Archaeology At Home

Bethany DeanStarred Page By Bethany Dean, 16th Feb 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

If you're stuck for a new hobby or simply want to learn a bit more about your area's past, rest assured that you don't need any equipment at all to get involved in archaeology - just your natural curiosity, and a few tips.

Visit Museums

There's no better way to get acquainted with archaeology without grubbing about in fields than visiting a museum. Whether you're more interested in Iron Age hill forts outside your own town or gazing at treasure straight out of Indiana Jones, museums will have it all, and most offer admittance for free or donation. Also, if you are a student, chances are you'll get even more discounts! Museums offer the chance for you to see history clean, organised, and displayed with relevant information. All but the most tiny museums now have interactive audio tours, touchscreen info booths and history-based activities for the kids, not to mention the modern models and displays which show off the artefacts in their best light, and even cramped little local museums have their charm. Museums are a fantastic day out for the family.


However if grubbing about in fields is your thing, and you aren't particularly desperate to see a gold coin, fieldwalking is one of the most basic archaeological activities. You need no equipment apart from shoes that are comfortable to walk in, wellies if it's muddy, and a coat or other practical clothes - floaty skirts are unfortunately a no-no. You will need to be able to see the ground, and willing to have your head bent for a considerable amount of time. The 'knack' to fieldwalking is in the location - all that's involved in choosing a good site is simple logic.

First, and this is essential, make sure you have permission to be on the land. Trespassing is a prosecutable offence. Stick to public footpaths and bridleways, or if you're lucky enough to know a farmer, make sure you ask them first. You don't have to get it in writing, but make sure your intentions are clear and at least offer them an even split if you find that coin hoard! When you've got your land, the next logical question is: is it in a promising place? A field out literally in the middle of nowhere is obviously not going to yield as much as one close to a historic town, due to lack of human activity. But was it in the past? During the Roman occupation of Britain, some of their towns and cities flourished until today, but isolated villas and farms can still be found, abandoned and hidden in unlikely places. Check the local history section of your library to see if there were any settlements. Another good place to fieldwalk is on the route to somewhere important - in the past, the only real route to somewhere was as the crow flies. If your field lies between two historic places (churches, abbeys, anywhere religious will lend itself to pilgrims travelling between them), it is a likely place for people to have dropped things on the way.

And once you've found your place, do what it says on the tin - walk the field! Your best field is a crop field that has been tilled, or ploughed, which throws up artefacts hidden below the surface. Never walk on crops, always stick to the edges of the field, or if a designated footpath runs through, a track will be cut for you. There are often tractor tracks that are walkable also. And even if the field hasn't any crops through yet, avoid walking on the soil, as your wellies will compact it down and hinder growth. Don't be discouraged if you find nothing; it's only a matter of time. Flints, clay pipe, coins, everything else - they're all just waiting out there in fields for people to find.

Fieldwalking doesn't have to be a solitary pursuit, unless you prefer it that way - get together with historically-minded friends, take a pack lunch, and, with express permission from the landowner, spread out in a line and completely cover one field. There's more chance of finding something interesting with more than one of you!

Metal Detecting

This is undoubtedly the most popular type of amateur archaeology. It does however require specialist and fairly expensive equipment. While metal detecting pierces the surface and allows you greater potential for finds, it's not nearly as unobtrusive as fieldwalking - it's hard to look innocent when a farmer stomps up to you while you're carrying a great big sonar device. Only metal detect on land where you have explicit permission, leave everything as it was, and be considerate of the environment.

Your Own Back Garden

If you live in a built-up area, or have limited access to good crop fields, you can still do some hands-on archaeology. Your house needn't be very old for this, though it obviously helps - pre-1930 is a good bet.

Stand at the back door of your suitably-aged house, with a small, yet weighted, object you don't much care about. Casually toss it into the garden. Don't throw it, or aim away from the shed - if something really immovable is in the way, do a quick guess of where you think it would land. Throw it as unthinkingly as you can. Where it lands is the first place you ought to start looking. Pre-1930's was the last heyday of servants in the home, and wartime brought radical changes to how we managed households. When a plate got chipped, a pipe broken, a spoon bent, et cetera, Victorian and Edwardian servants would just chuck it out in the garden, and there it usually remained. Densely inhabited town and city gardens are best for this - the more occupants the house has had, the more chance of history's rubbish being left for you to find.

The most common item you will likely come across is said broken china. Be careful; after years in the soil this can still be sharp! You might find ones with an infinite variety of pattern and colour. A nice idea is to collect these in a mosaic - made by you, with the finds from your own back garden. You could also find coins, maybe rusted items such as nails (watch out), and hinges and window fittings are common. I've found an old model sheep from a play farm, and metal parts of a child's toy gun before. Something else to watch out for is glass. Not only is this even sharper than the china, but you could find treasures that the Victorians treated as disposable - ink bottles and lemonade bottles, all glass, most with makers' names embossed on their sides. You might even find one that's not broken!

Join a Club

If you're very interested, there's nothing better than joining a club with like-minded individuals. Chances are you'll have an archaeology society in your area which organise fieldwalks, trips to sites, or even volunteer on excavations. Some good places to start:

The Young Archaeologists' Club
Archaeology Clubs for Volunteers
List of Archaeology Clubs


Archaeologist, Archaeology, Artifacts, Collecting, Collection, Field, Fieldwork, Historic Places, History, Nature, Outdoors, Past, Research, Walking, Walks

Meet the author

author avatar Bethany Dean
Author of the Rose Prince, available on Kindle and in paperback. | @bethanyrdean

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author avatar Martin King
17th Feb 2011 (#)

very interesting thanks for sharing

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author avatar Retired
18th Feb 2011 (#)

well a long dormant thing is being put into my mind again, that of actually doing more hisotry and archeology.

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author avatar Denise O
3rd Mar 2011 (#)

This is one subject I have always been interested in. My son, brother and I are going out west next week. We are going to have 24 hours to just explore around the New Mexico border. We are heading to Utah. I am going to look up places we can go look into. Nice read.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar Poophead
14th Apr 2011 (#)

shutup you ****head

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author avatar Im sorry for wot i sedd.
14th Apr 2011 (#)

nothing ha ha! }:)

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
12th Jul 2011 (#)

Very interesting read Bethany. Thank you. Congrats on the star page.

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