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Review of The Invisible Diggers - Paul Everill
The Invisible Diggers: A Study of British Commercial Archaeology. By Paul Everill.
published by Oxbow Books at ?24.95.

?Do you know why I hired you?? my new project manager asked jauntily. It was my first day at the unit and I was ?on show? at the office, washing pot with the new intake. ?Because when you read my CV you saw that my research matched the skills you needed for this project?? I replied. It was true, my university specialities exactly matched the vast sprawling site I was about to spend the next year on. I was flattered and imagined myself standing next to a ditch, holding up some treasure, thoughtfully discussing how to proceed in light of this new evidence. ?No,? he replied, ?I hired you to dig like a dog!"

[Image: webb1998_bsc_0008.jpg]

This exchange sums up the gap between the site assistant?s aspirations, the commercial unit?s expectations and the gap between them. The Invisible Diggers is a sociological study of the role of the digger (field archaeologist) in current British archaeology.

The book opens with a brief overview of the historical background of commercial archaeology up to PPG16. Everill then briefly discusses the historical view of labour and class in Britain, pointing out that this legacy lies behind the gross undervaluing of excavation skills in archaeology today.

The second half of the book lays out Everill?s methodology. His research is based on an on-line survey, key themes of which were followed up through further in-depth, semi-structured interviews from respondents across a range of ages and career stages to builds a snapshot of archaeology in 2004 - 05.

Everill, an archaeologist himself, has the detachment necessary to analyse and present the commercial field archaeologist to a wider audience while drawing upon his own experiences. When the IfA profiled archaeology in the UK the findings were met with incredulity by diggers, who did not recognise themselves at all. This was not surprising as this class of archaeologist is the least likely to join the IfA and are sometimes not reported by their employers in surveys, being regarded as temporary labour and not part of the unit. Everill rectified the situation, presenting a study which sets commercial field archaeologists in context within UK archaeology.

Several themes recur throughout The Invisible Diggers. A major concern is the undervaluing of excavation as the highly specialised skill that it is as well as a long-term trend toward the deskilling of field archaeologists. Another major theme is the unclear career structure and lack of training opportunities afforded by project work. The strongest theme, however, is that archaeology is a vocation and practioners stay in the field for the love of archaeology and the camaraderie making them their own worst enemies. ?Love it or leave,? runs like an unspoken theme throughout the interviews.

Unexpected delights are the cartoons, photographs, artwork, site songs and prose interspersed throughout the book.

As a field archaeologist, The Invisible Diggers felt at times uncomfortably close to the bone. Anyone in archaeology will recognise the thoughts and attitudes of the respondents. Ultimately, I feel that this study is not aimed at the invisible diggers themselves, but is a shot across the bow for the commercial units themselves, the IfA and the universities. The current model is not sustainable. If there are to be skilled archaeologists to run commercial units, staff planning offices and teach field skills, the industry needs to rethink how it trains and retains its staff for ultimately the quality of archaeological research relies entirely on the skill of the excavator.

This review was written by our own Trowel Monkey. I would like to thank them very very much for this excellent piece. I have nothing more to add other than I have read this book before passing it on for this review, and this is as good as it gets. I too was filled full of the recognition and recrimination

Other Websites:

Dave Webbs Alternative Diggers Archive
For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he
Thomas Rainborough 1647

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