Case study

Lead archaeologist — Brendon Wilkins

Brendon is the co-founder of DigVentures, a rewards-based crowdfunding platform designed to enable participation in archaeology, heritage and citizen science projects. Discover more about working in 'public archaeology'

How did you become an archaeologist?

I graduated with a BSc in Archaeology from the University of Bradford and then, after working in professional employment for seven years, returned to study for an MA in Archaeology. I'm now working part time towards a PhD.

I spent many years working in 'development-led archaeology', directing digs in advance of new building work - anything from a small house to a major motorway. This took me all over the UK and Ireland, but I’ve recently moved into 'public archaeology'.

I've always been an early adopter of new technology, and in 2012 I co-founded DigVentures and launched the world's first crowdfunded excavation at the prehistoric site of Flag Fen, Peterborough. This was such a resounding success, the only sensible response was to give up my day job and go full time.

What's a working day like for an archaeologist?

This can differ depending on whether we're in the field (generally during the summer months) or working in the office. For every day you spend excavating, you spend at least two studying, analysing and publishing your finds - otherwise known as 'post-ex'.

This creates a good mix, but can mean that I spend many weeks at a time away from home.

What do you enjoy about being an archaeologist?

Coming face-to-face with the public's fascination with archaeology has to be one of the most enjoyable aspects, and social media and crowdfunding in particular have helped put rocket boosters on that.

This new approach connects archaeologists directly with people who love archaeology - giving supporters the chance to sit in the driver's seat as funders, as well as become active participants on some of the most exciting sites in the country.

What are the challenges?

Like any other arts, culture or scientific discipline, these have been difficult years for archaeology, with public funding becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to predict. This uncertainty can be tough, but I'm optimistic about the future for archaeology. There are a number of major construction projects on the horizon, new roads, railways and power stations and all will need archaeologists to work on them.

What tips do you have for choosing a Masters?

It's a once in a lifetime experience to broaden your skills and get deep into a subject so choose something you really enjoy.

How has your role developed?

Technology has changed archaeology a lot since I started. From the molecular level (DNA analysis) to the macro level (3D landscape modelling using drone technology), we routinely use techniques that were unimaginable to archaeologists a generation ago.

My ambition is to help drive this forward, adopting and adapting innovation developed in other sciences and applying them to our own.

What advice can you give aspiring archaeologists?

Volunteer. If this is something you really want to do, and you're not afraid to work hard for it, then don't be put off and just go for it. I did, and I've never looked back.

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