Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Site Director

Here at the Berkeley Dig a few of us were wondering what exactly it is that our site director Stuart Prior does all day. He's always rushing about the site doing job after job and rarely gets a chance for a break or lunch, so what occupies his time? To find out I decided to be his shadow one Friday, and record what he got up to, whilst picking his brains on what it all meant and what else he did when I was not there. By the time I got home, I could confidently say that he was a very busy man, and I had also gained detailed knowledge of what being a site director involved.

Stuart's day began at six o'clock in the morning, when he woke up and the first thing he thought of was the Berkeley Dig. He did some research on the arrow head we had found the day before to check its date. He sometimes gets up even earlier to do research. By seven thirty he had taken his dog for a walk and left the house to ride for an hour on his motorcycle to get to site for eight thirty.

Over the next hour he checks the trench for health and safety issues and makes sure the structural integrity of the sections is sound, before meeting with Roland Brown, the estates manager at Berkeley Castle, to discuss some logistical issues. The students arrive on site at nine thirty, and need to be registered, and directed on their daily duties.

Stuart spending some of his down time in
the stocks (the only way we can get him to
stay in one place for any length of time)
For the next few hours, Stuart is needed everywhere. His schedule seems to me to be based around systematically talking to everyone on site, checking on how they are doing, whilst being available to receive any visitors as the face of the dig, solving problems that arise through the day, giving out information, and generally being the person who has in his head what we're all doing and why. His first task is to show the post-excavation team where all the finds from last year are kept in the castle, so that they can continue to inventory them. Naturally this involves a phone call to locate a missing box and a health and safety briefing on the use of ladders. By ten fifteen we are on our way back to the trench. As we walk he gives me a tip: on the run between places is a good time to quickly check your emails; his smart phone is definitely an organisational tool. We are sidetracked for ten minutes, because someone needs a tour of the site, but then he is in and checking on students.

He says it's important to make sure that everyone knows what they are excavating, and why they are excavating it, to keep morale strong, and because it's hard to work on excavating a feature if you're not sure what you're meant to be looking for. To this end he is always busy pointing, gesturing and talking as he explains the archaeology people are uncovering to them.

He advises the supervisors on the direction of the digging, suggesting that a group stop taking up a Roman road surface, and instead get some some pits recorded and ready to be photographed. By this time a problem has already arisen back with the post-excavation team. It's only minor, the finds bags keep breaking because they are old and brittle, but it's one of many small issues Stuart tackles throughout the day. Someone has cut their finger too, so he tells them where the first aid kit is. He's always checking safety, asking all the students he talks to if they have sun cream on, telling some that they need sun hats too, and some that they need hard hats, as they're in the deep part of the trench. He checks if a certain phone call has been made by Phil Rowe, the site's technician, and announces that nobody is to go into the churchyard between eleven thirty and twelve thirty that day, due to a memorial service happening there.

Stuart giving one of his many tours of the
trench to Esther, a post-graduate
Bristol University have been digging at Berkeley a long time, and Stuart is wanted, not for the last time today, to help students remember where a certain trench or feature used to be, this time the Roman trackway, before he sends away social media who have arrived, to come back in an hour to photograph the pits which aren't quite ready yet. Then he has a conversation with Mark Horton about the arrow head of the day before and it's dates, and a conversation with another colleague Phil who is GPS surveying the location of all the previous trenches, asking him if he thinks a guide could be ready for next year. He finds out that a finds box in post-excavation has mysteriously not been catalogued at all, introduces himself to a BBC film crew who have arrived on site, and directs students on their break off the Berkeley's drive and into the paddock.

At ten twenty he sits down for a quick ten minute break, which is just about long enough to have some food and a drink, which is good because being a site director, or rather following one, is feeling like hungry work to me. It's a day of constantly being on your feet and walking places to do things. Break is also a good time a reapply sun cream, and tell other people to reapply sun cream, as the June sun is warm and it's approaching midday.

