Chris K image

Chris Killeen

Chris Killeen, Archaeologist 

MA Archaeology, graduated in 2010

[Q] What are the day-to-day tasks when working in your sector?

[A] My job is to identify, excavate and record any archaeological remains in advance of building or quarrying work. This can be part of a full excavation as part of a larger team, but more often working alongside the building contractors to monitor the work to make sure any archaeology is recorded if it is uncovered as part of the building work. After the excavation phase is over I will usually write a report of the excavation or had it up to my supervisor to get the report written. This report is then handed onto clients and the planning authorities to demonstrate that the archaeology has been dealt with and "preserved by record".

When I'm not on site and not writing reports I'm usually working processing finds. This involves cleaning, sorting, categorising and recording finds from my site and from my colleague’s sites.

[Q] Do I need specific experience to work in your sector?

[A] A degree in archaeology is a prerequisite of the job, although your real education in field archaeology starts when you get onto site. Particularly in these tight economic times, any field voluntary field experience at all is very useful!

[Q] What skills and qualities do I need to work in your sector?

[A] You need to be physically fit to be an archaeologist. In every other sector most of the physical work is mechanised. This isn't the case in archaeology, as the vast majority of the remains have to be excavated by hand. You also have to be very motivated.

The pay is very low compared to any other graduate job, and the conditions on site can be very trying. Being sociable is really important too. In your early career particularly, you will be sharing rooms with your colleagues, eating with them, drinking with them and spending a lot of your time away from site with them too. If you're not a people person, professional archaeology probably isn't for you...

Also, LEARN TO DRIVE! The archaeology can never come to you so you need to be able to get yourself and your equipment to sites that are often a long way from the bus or train routes. My driving licence has got me more work throughout my career than any of my academic qualifications.

[Q] Do I need a specific degree to work in your sector?

[A] A degree in archaeology or something closely related, like forensics, is a must for anyone who wants to work in the sector. It is often part of the planning conditions that the archaeology is carried out by a qualified archaeologist, which means, you need to have a degree.

[Q] What are the perks of being in your sector?

[A] You get to meet a large group of talented, like minded people who will quickly become some of your closest friends. There are opportunities to travel the world if you can get onto the international circuit. Colleagues who I met on site have since gone on to live and work all over the world, working on projects from the Middle East to the Americas.

Archaeology also keeps you very fit, so there’s no need to shell out on an expensive gym membership and there's no feeling like being the first person to see something in hundreds or thousands of years. I've never lost that buzz I get finding something interesting, personal or occasionally strange when I'm on site.

[Q] What are the downsides of working in your sector?

[A] The pay and conditions for archaeologists have always been pretty appalling. The starting wage for a new archaeologist is between £15-16,000, despite a degree being mandatory. Supervisors with 5 years experience are lucky to earn more than £18,000 a year. There is also not a lot of job security, with most of the industry working on short contracts and moving from one company to another, making it difficult to lay down roots anywhere unless you're very lucky and find a full time unit job.

Injuries are a very common problem in archaeology too. I've had to have surgery on both wrists, elbows and my neck before the age of 30. I've been particularly unlucky, but I don't know an archaeologist who isn't carrying at least a niggling knee problem.

Archaeology is less a career and more a vocation.

[Q] Where can I find out which are the best companies to work for?

[A] There are some very good companies in the industry, and some very bad ones. The nature of the job will mean you'll have to work for both the good ones and the bad ones before you have the experience to get a settled full time post. Listen to your colleagues you meet on the way. The industry is a very interconnected one, and everyone knows someone at another company so the worst companies are well known.

[Q] Do I have to work in London to be in your sector?

[A] Archaeology is a very nomadic profession; you go to where the work is, so people are based all around the country. It doesn't matter where you're based, as long as you're happy to travel and stay away. That being said, archaeology is very dependent on the building trade, and there is more building in the south east at the moment than anywhere else. You don't have to live or work in London, but don't be surprised if you end up spending at least some of your career working in the capital.

[Q] Where can I look for jobs?

[A] The British Archaeological Jobs and Resources website is the best place to start looking for work in the industry. BAJR also acts as a sort of proto union within the industry, setting a minimum wage that employers can advertise different levels of work on their website. Once you're in, it’s also worth staying in touch with people you've worked with. They're the best people to get you more work, as well as someone fun to hang around with when you fancy a trip to another town or city!

[Q] DOs and DON'Ts of applying for jobs in your sector:

DO – Be willing to travel, stay away from home for long periods, work long hours and generally work very hard. Flexible and hardworking staff are what any archaeological company are looking for.

DO – Learn to drive before you apply. Drivers are still pretty rare in archaeology, so being able to drive a work van makes you one of the most useful assets on site. You also can't get promoted until you can work on your own. This means being able to drive yourself and all your gear to site.

DON’T – Expect to get paid much. Expect to get your own room in accommodation. Expect to have a "normal" life for the first couple of years. It does eventually get better. I promise.

DON’T – Expect that because you've got a good degree from a good university that you'll be fast tracked to the top. Everyone has a degree that gets you in the door. How you work and behave on site is what will get you noticed and promoted.