Thursday, 9 February 2017

Volunteers Make the World Go Round

Anyone who has studied or worked in archaeology will be well aware of the importance of volunteering. Whether you've trained and/or supervised a team or been a volunteer yourself, you'll be very familiar with what an invaluable asset good volunteers can be to an archaeological firm. The prevalence of residential and commercial development sites across the UK combined with the wealth of archaeological material recovered during trial trenching, excavation, and other works can easily lead to a seemingly insurmountable backlog of finds just waiting to be processed. Enter, the volunteer!

Last week, we met up with a few PCA volunteers who have been working in our Finds Department, sorting, cleaning, and storing finds from a number of our sites in London. Jane Smith, who has a background in geography and has always been very interested in history, heard about the volunteer opportunities in PCA South's offices via the Brockley Society newsletter and decided to get involved in December 2016. After a few times working in finds, she brought along her friend, Nick Dudman, who has since come and volunteered for us twice.

Jane & Nick delicately cleaning finds

We asked what their favourite part about volunteering and working with these archaeological finds was. The answer? Well, to every archaeologist's delight, what interests Jane and Nick the most is context. Knowing when and where a particular find came from, they agree, is as important as the artefact itself. This enthusiasm for the past was evident as Nick rifled through a tray of finds to highlight a piece of Roman plaster from our Brandon House site in Southwark, as it still had a bit of black paint on it. They have primarily been focusing their efforts on delicately cleaning artefacts such as this, which can be painstaking work!

Proving that volunteering often runs in the family, John and his son form another one of PCA's dynamic duos. Like his father, Tom is interested in history and told us that he really enjoys washing pottery fragments. His favourite type of finds are clay pipes, which like cigarettes today, were disposable and often thrown into the Thames, which explains their abundance on many of our sites.

John and son holding clay pipes

Venturing further north, we also got in touch with some more enthusiastic volunteers at PCA's office in Durham. SWAAG, which stands for the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group, have a good relationship with PCA and often come in to help out and learn from our specialist staff. PCA's Roman Pottery Specialist, Eniko Hudak, recently ran a pot washing session to thank the volunteers for all of their hard work. David Brooks, a retired member of SWAAG, has been volunteering with PCA for three years and said, "I enjoy finds handling as the atmosphere is always enjoyable and friendly. People are always ready to explain the finds.".

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Christina Reade, by emailing