A student has got grit in his eye, and Stuart advises him to go and bathe the eye and that the accident should be recorded. As site director he has a responsibility to make sure that everything is recorded which should be, but he doesn't want to unnecessarily record things, so it's his judgement call. He used the walkie talkie to tell the social media team that we need the cameras for longer, and begins photographing the many pits which are in the trench as well as a wall. This is a surprisingly lengthy process, and each time the cut and fill numbers of the features need to be chalked onto a board and the scales placed, and one time even a small team of people assembled to make a pit shaped shadow over the bright ground.

As we walked around, I tried to ask him twenty interview questions, but it was difficult to find time to squeeze a word in edge-ways, as he is always talking to somebody. The BBC crew have begun filming on site, and he has discussions with them about how much our metal finds have increased since we have had our own metal detectorist, (it is decided that tenfold would be an appropriate expression). He also talks to Mark about how exactly the arrowhead could be presented on the BBC, and has conversations about the timing of the press release, because it would be good to release the information at the same time as the arrow is displayed in the castle. He also has to locate a missing scale rule, and then we take the cameras back to social media.There is another person wanting a tour, but he doesn't have time to give one so he asks one of the student supervisors Rob to do it. By now it's time to do the rounds of the trench again, giving students guidance on how to proceed with the various features they are working on, and checking how the filming is going. At one fifteen we get a break for lunch, which he says he is very happy about because he doesn't always.

Stuart helping a student, Catalina, with her excavation of a
medieval pit

At two o'clock we begin again by checking on the post excavation team. We discover that there have been mistakes in the samples that they have taken, and Stuart reluctantly decides that this means all the boxes will need to be re-checked, as we can't have an inaccurate cataloguing system.We are called back to the trench over walkie talkie within twenty minutes though, because a local historian has arrived and with one supervisor fewer than normal that day, everyone is too busy to talk to him. It's time for the third trench tour of the day, which he gives as patiently and in as much detail as always.

After getting back to organising the finds processing, having one conversation and two phone calls, Stuart and I briefly split ways. We have two more visitors, this time from the local heritage centre, and I think I am able to take them round site myself to save him time after listening to the last three. After this, the day is beginning to draw to a close for the students and his help is needed a few more times in the trench before the digging finishes. This involves helping people filling in context sheets (explaining what inclination of access and truncated both mean), puzzling over a seemingly incongruous pit found in a tudor terrace, and showing a group how to spray the ground with water to identify the edge of a feature, as well as being asked if the spoil from the digging done on camera should be sieved. He even managed to spot a potential piece of Roman polished stone or painted plaster as he was walking around and investigated it. At this point he and I sat down, and he told me what he would be doing after I left.

Stuart helping students to see the change in colour in the
context which identifies the feature they are excavating

At four thirty the pack down with the students begins. All the tools need to be clean, and everything put tidy into the Church tower. He then debriefs everyone on the day, and thanks them for their efforts. After five o'clock, he stays on site, checking the cemetery and tower for mud, stray tools, lost property and lost students. He debriefs the castle staff on the events of the day, and checks the supervisors are happy, before doing a final check of the site and securing it all, locking all gates, and then leaving. At half past seven he arrives home and, in his own words, collapses exhausted. He also tells me that Saturday is his only day off, as on Sunday he has to spend time doing emailing and other work for the university that he hasn't done in the week, due to the dig.

I found my day in the life of a site director really interesting, because although we can all see Stuart going around looking as though he's being organised an director-like, the little details show what kind of things typically make up his day. The role is dynamic, as he might arrive with a set of things which need to be achieved, but the unpredictable nature of an archaeological site mean issues big and small are constantly arising requiring his attention, so he has to make decisions and find solutions on his feet. The day is long and tiring, but enjoyable, outside in the weather and getting to grips with the practical everyday logistics of archaeology, busy but not quite manic, relying on the co-operation of the supervisors and group as a whole to keep things running smoothly.

- our roving reporter from the field Caitlin Tilt reports!

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