What Is It Like to Be an Archaeologist Today?


Archaeologist and bestselling creator Simon Elliott isn’t any stranger to historical past — from co-directing a area investigation at a Roman villa within the Medway Valley in England to exploring historic riddles just like the destiny of Rome’s lacking legion, he’s enthusiastic about rediscovering the traditional world. Featured on many broadcast media together with the BBC, the Nationwide Geographic and Discovery channels, in addition to in Army Historical past journal, Dr. Elliott shared his experiences with Historynet and insights about what it takes to be an archaeologist in the present day.

MHQ: What motivated you to turn out to be an archaeologist?

S.E: Way back to I can keep in mind I’ve at all times had a love of historical past, the classical world, and archaeology. One among my earliest recollections is drawing an image of a Roman chariot with wax crayons! Later, when writing the thesis for my A Stage in Historical past, I selected the topic of Neanderthals and their relationship with trendy people.

Then, after I was simply 18 years previous, I keep in mind selecting up a replica of the Council for British Archaeology’s publication in my native put up workplace, selecting my first dig within the listings there, and that summer season going for 2 weeks. Wonderful! It was a Mesolithic axe manufacturing unit atop Hengistbury Head in Dorset. What an journey! And going full circle, I’m now honored to be a trustee of the CBA.

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What expertise does an archaeologist want in the present day?

Many and different, given there are such a lot of various kinds of archaeologist and archaeological exercise. For instance, I describe myself as a panorama archaeologist, utilizing an analytical private skillset to tease out each final piece of interpretative knowledge from a web site or artifact, after which presenting the large image overview of what we’re taking a look at.

Different nice mates within the self-discipline love sensible archaeology, excavating a web site for months on finish, whereas others use every kind of science to supply educational rigor to our self-discipline and career.

Above all although, it actually helps to have an inquisitive thoughts!  

This Roman knife found by Dr. Elliott got here from the ruins of a Roman kitchen that had burnt down, which was positioned on the former web site of a Roman villa within the Medway Valley in England. (Courtesy Dr. Simon Elliott)

What are probably the most fascinating artifacts you will have labored with?

I’d say that my prime three finds whereas excavating or researching are a gorgeous Mesolithic axe discovered whereas strolling Hector (my golden doodle archaeological sidekick), a Roman knife I discovered whereas serving to lead the excavations on a Roman villa web site within the Medway Valley (this got here from a Roman kitchen which at some stage had burnt down catastrophically), and the rim of an enormous Roman amphora, which I discovered by tripping over it whereas analyzing a doable Roman burial web site, given it was coated in foliage!

A lot of your analysis focuses on historic Roman navy historical past. What sorts of Roman navy websites have you ever analyzed?

Virtually too many to say! My favourite in Britain is the Saxon Shore fort web site at Richborough on the east Kent coast, which is a time machine for all the Roman occupation of Britain. It was possible close to right here that Caesar twice landed, then later that the Claudian invasion happened in AD 43, the place Domitian constructed his monumental arch to rejoice Agricola ‘conquering’ the far north of Britain, and eventually the place the final coin hoard present in Britain was positioned. This was an early 5th century AD pay chest despatched there from the continent, however when it arrived the navy unit it was for had left. Given the cash have been base steel, they have been ineffective to the area people and so have been buried.

In the meantime, lately I used to be fortunate sufficient to twice go to Timgad and Lambaesis in Roman Algeria. These have been a colonia veteran settlement and legionary fortress for legio III Augusta, the Roman legion there.

Each are instantly north of the gorgeous Aures Mountains. Simply standing there beneath copper blue skies realizing the Sahara was simply to the south was superb.

Dr. Simon Elliott, proven right here within the area at Nea Paphos, the Roman capital of Cyprus, is a panorama archaeologist who analyses interpretive knowledge from websites and artifacts to achieve insights into historical past. (Courtesy Dr. Simon Elliott)

Is there a selected web site (or websites) you will have investigated that you’ve got discovered most intriguing?

My villa web site within the Medway Valley, given we’ve got been there for over 5 years and each season brings alongside one thing new to ponder. Most lately, crop marks in very dry climate appear to point our personal villa was changed in the direction of the tip of the Roman interval with one twice the dimensions!

fashionable tradition creates myths about historic warriors, just like the Vikings. What are the most important misconceptions concerning the Roman military?

I feel folks usually overlook how superb Roman legionaries have been as engineers. Within the Roman world, with no nationalized industries, civil service of the size we’ve got in the present day, or free market to lift capital for main engineering tasks, the one asset the Roman state might flip to do issues was the navy.

Has your area work modified the best way you view Roman navy historical past usually?

A incredible query! Truly my area work has actually helped me to problem some acquired wisdoms!

For instance, my latest work in Roman Algeria helped me establish that the post-Vandal Byzantine section of a lot of the main city facilities wasn’t a revival of the rich late Roman section, however moderately a navy occupation.

New buildings constructed there right now are small forts with big numbers of water troughs, normally constructed proper on prime of the sooner Roman discussion board at every web site. This tells me that when the Byzantines got here again to “save” the locals, they weren’t welcome and have been diminished to policing this huge area with cavalry.

Inform us extra about Your forthcoming e-book, “Roman Britain’s Pirate King,” which focuses on a Roman naval chief turned outlaw?

Carausius is a key determine in British historical past, initially misplaced within the mists of time as a result of he took on the Roman imperial middle within the type of the emperors Maximian and Diocletian, in the end misplaced, and was successfully canceled by them.

I discovered his story fascinating and subsequently determined to dig deeper, discovering each single up to date reference about him. I then set this in opposition to the newest archaeological knowledge and was in a position to write this biography of him — the primary.

Learn the total interview about “Roman Britain’s Pirate King” in Army Historical past Quarterly‘s digital publication unique. Join the publication when you’re a subscriber. If not, subscribe to MHQ now.

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