Simple ways you can help dig up the past
"Letting people dig is a great way of bringing archaeology to the people."— - Cornelius Holtorf, "Archaeology is a Brand"
From the dare-devil action of Indiana Jones to the rather more prosaic adventures of television's Time Team, many of us are attracted to the idea of digging up relics of past societies. British towns often have hundreds or even thousands of years of archaeological heritage under the surface; aspiring archaeologists will seldom have far to go to find ways to get involved.
Many archaeological projects take place in summer, when academics and students can be spared from university work. But universities aren't the only organisations undertaking archaeological research -- archaeology takes place around the year in most British towns, wherever development takes place or research needs to be done. Some of these excavations are all-professional, but others include volunteers. One of the easiest ways to find local projects to become involved in is through national organisations.
The largest organisation involved in promoting archaeology in the UK is the Council for British Archaeology. The CBA maintains lists of archaeological projects that accept volunteers, as well as hosting internet forums where community archaeology groups can discuss their upcoming excavations.
Children with an interest in archaeology can learn more and participate in digs through the Young Archaeologists' Club, a nationwide organisation with many regional branches which helps under-17s develop their interest in archaeology. The YAC organises classes, trips and other activities for young people interested in archaeology.
National organisations aren't the only ones that can get volunteers involved in archaeological projects. Local community groups are often particularly receptive to volunteers, and can have unparalleled knowledge of local history and folklore.
Community archaeology groups in the UK can sometimes be over a century old. Many host lectures or discussions on archaeological subjects, while some even publish their own archaeological journals. Town or county archaeological societies are often the best place to find out more about the archaeology of your local area.
Local museums are another great place to get involved in archaeology. Archaeology is more than just digging, and museums play a vital role by identifying, cataloguing and preserving artefacts, as well as educating the public. Many smaller museums rely heavily on volunteers to stay open and staff events, meaning that volunteering at a local museum is not only a great way to get more involved in the world of archaeology but also a way to contribute to the community.
Although joining a group is a good way to get involved in archaeology, it isn't the only way. Many people enjoy finding archaeological artefacts, either with a metal detector or simply while walking in the countryside. Artefacts such as coins, buckles, projectile points, pottery and other items can be found in the ploughsoil of fields, disturbed by the action of ploughing.
Metal detecting and fieldwalking can be great ways to learn more about the history and prehistory of the local area. Some regions will have metal detecting clubs, but detecting itself is still often a solitary activity. Metal detector users have made important contributions to archaeology.
However, irresponsible metal detecting can cause harm to the archaeological record. One way to prevent this is by observing the code of practice agreed on by major detecting groups, which advises metal detector users only to dig up objects from disturbed soil and always to secure permission from the owner of the land.
Recovered artefacts can be recorded with a local Finds Liaison Officer. FLOs help expand archaeologists' knowledge of artefact distribution by recording the location of different types of artefacts discovered by metal detectorists.
Some archaeology enthusiasts decide to take their passion to the next level and pursue formal education in the subject. A range of classes are available, ranging from part-time classes to degree courses.
Continuing education courses and part-time classes are offered by a wide range of institutions, including local colleges and universities. For students interested in pursuing archaeology at degree level, university departments often offer open days, including activities such as departmental tours, lectures and even training excavations.
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