As a run-up to our Festival of Archaeology event this coming weekend, and in solidarity with the Day in Archaeology (22 July), we’d like to to share the voices of some of the younger archaeology students we’ve encountered this summer. They will tell their stories in their own words, about why they study archaeology and what they hope for the future of archaeology.
First up is Jillian (20, right) who spent two weeks with us at the beginning of the season.
“But you never dig in the garden?”: From California to Bamburgh
I was lucky enough to spend two amazing weeks with the Bamburgh Research Project this June. The BRP was one of the few field schools that my university, St Andrews in Scotland, recommended on its archaeology department’s webpage. More, it was the only program of that select group to focus primarily on medieval archaeology. Therefore, it is was not a difficult decision to sign up and resulted in me pestering one of the Project Directors, Graeme Young, over email with questions about the dates that the 2019 season would be running.
I was seventeen years old when I chose to study medieval history and archaeology at the University of St Andrews. I had never before taken a class that looked at medieval history in depth, nor had I ever done anything remotely related to archaeology before I submitted my degree intention. I simply knew that I was interested in studying history, and it sounded really cool. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be their own version of Indiana Jones? At St Andrews, archaeology is not its own degree route and could only be studied in conjunction with either ancient or medieval history. Further, students are not properly able to take modules solely on archaeology until our third year. So, when I, a seventeen-year-old from California, confirmed on my application to a university in Scotland that I wanted to study medieval history and archaeology I was going with a gut feeling.
For me, living in the UK was always a dream. So naturally, as I progressed through school and began looking at places to do my undergraduate degree, studying history in a place where the history felt so much more vast than in my own home country was something I was immediately attracted to. I am also fortunate enough that pursuing my undergraduate degree abroad was a feasible option because I do not believe I would have been as happy studying anything else in any other place. I am still so enamored with the idea and the experience of studying history in the place it was made, and it is something I would recommend to anyone who is thinking about studying subjects like history and archaeology.
As I mentioned earlier, the archaeology program at St Andrews is structured so that students only really encounter archaeology-based module in their third year. That being said, there were always plenty of opportunities to get involved with archaeology. I was really able to capitalize on these opportunities in my second-year when I became more involved with the Student Archaeological Society. I was able to volunteer with the archaeologists in St Andrews Department of Environmental History and SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) and to clean, sort, and catalogue the finds from their excavation at Higgins Neuk in Falkirk, carried out in an effort to find archaeological evidence of the lost royal dockyard of James IV. An article on the excavation was published in Current Archaeology 347 and I was able to have my first taste of what an archaeologist does. Through the Society, I was also able to go on my first ever archaeological dig at Dunfermline Abbey, helping to locate and record gravestones under the graveyard turf. At the end of this year, to cap it off, I was also elected the new President of the Society, giving me the opportunity to help myself and others to get greater involved in archaeology. My experiences doing archaeology in my second year never gave me cause to regret the choice that I made when I was seventeen, but instead gave me a new enthusiasm to pursue this passion further.
I was able to explore this newly invigorated passion for archaeology at Bamburgh this summer. Despite never having camped for more than a single night before, and definitely never by myself, I was willing to submit to a life in a tent and learned to love it for its own lack of insulation and noise barriers. So, when my mother asked why I wanted to live in a tent for two weeks and to dig in a muddy trench, saying “But you never dig in the garden?”, she did not understand that archaeology is more than just shoveling dirt until we find a piece of stone from a Northumbrian chair. In my two weeks, I did squat on a foam knee-pad and too-carefully troweled away at a pebble path, I nearly froze my hands in a flotation tank to try to retrieve charcoal from an environmental sample, and I painstakingly tried to stipple my already poor illustration of a bone pin. That experience that I gained at the BRP was invaluable to me. The staff at the BRP were my first real teachers of archaeology and they demonstrated how amazing the field that we both chose was.
The two weeks that spent with the BRP were undoubtedly some of the best of my life and will not be easily forgotten. As I write this from my 80°F/27°C backyard in California, I am fondly remembering when the passing rain storm woke me up throughout the night and I do not regret any missed sleep. My time with the BRP allowed me to learn more about a degree-turned-passion that I pursued because my teenage-self thought it sounded cool. It confirmed to me that I made the right choice.