by Becky Haslam, senior archaeologist, Pre-Construct archaeology
I think it must have been about 1989 when my Mum decided that enough was enough. The holes in the garden and my habit of collecting bits of old broken pottery on beaches needed to be replaced, or at least supplemented, with something a bit more constructive – so she signed me up for the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC). Little did she know that this would be the beginning of an obsession that continues to this day…
When I was little, I lived in a small town in Yorkshire that was in the middle of nowhere, so Dad had to drive me all the way to York where the nearest club was situated. It was well worth the mileage though! He would drop me off at the wonderful Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC), where a team of brilliant archaeologists and volunteers helped me to wash finds and sort through environmental samples from REAL archaeological sites, looking for tiny things like fish-bones and seeds. A particularly patient volunteer expertly showed me how to tell the difference between broken pottery and animal bone (‘the bone looks bubbly on the inside, just like an Aero bar!’). They also taught me how to identify certain types of pottery, like samian (Roman) and green glaze (medieval), which they affectionately called ‘snot pot’.
On one occasion, I proudly sported my YAC badge to school and gave a lecture to the class on my newly acquired finds identification skills. Although I’m sure that most of my friends thought I was a complete geek, my teacher didn’t forget. The year after I went to high school, she invited me to join her when she took the middle school children to visit an excavation that was taking place nearby, the Woodhall Moated Manor Project. This was a long-running community excavation that was scheduled to take place every summer for many years to come. My teacher introduced me to the site director, he offered me a spot on the dig and that was that… I immediately caught ‘THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL BUG’ (if you are susceptible it is horrendously contagious) and ended up going there for the following six seasons until the excavation ended.
I’ve been studying and working in archaeology ever since, for the most part with Pre-Construct Archaeology in London. I’ve worked on many incredible sites, ranging in age from the prehistoric period all the way through to the 19th century, and have found lots of amazing things along the way, including some absolutely brilliant friends and even a husband, who turned up at the bottom of a particularly mucky hole in Blackfriars. For the last twenty years or so I’ve been working on excavations and reporting on the results but have more recently stepped into the publishing-side of things and now write monographs for a living. My most successful book, about our excavations on the former site of the Great Northern Railway’s goods depot at King’s Cross, has won two national archaeological awards as well as the prestigious ‘London Archaeological Prize’, which I always secretly wanted to win but never imagined that I ever would!
Things have gone full circle now. I have two small children of my own, one of whom is exhibiting some very familiar traits (digging in the garden and collecting pottery) so we may have to sign him up for YAC when he’s old enough. My husband, in his capacity as Fulham Palace’s community archaeologist, is also busy inspiring the next generation of archaeologists, and it will be my absolute pleasure to show them around King’s Cross Central when they come to visit the site in May. I wonder how many of those passionate young people will go on to have a career like mine? Who knows – maybe I’ll be showing a future winner of the London Archaeological Prize around the site!