Careers in archaeology

 20 September 2011

Taryn Nixon, Managing Director of the Museum of London Archaeology, talks about the variety of work done by the 200 archaeologists there, and the best ways to get into the field.

How archaeology works in the UK

"Museum of London Archaeology is part of the Museum of London. We actually get all our funding from property developers, because archaeology in the UK is all tied to the planning process. I you want to develop a site and it might impact on archaeological remains, you need to find yourself an archaeologist.

“The people involved in archaeological work are incredibly creative and innovative.”

"You need an archaeologist to help you get planning permission, and if there's going to be a need for an excavation, or to protect the archaeology, then you come to someone like Museum of London Archaeology to help you."

"We try to help developers and give them certainty. At the same time, we try to add value to what they're doing. So, if you like, our mission statement is to give certainty and value

"The value comes from unlocking new knowledge that people didn't know about before, which goes into the school system, into the education system and is delivered back to the public."

Specialist careers in archaeology

"In Museum of London we have about 200 archaeologists and other specialists. It's an incredibly rich mix of very clever people – it's somewhere I always wanted to come and work for that reason. We've got a wide range of specialists:

  • A very large field team of professional archaeologists, who direct the sites and carry out excavation in the field.
  • Surveyors who work in the geomatics team, who survey the sites and capture that spatial plan information;
  • An in-house team of specialists in finds – all sorts of different finds, all sorts of different periods
  • A specialist team in reconstructing past human environments, who do so by means of geoarchaeology.
  • We have photographers, illustrators, archivists. It's a very rich, multidisciplinary topic.

Working in archaeology

"Archaeology is thought to be about the past, but it's really helping mould our attitude to the future."

"With 200 people, we have perhaps 20 different field projects going on at any one time. All of our specialists indoors are working on the post-excavation analysis of all of that work. A typical day means that people are coming in collecting equipment to take out to sites.

"We have a team of client managers, contract managers, who negotiate and arrange and manage all of the projects, and liaise continuously with our clients and developers. It's a highly professionalised business these days in the UK. Archaeology is a commercial practice.

"Archaeology and the people involved in carrying out archaeological work, are incredibly creative and innovative. Always looking for new ways in which to analyse the material, to gather and collect and record archaeological information, and also how to get that information out to as many people as possible."

Getting into archaeology

"If you want to get into archaeology, there are lots of different routes:

  • A lot of people have studied archaeology at university, and then gone on to gain practical field experience
  • We also have a number of programmes where people come and work with us on a work experience placement
  • We also run a community excavation at least once every year. That provides a good route for people, especially in the local community, to get involved and to see the many different disciplines.

"In archaeology, you can look down a microscope. You can become an internationally renowned specialist in a particular field. You can spend your day outdoors in the rain and the snow and the sleet and the sunshine, carrying out actual practical archaeological work. You can work indoors, making sense of all the data that we collect and writing stories. Ultimately, all of the work of all of these people comes together to write stories.

"The other amazing thing about archaeology which really we've only just started to acknowledge, is that if you find out about what's happened in the past, you start to develop that real sense of identity and understanding.

"In today's modern developments, archaeology contributes a great deal to the sense of a place and to the sense of identity that people living and working and playing in a particular place, or even visiting a place, actually have.

"So it's often thought to be all about the past, but actually it's really helping to mould our attitude to the future."

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