Navigating Our Sector: Advice from a Field Archaeologist to a Future Heritage Employee

Policy Letters of Advice - Debate 2023

Dear Person at a Crossroad in Their Career,

I am sure that you are looking into the heritage sector and realizing how chaotic it is. There are multiple groups, organisations, professional bodies, and networks which can both hinder and contribute greatly to our world of heritage. It is often contradictory, with deep-set issues varying from pay to accessibility. I believe this chaos is caused by the fact heritage is so varied. It can be buildings, features, finds, stories, songs, graves, landscapes, nature, feelings, emotions and ideas. Therefore, the sector has developed to be incredibly encompassing and accepting of the fact that no two of us are alike.

My first piece of advice is to embrace all these areas; and understand that each of these can be a lesson. I work as a field archaeologist in developer-led archaeology. My work takes place on construction sites and open fields. However, there are archaeologists who work in hot climates, cold climates, cave systems and underwater – all of which are counted as ‘fieldwork’. Learning about geology can be equally as helpful to your heritage understanding as learning about building materials. These varied areas are all valid within heritage.

My second piece of advice is to continue to fight for a better sector. Our work can be depressing, when factors such as career development, pay and accessibility are considered. But nothing will change unless you confront these issues and work at improving them. Your efforts don’t have to be monumental, neither should they put you in danger in your physical or mental wellbeing. Joining a union and a professional body gives you a voice that doesn’t just echo around you but allows you to be listened to. Teamwork is a core skill in our sector, use it daily within your heritage journey.

My third piece of advice is that your passion cannot sustain you. You must put your needs first. Your lived experience will be affected by your work or study if you are not happy or fully engaged in it. Positivity in the wrong circumstance can be just as toxic as negativity. If you have a passion for heritage, however you feel you cannot sustainably have a career within it, you must put your wellbeing first. Asking for advice and support can be a life saver, and there are networks available within heritage to help you.

I wish you every success and that your work and effort get you the results you would like, whether that is within your career, your study or your interest in our past.

Tabitha Gulliver Lawrence

Field archaeologist, Colchester Archaeological Trust

All images are credited to T. Gulliver Lawrence