Archaeology South-East


A year in commercial archaeology: student placement complete!

16 August 2019

For the last year we’ve had archaeology student Iva Popova with us on a placement as part of an exciting new undergraduate degree offered by the UCL Institute of Archaeology, which gives students the opportunity to experience development-led archaeology with us at ASE.

Iva cleans out the flotation tank

This four-year BA Archaeology with a Placement Year begins with two years of study at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Third year students then spend a year in paid employment with ASE, the Institute’s commercial branch, gaining valuable experience in all aspects of commercial archaeology and increasing their employability after graduation. Now Iva’s year with us is up, and she’s heading back to university for her fourth and final year – there are modules to take, dissertations to write and exams to sit! It’s Iva’s last day today, so we sat down with her to get the details on her placement year.

The first part of Iva’s placement was spent in the field. Iva was first based in London and then near Chichester in West Sussex. Excavating with ASE was not her first digging experience, but it was her first commercial dig. She found the increased time pressure of commercial archaeology challenging at first, but soon got used to it and found the occasional swinging a mattock and shovelling to be a great stress relief!

Iva’s top tip for the field was that waterproof clothing is important - and she also recommended buying warm socks!

Iva takes a break out in the field

The second part of Iva’s placement was in our main office in Portslade, East Sussex, where we process all the finds from sites in the South-East. From January onwards, Iva has been working with our post-excavation team to gain experience in finds processing, specialist analysis, drawing and illustration and archiving. As part of her placement, Iva was also able to go the CiFA 2019 annual training event and conference in the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

In the processing room she has washed and quantified hand-collected finds, as well as processing environmental samples through flotation, wet-sieving and residue sorting. Iva also tried her hand at geoarchaeology, taking core samples for further analysis.

Getting muddy isn’t just for field archaeologists – especially when you’re emptying the flotation tank!

Iva worked with our finds specialists on pottery, ceramic building material, animal bone, flint, wood, seeds, charcoal and micropaleontology. She was involved in writing up her artefact analysis for overall site reports.

Iva sorts through a flotation residue

She also spent a month working with the drawing office, where she photographed finds, drew artefacts, and most recently has been digitally mapping some of our sites to help create site plans.

Iva working on digitising site plans with the drawing office

So much for what Iva did, but how did she find her year of commercial archaeology? As our first ever placement student, were there things that she loved doing, or wished she could have done?

Well, you’ll be relieved to know that we’ve not put Iva off a career in archaeology – she said she’d like to stay in it, whether in an academic or commercial setting. Overall Iva enjoyed her time with us and wished she had been in the field more, not just excavating but also going out with our historic buildings teams and our geoarchaeologists. We’re looking forward to taking her comments on board for our next placement student who will start with us in the new academic year.

What would Iva say to other students who are thinking of studying this degree? That it’s a great way of finding out what you love (and maybe don’t love so much) about commercial archaeology! You get to try so many different specialisms and roles that you have a much better idea of what you want (or not) from an archaeological career.

It was a pleasure to have Iva with us and we wish her all the best in her future studies and career!

You can find out more information about the BA Archaeology with Placement Year on the UCL website.