Beyond the Trenches

Blackfriary FAQs

Thank you for your questions! They have been answered by IAFS Director Steve Mandal.

Q: What it is like to work on a real dig?

Steve: What is it like?…. Hard work, fun, muddy, hot, cold, exciting, repetitive, amazing.

For me, the sense of discovery is the most amazing part. There is always a buzz on the site.

Also, because our dig is in the heart of the community and one of our core goals is to bring heritage to our local community, there is always somebody to talk to, somebody interested in what you are doing.

Q: Is it possible to join your team as a volunteer?

Steve: As our dig is funded principally by the students who come to learn to dig, we do not operate a volunteer program. There are usually a number of volunteer digs in the UK and around Europe, I suggest you Google them!

We do have an internship program, which you can find on our website (

Q: What methods do you use to date your site findings?

Steve: There are lots of ways to date a site, and we use most of them.

Radiocarbon dating – organic remains (such as charcoal or human bones) can be dated using radiocarbon dating.  We have just started a radiocarbon dating program to see the date range of the burials on site. It is expensive though 🙁

Coins – we find medieval coins, and they have dates on them! So, if we find a coin in a feature, we know that feature is only as old as the coin, or younger.

Pottery – pottery styles can be very diagnostic; different techniques were used at different times in different places. For example, there is a type of medieval pottery associated with the town where our dig is, called ‘Trim ware’

Other artefacts – for example, a clay pipe must be post the introduction of tobacco.

Q: What should I look for in a college for a historic archaeologist ?

Steve: Archaeology is a huge discipline, and I would encourage you to do your research!

You can choose an area (for example, in Ireland, most archaeologists concentrate in Irish archaeology and look at the UK and Europe for context.

You can study Greek and Roman Civilisation – the classics.

You can study applied archaeology, which focusses on the techniques that archaeologists use to identity and study sites.

If you are not too sure, then I suggest you choose a college with a broad degree that will allow you to ‘taste’ the different disciplines.

I would then encourage you to go on to at least Masters level if you wish to have a career in archaeology, and to specialise at that stage into the area that interests you most.