Time Team makes it all look so easy: you turn up, do a bit of ‘geophys’, dig a few trenches and, lo and behold!
All your questions about an ancient site are answered in three days, with lots of neat-looking graphics to help Tony Robinson tell the story.
The second instalment in our Midweek Retro A to Z of jobs looks at archaeologists, who know that reality is very different from the reality show view.
Assuming that the money is there to look at a site and you’ve made the decision to do an excavation – once you’ve dug somewhere, you’ve disturbed what’s there forever – you need to get permission from the landlord and work out a plan of action.
Then work can start on researching the site and doing the geophysics – using various machines to look at what’s underground to help assess where the trenches should go.
Often there’s no JCB to do the hard work, which means back-breaking toil using picks, shovels and barrows. Then there is the gentle art of trowelling to make the features clear and uncover any finds carefully.
Prepare to get cold, wet and dirty for not much pay.
Then there’s the cleaning and cataloguing of finds, drawings, plans and photographs to be taken and reports to be written…
Obviously not the stuff that great TV is made of, but it can be fascinating work.
In recent years field archaeologists have struggled to get work, though.
Lots of commercial jobs are undertaken to assess a site where someone wants to build. The recession meant jobs disappeared as building projects got cancelled.
At one time archaeology was a pastime for those who had the time and money to make it a hobby. They called themselves antiquarians.
Thomas Bateman was born in Rowsley in Derbyshire in 1821.
He helped to run his family’s estate but his passion was excavating ancient Peak District barrow burial sites.
In 1845 alone he excavated 38 barrows. He is often criticised for working too quickly but he kept notes of his digs and made some improtant discoveries.
Often barrow diggers destroyed the archaeology as their aim was to find treasure.
Lots of his finds were sold off after his death to pay off debts but much of his collection was bought by Sheffield Museums service.
Thomas Bateman’s tomb in Middleton features a replica of a Bronze Age collared urn, similar to those unearthed by his excavations.
Another well-known pioneering local archaeologist is Joseph Hunter, who has the Hunter Archaeology Society named after him.
Joseph Hunter, who lived from 1783-1861, was the son of a Sheffield cutler. After the death of his mother he was raised by the Rev Joseph Evans of Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street.
He was educated at Attercliffe and later studied theology at New College in York.
His early interest in antiquarian studies became his professional career when, in 1833, he was appointed a sub-commissioner of the Records Commission and moved to London, where he had a distinguished career.
Although he never again lived in South Yorkshire, he did record the history of the area in three books, one called Hallamshire and two volumes on South Yorkshire.
He died on May 9, 1861 in London and is buried in St Mary’s Church, Ecclesfield.
Many modern-day archaeologists study at the University of Sheffield, which has a world-renowned department.
The university is involved in projects all around the world, looking back to the earliest humans and up to the present day.
Sheffield is also a base for other organisations providing archaeological services, like ArcHeritage and Wessex Archaeology.