UCL News


Spotlight on...Hayley Nicholls

17 February 2022

This week we meet Hayley Nicholls, a Senior Archaeologist at Archaeology South East, a division within the Institute of Archaeology. Hayley talks to us about her love of Tonsai in Thailand and discovering a large Late Bronze Age enclosure at an excavation site near Chicester

Hayley Nicolls Spotlight image

What is your role and what does it involve?

I’m a Senior Archaeologist at Archaeology South-East, the commercial division within the Institute of Archaeology. I direct large excavations, usually in advance of residential developments, and then see the projects through to publication.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL since 2013 and was previously in a similar role for a strictly commercial unit in the south-west of England. The greater focus on research over the bottom line is what drew me to UCL and has kept me here.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

Back in 2018, we started an excavation near Chichester. It was the first large excavation over 3 hectares I was to be responsible for, and whilst we were expecting some archaeology of Late Bronze Age date, we were not anticipating the scale and significance of what we were to discover. We uncovered a massive ditched enclosure of Late Bronze Age date, with an internal box rampart, enclosing at least 11 roundhouses and multiple other structures, continuing in use into the Early Iron Age. The fieldwork ran for 6 months, through sometimes fairly awful weather conditions and with increasing budgetary pressures due to the archaeology being more than was anticipated (and costed for). It was a slog. But everyone on the team, including some fairly green, recently graduated archaeologists, pulled together, worked incredibly hard in difficult conditions, and produced an archive of a very high standard, one to be proud of. Taking this site to publication will be a joy as a result.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

I’m now working on the publication for the site mentioned above. It’s a career highlight for sure, and one I have so much enthusiasm for.  We’re in the early stages, getting ready to send off a load of samples for radiocarbon dating, which should help to clarify the various phases of the site, and its duration of use.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Graceland by Paul Simon – always guaranteed to put me in a good mood

Django Unchained – can’t get enough of Tarantino and particularly love this one

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – just a beautiful book. Actually, need to read it again as it’s been a while

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

Did you hear about the Italian chef who died?

He pasta-way

(What can I say, I love a terrible joke :D)

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Dead or alive, I’d say Judi Dench, Alan Rickman, David Attenborough, Amelia Earhart and the Obamas. I’d just cook the dinner, serve the food, sit back and listen. Imagine the stories!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Find a career that pays better... Only joking, I love what I do.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

Probably that I like music by Paul Simon

What is your favourite place?

Tonsai in Thailand. It’s a bit of a climbing mecca. Limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches, ridiculous sunsets and still a tad less touristy than lots of Southern Thailand. You can sit on the beach in the evening, drink a beer, and watch base jumpers hurl themselves off the pinnacles as the sun goes down.