Archaeology South-East


IoA Placement 2020-21: Alex's top tips for fieldwork

17 August 2021

Throughout the last year, UCL archaeology placement student Alex Allen has been working with ASE archaeologists, getting to learn the world of commercial archaeology. In the second of his blog series, Alex will be sharing some of his fieldwork tips!

Alex supports himself on an elbow as he excavates a pit full of reddish briquetage. He is wearing high visibility clothing, a hard hat, and muddy welly boots.

Hi, I’m Alex, Institute of Archaeology placement student and I’ll be talking you through some of the things I’ve picked up whilst working in the field during my time at ASE!

You can also find loads of these tips and more on the Digger’s Forum, which is an amazing resource especially for those new to commercial fieldwork.


Since I started my placement, most of my time has been spent out in the field, which is something I've thoroughly enjoyed. You get to explore plenty of fascinating sites, unearth artefacts and structures that may not have been seen for centuries, as well as see some dazzling landscapes.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though. Fieldwork can also be cold, wet and muddy, or hot and humid, which may not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re anything like me, you may also find yourself waking up far earlier than you may be used to, especially as a student. So, to help you thrive out in the field, here are some of my top tips!


Field archaeologists tend to start the day early, in line with typical working hours at construction sites. I was never a fan of early mornings! I found that adjusting my sleep pattern to ensure I got enough sleep to be up that early was key to my mental health and concentration throughout the day. It is something I highly recommend attempting to do. You may find your morning routine changes as your body adjusts (even on weekends!).

Cold, wet and muddy

As much as I would love to say that we only dig in nice sunny weather, the fact is, we don’t. A lot of sites may end up a bit muddy (it’s what we dig, after all!) and often become wet due to the rain, and throughout the winter they also get cold. Layers and thermals are especially important for this kind of weather.

If you want to stay warm, make sure to pop your thermals on with at least 2-3 thin layers on top before you put your jacket and high vis on. You can always take layers off in the winter, but if you didn’t have enough to begin with, you’ll be cold all day.

Work on site doesn’t stop just because of rain either, so, waterproofs are key. ASE supply plenty of gear for wet-weather work, including waterproof over-trousers and jackets, a decent pair of waterproof gloves and a pair of steel toe capped wellies. Sure, you may look like a can of orange tango, but at least you’ll be dry and visible!

Archaeological sites can be rather muddy!

No matter the weather conditions, it inevitably gets cold throughout the winter season. With a lot of the work on site being done by hand and mostly in one spot, this can mean your toes and fingertips get cold rather quickly. Gloves, especially thermal and waterproof ones, can help with keeping those fingers toasty, but if you want to go that extra mile, a second pair of gloves can work a treat and hand warmers are also an absolute must-have for winter field seasons.

When it comes to keeping those toes warm, a couple of pairs of socks with your boots can do a pretty good job. You can get wool innersoles for your wellies - put them alongside some fleece boot socks and you wouldn’t even know it’s winter out!

Hot, hot, hot

As much as we all enjoy a touch of sun, digging in the hot weather can be tough and dehydration is a serious consideration. Drinking water is available on site and I highly recommend getting yourself a water bottle that’s big enough for the job. For myself, I chose a 2.2L reusable water bottle. It’s durable, good for the planet, and helps to keep you sufficiently hydrated throughout the day, so it’s not only an investment for the summer season, but year-round.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you may burn easily. My first foray into the field at the start of my placement ended with me getting a tad bit sunburnt because I didn’t think sun cream was needed! To make the most of protecting yourself whilst out in the field, I would recommend a factor 50 sun cream and apply this at least 3 times throughout the day – and carry on suncreaming in the winter, too!

Lovely changeable British weather…

In a nutshell…

I found sleep to be the most important factor in my fieldwork career. When working outdoors in varying conditions you’ll find yourself to be quite tired come the evening. If you need it, grab that shut eye where and when you can. Even if that means taking a nap in your car during your breaks!

No matter what weather or conditions you may be working in, always make sure to prepare well and for any eventuality. Even if it’s sunny, pack the wet-weather gear, and even if it’s raining, don’t forget the sun-cream and hat!


Alex is writing a series of blog posts about his placement year experience with ASE. Find out more about Alex and his degree in this podcast episode, and check the UCL website for further information about the BA Archaeology with Placement Year.