27 Jul 2023
by Sadie Watson

This is my first Day in Archaeology blog - after many years reading and enjoying them I have finally taken the plunge! I am in a slightly odd position, having been a field archaeologist for decades and now holding a Research Fellow role.

My career has been spent in the development-led part of UK archaeology, excavating on sites prior to construction, and then doing the analysis and reporting on the results. Most of this has been in the City of London, and I have mainly published on the Roman sequences, more by luck than design, as is common in my sector - you don't get to choose what you dig! I did both my MA and my PhD part-time and distance learning during my fieldwork career, as a) I couldn't afford to stop working and b) I really loved my job.

My PhD focused on thinking about why we dig, and how - in terms of what we were actually doing, and who are we doing it for? It took me down various rabbit holes and later on, led me to apply for research funding to investigate this a bit more. I am lucky that my employer is an Independent Research Organisation so we can apply for research finds in the same way as University staff.

For context I think it’s generally agreed that development-led archaeology lacks advocates, and could provide much more value, for us, for our clients and for the communities that neighbour our sites – that central issue was the primary rationale behind my research project, which was grounded in my fieldwork career – if you'll pardon the pun​!

We have investigated other levers to provide better value from what we do, a key aspect of which is the Social Value Act (2012). Our clients are already using this to provide social value for their communities, we just need to persuade them to include archaeology in those early conversations and get ourselves embedded into their thinking. The key with Social Value is that is needs to be beyond 'business as usual', so doing archaeology on behalf of a client, and publishing the results then archiving them is not social value – we need to go above and beyond what we would normally do. ​Critical to this of course is listening to what communities actually want - which, let's face it, might not be an academic monograph or report, but something more creative or even fun! There are plenty of funds available for this from the private sector, this won't mean reducing project budgets for archaeology, which aren't huge in the first place.

It's still fairly early days for us to be integrating ourselves into Social Value teams, but the response has been very positive indeed and bodes well for my aspiration of a sustainable future for our sector.

After all - archaeology is amazing - where's the lie?




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Sadie Watson


Sadie is currently undertaking a Future Leader Fellowship aimed at reframing the narrative around value provided from development-led archaeology.

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