So this Thoughts post, as you can see, is not a bookish discussion… but as I was thinking about the book blogging community, it got me wondering. I like reading about my fellow bloggers, not just their favourite books and series and characters, but the things they do outside of the blog. And what I’ve noticed is the wide range of careers, jobs and areas of study that the community covers. I mean, my blogging friends range from a pastry chef, to a preschool teacher, from a research scientist to a librarian and many more different careers and jobs. Sure, some of us work with books or are studying publishing – but many of us have nothing to do with it, career-wise.
I myself am aiming to become a museum curator, and today I wanted to talk a little about that – and I’d love to hear about your job or area of study! Tell me all about it in the comments section, feel free to use the following questions and adapt them to suit yourself.
What did you study at university?
I took my Bachelors in Ancient History and Archaeology, and graduated in 2012 from the University of Reading. From this September, I’ll be moving to the Netherlands to study a Masters degree in Archaeological Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of Leiden. Actually, I’ll be moving in mid-August, although term doesn’t start until 1st September. I’m scared and excited for this huge change!
Why have you decided on a career as a museum curator?
Ever since I was little, history (particularly ancient history) has fascinated me. It was always my favourite subject at school (along with German!) and it’s something I will never tire of. I lived in Bristol when I was younger, and spent many days at the amazing museum there. When I was making my choices for university, I saw that many universities offered Archaeology alongside Ancient History – and I thought it would be interesting to do both, so I would have something more practical to go with it. That’s one choice I definitely do not regret – as my experience with archaeology, excavations and museums has only confirmed that this is what I want to do with my life.
Share some stories relating to your job/area of study.
Between 2010 and 2012, I worked at Silchester every summer. Silchester is an Iron Age/Roman town on the Hampshire/Berkshire border in England, and my university does an excavation there every year. For three years running I worked as part of the ‘finds team’: cleaning everything that had been dug up, sorting, marking it and keeping a record, talking to visitors about finds, teaching fellow students. We lived and worked in the same field (the dig lasts six weeks each year), through boiling hot sunshine and torrential rain. Take a look at 2012…
Living in a tent for up to a month at a time was tough – especially when as soon as you clean yourself you’re muddy again, the only bathrooms around for miles are Portaloos and it WON’T STOP RAINING – but the work during the day was amazing and reminded me just why I absolutely love archaeology and everything to do with it.
Working on the finds team meant I got to clean off the finds, uncover and see for the first time what someone had held, or used, or eaten from, about two thousand years ago. Some of the pottery that was found was in such good condition that it was hard to believe it had been sat in the ground for that long. That is what I really love about this aspect of the job – being able to interact with objects that someone in the past owned and used. Here’s one of my favourite things from Silchester, and it’s something we bring out every year because the story is just wonderful:
This is a tegula (flat Roman roof tile, as opposed to the curved one which is called an imbrex). Whoever made it obviously set it out to dry in the sun – and then someone walked all over it in their hobnailed boots. Not only that, but it was also trodden on by a fox (the paw print with claws extended) and a dog. Perhaps the dog was chasing the fox? And perhaps the hobnail-booted person was chasing the dog? Who knows. I just love that we have this one tile that has so many possibilities and stories behind it!
And you know what else I love?
PUTTING POTS BACK TOGETHER! Occasionally we came across a whole pot, or close enough. Sometimes still intact (in which case I got to excavate the inside of the pot which was amazing), and sometimes in fragments, but enough to reconstruct the pot. The pot above is named Percy – because they all need names. They’d be stuck together with tape first, then glue when everything was in place.
And this sight: cleaned and sorted finds trays. That’s a days worth of cleaning and marking – the number corresponds to the context (area and layer of the site) in which each artefact was found. They’re not just full of pottery – but animal bone, teeth, iron nails, hobnails, glass and more. All ‘small finds’ (rarer objects, not necessarily small in size! This also includes human bone) are kept separately and recorded in a log book. If you want to read more about the small finds at Silchester then take a look here – my favourite is the figurine of Harpocrates.
I’ve also done some volunteer work at a local museum, but I’ve had to stop that now due to work hours. Whilst I was there I made information sheets for various exhibits, created a hand-drawn booklet on the story of Perseus and Medusa (the illustrations were based on Greek red and black pottery) and held a ‘hands on’ finds session during the school holidays.
Obviously, working on this excavation was not exactly the same as working as a museum curator. However, the basic aspects (and the most important, to me) remain the same. Working with artefacts, presenting them in a way that is appealing to visitors, and constantly learning more and more about past civilisations.
Anything else you want to share with us?
Yeah. Look after the archaeology equipment guys, you never know what might happen!
I’m not sure where else in the world you can play Ultimate Frisbee in a Roman amphitheater (yes, really), throw raves in the same marquee that you eat dinner in, find tape measures a reasonable source of amusement, have a ‘fertility ritual’ performed by Morris dancers for you on your birthday, have a yearly pirate party where the locals and the archaeologists charge each other across the village green, receive a visit from Alex Kingston aka River Song (I WAS SO EXCITED) and live in your own dirt for longer than is normally socially acceptable.
Oh, and I won’t be missing this ‘bedroom’…