Growing your career from student to post excavation environmental specialist

Posted on October 2, 2019


A session we filmed at the CIfA conference:

Session Abstract:

Most modern archaeological fieldwork projects are followed by post-excavation investigations which usually include the assessment, analysis and reporting of various organic components recovered from environmental soil samples and may also include geoarchaeological research. Environmental archaeologists will encounter material from a wide range of periods, terrains and depositional environments and investigations often involve a range of archaeological and scientific techniques. Additionally, digital outputs from various software packages have the potential to present information in a variety of exciting formats, helping to create coherent site narratives. Whilst the opportunities are considerable, a key challenge is how to transition from student to professional environmental archaeologist or geoarchaeologist working within in a commercial company or research group.
This Fringe event will include papers that demonstrate the following
• academic entry routes into professional environmental archaeology or geoarchaeology
• a view from the profession: what are the key job requirements?
• examples of how volunteering can assist
• how to become a post excavation environmental specialist: examples from those who have made the transition

Organisers: Colin Forrestal, CIfA New Generation Group
Rebecca Nicholson, CIfA Research and Impact Group

A career in specialisation

I will outline briefly my path to become a free-lance and snail specialist and point out some of the key and important components required, skills to acquire, contacts, some operational clues to be a specialist. Important in this is progressing to a stage where your peers accept you as a component analyst, and the next stage is then to address not them, but your archaeological audience and the archaeological project in the work that you do.

Mike Allen, Allen Environmental


Careers in Archaeobotany (the study of seeds, chaff and other macroscopic plant remains)

There are currently more than 30 archaeobotanists working in the commercial archaeology sector in the UK (minimum number based on membership of the Archaeobotany Working Group), in addition to university-based academic staff, PhD and post-doctoral researchers. Specialists are employed within contracting commercial archaeology companies, as free-lancers, national and local uthorities, and within universities groups. Career paths into the profession are varied, with botanical or archaeological backgrounds, academic courses or work-based training. This presentation will provide a brief introduction to archaeobotany and associated sciences before presenting data obtained through a survey of members of the Archaeobotanical Working Group, Ruth’s personal career background and an overview of the range of current and potential future training opportunities available to early career archaeobotanists.

Ruth Pelling, Historic England

Environmental processing

Planning a career path can be daunting especially at the outset, and opportunities can seem few and far between. Although entry at a specialist level will usually require academic credentials – often a post-graduate degree – in a commercial company other career paths and opportunities are possible. At Oxford Archaeology the environmental team includes staff at a range of levels, some who have come through a traditional academic path while others have been trained on the job. This resentation will provide a brief overview of the role of environmental archaeologist within the profession and examine the different roles and pathways to progression within an archaeological company, working largely for commercial clients.

Rebecca Nicholson, Oxford Archaeology


Geoarchaeology is an increasingly important aspect of the commercial archaeological sector, with projects of many types spanning the Palaeolithic through to the post-Medieval period. This diversity is reflected by the range of backgrounds and routes taken by those working in commercial geoarchaeology today. Based on my experience as both an employee and employer for Wessex Archaeology, I will discuss the range of opportunities available to those seeking to join the profession, and the potential career paths available.

Dave Norcott, Wessex Archaeology

Posted in: Videos