day in the life of… Rachel English, ArchaeologistJuly 12, 2011 Archaeology, Blogs
Rachel is currently working on site at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, West Smithfield.
Currently I’m employed as an archaeologist for Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). I’ve recently moved from excavations at Three Quays House beside the Tower of London to work at the Barts site. The excavations which are taking place here at Barts are very different from those at Three Quays. This is the nature of archaeological sites and one of the main reasons I enjoy my job so much! No one site or excavation is the same. An archaeological site such as Barts can reveal occupation spanning from the first Roman settlers right through to the post-medieval period. A number of different type of archaeological features such as defense ditches may be identified and a variety of artefacts discovered. Each day brings something new!
My working day begins at 0630. I’m on the tube by 0710 and usually arrive at the site by 0740. This gives me time to change into my PPE and have a drink in the canteen before making my way onto site to the MOLA trench by 0800. The tent is a luxury to us all. Very rarely do we encounter a site where we have shelter from the elements, let alone a sliding roof! With the recent bad June weather it’s a pleasure to excavate in dry conditions.
Each day my tasks on site differ. My day is usually governed by what job I have done the evening before and what job may need to be finished in order to complete the archaeological record before I can move on and begin the process with another feature. So far on site we have uncovered the defensive ditch for the City of London, (dating from the Roman through to the late medieval period, that is about AD 200 to 1500); two post-medieval wells; a 19th Century brick drain; a possible cesspit (that’s a nice word for ‘ancient toilet’!); and other important archaeological features.
Archaeology by its nature is a destructive process. When we excavate a feature, it is lost forever, therefore it is important that we make a thorough record from the pre-excavation, through the mid-excavation to the post-excavation phase. Each archaeological feature is significant, be it a 2nd Century Roman ditch or a 19th Century brick drain. The last few days I have spent recording and excavating a post-medieval well. This has involved troweling back the area to clean away the excess soil and reveal the brickwork. Then the area is photographed and a plan is drawn. Planning is an important part of our job as it provides the most accurate record. Each archaeological deposit is recorded separately. Once the plan is finished it is important to take level readings for the feature. Everything we record is related to the Ordnance Survey national grid and Ordnance datum (for height above sea level).
This is followed by some manual labour, excavating the feature. We excavate ‘stratigraphically’ removing the latest deposit fi rst and peeling our way back through time. Mattocks, shovels and trowels are used. We bag and label all artefacts according to the deposit in which they are found. Often we will sample the soil for environmental fi nds – flora (seeds and plants) and fauna (animal bone) as this gives us an indication of the habitat and diet of the period. Hand in hand with the process of digging is writing out the record sheets for every deposit – be it soil, stone or timber. It is important we give an accurate description of the colour and composition for each deposit with measurements of the deposit and any artefacts or environmental finds within it. Levels are taken for each deposit. Sometimes when we are unsure of the depth of a feature, such as a well or a ditch we will use a hand auger to help us establish the bottom.
We have reached the depth of 1.2m with our well and must now wait for the trench to be stepped down in order to finish our excavations. So far we have a wealth of artefacts from the well which include full and fragmented porcelain tobacco pipes; fragments of pottery; whole and partial glass bottles; metal and a large assemblage of animal bone. When we have reached the bottom of our well we will finish our written record sheets, take post-excavation photographs and draw a post-excavation plan of our well with the final level readings. All this information will later be used for constructing the picture of the occupation of St. Barts. The day finishes at 1700.
We have an hour and a half break throughout the day which is well deserved! I usually arrive home by 1800.