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Archaeology Field School – University of Reading

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  • Dig into the past

    Bring your studies to life and gain practical skills in the field

Archaeology Field School

Develop your practical skills with archaeological fieldwork. You'll get hands-on experience as you encounter the past and explore exciting excavations.

During the field school, you will be introduced to the techniques of a dig, from recognising archaeological contexts and features on the site through to cleaning, excavating and recording them. You will gain direct experience in all aspects of the excavation, from recognising ancient artefacts to learning how to read the wider landscape.

As well as technical expertise, fieldwork will help you to develop transferable skills including observation and understanding, problem solving, team work and communication skills. You can tailor your experience during the excavation to suit your developing interests.

“This experience at the 'sharp end' of archaeology confirmed my love for this subject, and I felt I was part of a fascinating investigation into the past of our ancestors. Furthermore, I gained skills in [artefact] cleaning and recording, and improved my communication skills by creating friendships and assisting with numerous visits from the public.”

Emily Channon – second-year archaeology student

learn and discover

You'll come away  with a variety of skills and experiences while contributing to our growing list of finds and discoveries.

For example, you'll learn:

  • knowledge of archaeological field techniques and site recording methods
  • the ability to distinguish between individual archaeological contexts prior to excavation
  • the ability to record archaeological contexts (in both written and drawn form)
  • surveying skills
  • environmental sampling
  • on-site handling and processing of artefacts
  • how to work as part of a team.

You'll also have training sessions on topics such as site etiquette, site and finds recording, care and use of archaeological equipment, and site photography, and we offer a variety of specialist talks to discuss things such as environmental work, pottery spot-dating, and post-excavation techniques.


You'll learn a comprehensive set of practical skills as you excavate, as well as additional skills in activities around the trenches; for example:

In the finds hut

Wash general finds, treat small finds with specialist care, dry and sort finds, mark pots, make entries in the finds book, and bag and identify finds.

In the environmental/science area

Fill in an environmental sample sheet, float samples, sort residues, identify finds and their reintroduction back into the finds system.

In the computer hut

Practice entering records onto the site database.

In the visitors' area

Give general site tours to visitors, prepare Open Day displays and exhibitions, and work with visiting schools.

“The Field School enabled me to test my archaeological knowledge in a practical way but also build on the skills I had begun to develop before university.”

Madeleine Firestone – second-year archaeology student

Field School Excavations

Previously, students have had the opportunity to excavate at two sites: the Roman town of Silchester in Hampshire, and Dunyvaig medieval castle on the island of Islay, Scotland.


The public baths which served the Roman town at Silchester are among the best preserved in Britain. They were first discovered in 1903-4 but these early excavations left many questions unanswered: When were the baths built? Is there a connection with the Emperor Nero's project for the town? Can we learn more about who actually used them, and how often? What other activities took place at the baths - for example, gaming or eating and drinking?

This excavation, by students and staff from the Archaeology Department, has helped to answer these questions.


Dunyvaig Castle, Dun Naomhaig, is best known as the naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of the Clan MacDonald. But it has a much longer history, both earlier and later than that remarkable period of Islay's past.

But what do we really know about the castle? When was it first built and why in this location? Who lived and worked in and around the castle? How did it gain its food and fuel, how did it influence peoples' lives throughout Islay? How was it affected by the dramatic climate changes of the middle ages?

Students have helped uncover some of the mysteries posed by this striking historical monument.


Between 2015 - 2017, our excavations focused on two prehistoric henge monuments (Marden and Wilsford) and, with Historic England, a Roman settlement. We also surveyed part of medieval Marden village.

The area around Marden henge has seen very little archaeological work, particularly compared to the famous sites of Avebury and Stonehenge to the north and south. However, we now know that there are many other monuments preserved in the Vale of Pewsey, particularly along the upper reaches of the River Avon.

Neolithic building (c. 2400 BC)

Marden henge is a truly huge monument, enclosing an area of 15.7 hectares, making it the largest Neolithic henge in Britain. Our excavations focused to the south end of the monument and we uncovered an extraordinarily well-preserved Neolithic building surface.

The complete surface was rectangular with a central sunken area, which was dominated by a large hearth. This chalk surface was enclosed within a circle of post holes and stake holes, approximately 8m in diameter, which we assume are all that remains of a timber superstructure for the building.

On the floor were flint flakes and a bone needle, still lying untouched in the same position they had been left in, and this is one of the best preserved Neolithic buildings in England. Close to the building were spreads of Neolithic rubbish, which incorporated elegant bone needles, as well as flint flakes and decorated "Grooved Ware" pottery. In one area was an assemblage of bones from numerous pigs, clearly representing the remains of a feast.

Analysis of the building is ongoing and we do not yet know what it was used for, although we have suggested that it may have been a sweat lodge building; these were often used for purification ceremonies.

Bronze Age burial (c. 1300 BC)

We also excavated the Wilsford henge on the other side of the river. This is a much smaller monument that has been completely flattened by ploughing over the centuries. We excavated through the end of the ditch, next to the entrance of the henge, and discovered that the ditch was amazingly deep - over three metres!

Near the bottom was a very well preserved early Bronze Age crouched burial of a teenager wearing an amber spacer necklace. This suggests that the Wilsford henge continued to be used into the Bronze Age and perhaps retained a sacred function.

Medieval farmstead

We also undertook, with colleagues from Historic England, a detailed topographic survey of an earthwork site located within Marden village.

The grass-covered site comprises a series of enclosures of varying size, within which a number of building platforms and a network of tracks or hollow-ways have been identified. The enclosures clearly represent multiple phases of activity, with some of the enclosure banks overlying or reusing earlier features.

At the eastern end of the site, two small terraced building platforms were recorded associated with a number of small compounds; these earthworks probably represent the remains of a small deserted medieval farmstead.

Scientific analysis

A full sampling programme of all deposits was carried out. Once analysis by the specialists at Historic England is complete, the results will give a unique insight into the lives and activities of the people living in the Vale of Pewsey.

We also undertook coring and test pits as part of the geoarchaeology investigation of the area of the river, in order to help us provide a context for the wider prehistoric and later settlement.


Chart the progress of an archaeological excavation from dig to lab and beyond.

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