Our next willing victim is a Lecturer in Later European Prehistory at Liverpool University, Dr Rachel Pope:
Rachel is co-director of the group British Women Archaeologists, a council member for the Prehistoric Society, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She is a member of the Bronze Age Studies Group and advisor to the Iron Age Research Student Seminar.
Rachel’s work focuses on British material from the Early Bronze Age to the late Roman Iron Age (c. 2400BC-AD500), specialising in the fields of architecture and everyday life, domestic ritual traditions, settlement temporality and land use. Her interests in the European Iron Age include both settlement and mortuary traditions.
The 10 Questions
What sparked your interest in Archaeology?
Seeing the preservation of an Egyptian man preserved by the sand in the British Museum at a very early age. Perhaps also watching the raising of the Mary Rose in assembly at Primary School, we were all very excited by that. I knew that I wanted to be an archaeologist from the age of five.
How did you get started?
When I was fifteen, we had to undertake a two-week period of work experience from school. As a girl, I’d been offered shop work. Turning that down, I arranged to work with Tyne & Wear Museums on the Roman wall at Segedunum. Wellies stuck in the Tyne clays, in November – and that was it.
Who has most influenced your career?
I’m not sure I can blame just one person for this! So very many people have influenced my career, academics and field archaeologists alike. The people who’ve supported me most have been Colin Haselgrove and Ian Ralston. They’ve instilled in me a real sense of responsibility, and underlined the importance of undertaking fieldwork alongside solid academic research. Historically it is George Jobey and Margaret Piggott – two great, northern prehistorians.
Which has been your most exciting project to date?
The site you’re about to start excavating is always the most exciting! And that’s now Penycloddiau, the second largest hillfort in Wales. I’m also very excited about the late Holocene climate change project that I’m involved in – it’s an important project bringing together archaeologists and palaeoclimatologists for the first time in the UK, so I really hope we get the funding for it.
What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?
My heart is always in the prehistoric landscapes of the Cheviot uplands in Northumberland. I dug in these landscapes every year for fifteen years, and love both the sites and the local people. My favourite site is currently Kidlandlee Dean, an Early-Middle Bronze Age farming settlement at 300 m. It was the first site I directed, and it is now yielding some very interesting results in post-excavation. I can’t wait to tell Kidlandlee’s story.
What is your biggest archaeological/heritage regret?
That I didn’t experience the fieldwork scene in the 1970s.
If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?
I would get rid of the competitive tendering system and nationalise archaeological practice.
If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?
Whenever anyone asks me what I do, without fail they’re inspired. Archaeology is loved by the British people – they want to hear the unfolding story of the deep history of this island. They cherish it. Yet the people who enable this, those working in the heritage sector see a profession in crisis. Our trained field archaeologists exist on appallingly low rates of pay, these are well-educated specialists digging across winter in the most difficult of conditions. Short-term contracts and an itinerant lifestyle mean that for many years we have been leaching our skills base. Our skilled excavators, people who love their work, are consistently forced to leave. After the cuts, we have little/no protection in some regions for the archaeological resource, archaeological units and local museums are closing, and our cultural heritage is once more seriously at risk. I often wonder why it is that we treat our cultural heritage with such disdain in Britain. In France, they celebrate their history, use it to educate their young. Here we see it as a nuisance, something that gets in the way of economic ‘progress’. I ask us to prioritise the archaeology of Britain – we cannot understand our present, and prepare for our future, without first understanding our past. There is still much for this country to learn.
If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?
If I wasn’t in academia I’d be in the contract sector, with broken knees. That, or being more involved in political activism.
Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?
I’m mum to a 3 year-old, so I don’t really understand the concept of relaxation now! I do still get the chance to go out dancing with my friends occasionally which helps keep me sane. And I’m quite keen on Twitter.
Once again we must extend our thanks for Rachel’s answers. Many of our subjects have mentioned how much they’ve enjoyed thinking about their responses. If you work in the Heritage or Archaelogy arenas and would like to be part of this series, please email us on info (at) heritageaction (dot) org (dot) uk
Alternatively, if you’d like to nominate someone else for the series, just let us know in the Comments section.
Earlier entries in this series: