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Our next willing subject is someone who’s been in the news quite a bit just recently, talking about plans and progress for the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre – it’s Sue Greaney, Senior Properties Historian with English Heritage. 

Brief Bio:

Sue studied archaeology and prehistory at Sheffield University, worked very briefly for ARCUS and then took an MSc in Professional Archaeology at Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. Placements with Oxford Archaeology, the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford and the archaeological survey team at English Heritage led to her securing a temporary job with English Heritage’s Properties Research team in 2005. This work was focused on researching and writing interpretation for the free and unstaffed sites, ranging from industrial buildings to Neolithic long barrows, and including sites from the Isles of Scilly to Hadrian’s Wall. Since 2009, Sue has been working on the exhibition and interpretation planned for the forthcoming new Stonehenge visitor centre.

SueGreaney

The Ten Questions:

What sparked your interest in Archaeology?

It must have been studying ‘the Vikings’ and ‘the Romans’ at primary school, because I remember announcing aged 7 that I wanted to be an archaeologist. And I never changed my mind. Pretty soon I was a member of the local of the Young Archaeologist’s Club and a few years later Time Team started – after that at least friends at school stopped thinking I wanted to be an architect!

How did you get started?

My first excavation was two weeks work experience aged 14 with Northamptonshire Archaeology, on a DMV site near Rugby. I enjoyed it so much I asked to come back and volunteer in my summer holidays. After that I excavated at community projects including Piddington Roman Villa and Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project in Norfolk, spending a summer supervising there in 2001. By then I was in my first year at Sheffield University, studying archaeology and prehistory.

Who has most inspired your career?

Credit has to go to my university tutors, particularly Mike Parker Pearson and Mark Edmonds, who told me to question everything and how to interpret landscapes – they both made prehistory so exciting and accessible. Mark Bowden at English Heritage, who led one of my masters placements, taught me a lot about landscape survey and archaeology, and my first manager at English Heritage, John Goodall managed to instill in me a love of medieval abbeys and castles too. And all my archaeological friends from many conversations in the pub!

Which has been your most exciting project to date?

It has to be the one that I work on now, the new Stonehenge visitor centre. I’m the archaeologist/historian working on the new exhibition galleries, all the new interpretation from the website to the audio tour, the temporary gallery, the permanent gallery, the films and interactives. Now is an incredibly busy time as we open later in 2013. Within the larger project there are lots of exciting pure research things – getting new radiocarbon dates on a burial from Winterbourne Stoke long barrow, interpreting the new laser scan of Stonehenge, building our replica experimental Neolithic houses… I have to pinch myself sometimes!

What is your favourite British archaeological site… and why?

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. It’s a spectacular site, in a beautiful location. And it’s one of those crucial sites for understanding the late Neolithic. It’s also where I got engaged in 2008! The whole of Orkney is just packed with such great archaeology.

What is your biggest archaeological regret?

Personally, I’d have liked to have spent more time digging! Although I worked in commercial archaeology for a while, and did lots research and community excavations, sometimes I don’t quite feel that I’ve earned my digging ‘stripes’ as it were. For the sector as a whole, I regret that there remains so much unpublished archaeology out there. There’s a huge backlog of important research excavations which have never seen the light of day – Lydford, Devon; Wolvesey Castle in Winchester; barrow excavations in the Stonehenge landscape…

If you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation, what would it be?

Funding for post-excavation and publication (ideally open-access) should be made integral to current systems. I’d also want to see all the scheduling descriptions, but particularly those sites still with old county numbers, to be updated and revised based on current knowledge.

If you were able to address Parliament for 30 seconds on archaeology what would you say?

I’d like to stress how vitally important archaeology, history and heritage is for the well-being of our communities and for our understanding of where we are today. It’s not just heritage tourism that is important, but the way that archaeology contributes to a sense of place for everyone. Please, please don’t make further cuts to funding for English Heritage – the damage done by the last spending round cuts may not be particularly visible to people outside, but we have lost so much expertise – our budgets are tiny compared to other spending, and yet the work we do is so important.

If your career hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing now?

I’m not sure – possibly graphic design or maybe running a book shop!

Away from the ‘day job’, how do you relax?

Swimming, going for country walks, real ale in the pub with friends, reading, visiting museums… Once the Stonehenge project is over I’ll hopefully have time to take up kayaking again.

We’d like to express our thanks to Sue for her responses, particularly at what is a very busy time for her.

Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.

If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.

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