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Find out why, what and how from Derek Alexander, Archaeologist, The National Trust for Scotland.

Being an Archaeologist is great fun and being paid for it is even better! It's a bit like being a detective - except that the evidence is just a little older... It is all about using the evidence to tell stories of how people lived in the past.

For me, by far the most enjoyable part is the fieldwork: the process of discovery. Nothing quite beats scraping away a layer of soil to reveal an object or a ruin that people left behind 1000s of years ago, and which tells part of their story.

An archaeologist's work isn't only about digging though. All excavations must be carefully planned for and recorded - so there's a lot of emailing and report-writing to be done. We also provide advice on all manner of issues concerning the past. The most vital of these is identifying how important something is (whether it is an object, building or landscape) and what we need to do to protect it for the future.

Fieldwork can vary a lot. My recent projects include: mapping (with geophysical survey equipment) the ditches and banks surrounding the important Abbey on the island of Iona, finding a complete 18th century wine bottle in a field at Threave, and looking for the house of a freed slave at Culzean Castle.

Most archaeologists have university degrees. Probably the best way to gain experience is by joining a local history/archaeology society (even if it is full of old people!) - and by volunteering for fieldwork. Gaining experience of survey or excavation work before going to University will give you an added advantage.

Here's a 10-point checklist.

1. Be keenly interested in history (you’ve got to want to do it).
2. Love reading books (there’ll be a fair amount of research) – and be observant.
3. Enjoy working outdoors.
4. Learn to drive (when you can) and visit places of interest in your local area.
5. Watch the Time Team – they use all the basic techniques and are a good introduction.
6. Get a good digital camera - build up your own photo collection (one day they’ll be useful).
7. Be fit – digging often involves lots of mattocking and shoveling.
8. Be a good team player – much of archaeology is working with people.
9. Be able to talk about what you do.
10. Learn to spell 'archaeology' correctly!
Although it is pretty poorly paid and, at the start, you'll probably have to do a lot of volunteering, if you stick at it and really WANT it, you will get a job.
Finding an object that has been lost for 100s or 1000s of years is always exciting - and the more you learn about a subject connected to your project, the more interested you become!

Derek Alexander, Archaeologist, The National Trust for Scotland.

1. The scientific study and interpretation of the past, based on the uncovering, retrieval, recording and interpretation of information from physical objects (anything left by our ancestors whether it be small pieces of flint tools or entire medieval castles)

2. The systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery.


You can find out more about the Trust’s archaeological conservation work in the Archaeology section of the NTS website. Click here to take a look.

Some other good websites about archaeology:

www.rcahms.gov.uk/
Useful for finding out what sites are in your local area. Check their databases, including Canmore and Pastmap

www.scottisharchaeology.org.uk/
Good information on archaeology in Scotland

www.archaeology.co.uk/
UK's most popular archaeology magazine - provides info on digs and how to get a career in archaeology

www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/heritage/archaeology.htm
The Scottish Government's department for Heritage and archaeology - has lots of free publications and leaflets)

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Email us at learning@nts.org.uk