Silchester Field School FAQ

Watch Mike Fulford's 2015 Public Lecture: 500 years of urban life at Silchester here.


See what was uncovered during the Insula III 2016 Excavations here.

archaeology-silchester-emFollow the links to find the answers to the questions people ask us the most.

Application and acceptance

Charges and Payment


Work and Play

Accommodation and catering


Academic aspects

Hard at WorkWho can attend the Silchester Field School?

Anyone over the age of 16 can participate in the Silchester Field School. The only thing we ask for is the desire to carry out archaeological fieldwork at this important site.

Are there any age limits?

Participants under the age of 16 are not allowed in the excavation trench for reasons of insurance. However, there are other on-site activities which young archaeologists can take part in. If you are interested please email field school administration to discuss this.

There is no upper age limit - but participants should be reasonably fit.

Is the excavation open to non-UK residents?

Yes, the dig is open to anyone who wants to apply. Every year, a broad selection of participants attend from all over the globe. In the past, we have had participants from Australia, New Zealand, America, France, Germany and Greece as well as the UK.

Do I need previous fieldwork experience?

No. Many of the participants who attend each year have no previous archaeological fieldwork experience, and the excavation is geared towards providing training in basic field archaeology techniques to those who are new to digging. However, if you have dug before there is plenty of complicated archaeology for you get your teeth into and to help build on any previous experience.

Do I need to have studied Archaeology?

No. We do provide some basic introductory lectures on Field Archaeology and Roman Archaeology and we will send out a reading list in advance for those who are interested in doing some background reading before arriving on site. If you are interested in studying Archaeology at university we are happy to advise you on courses and subjects to take.

What about people who have previous fieldwork experience?

The project is always delighted to have experienced excavators on site. All newcomers must, however, attend the initial induction talks (e.g. Health and Safety on site and Site Recording at Silchester) as recording techniques and safety issues may vary from site to site. Depending on level of experience, new participants may forgo some of the basic training talks.

How many people attend each season?

Around 120 participants attend per season as well as approx 70 University of Reading students and 40 members of staff. Each week we have between 100 and 150 people on site, including staff.

How hard is the work?

mattocking a ditchYou will be working outdoors for eight hours a day, in all weathers. Most excavation work is physical to some degree and will require some measure of fitness. It can involve carrying buckets of spoil, wheeling wheelbarrows and shovelling dirt! However, do not let this put you off! You can always adjust this to your own working abilities and there are always plenty of people around to lend a hand. The key thing about archaeological fieldwork is that it can be repetitive and at times, tedious, so you should be prepared for this. It is the nature of field archaeology! It can also be particularly hard on your hands and on your knees!

Do I need to be fit?

You need to be prepared to work hard but that is all! At Silchester we believe that we all have different abilities and the joy of archaeological fieldwork is that it provides so many different experiences that there really is something for everyone. So, if you find spending time in the trench is too physically challenging, there may be opportunities outside the trench, such as working in Finds or with Science@Silchester. If you are registered disabled, or are worried that there are aspects of the excavation that you may find too challenging, please e-mail field school administration and we will be happy to discuss your concerns and help find a solution!

Do you provide any financial aid for students?

The Silchester Field School Bursary Scheme

Each year the Silchester Field School offers a bursary to A-level students wishing to attend the excavation. The bursary is worth £150 and we have 5 to offer each month leading up to the start of the Field School. If you would like to apply for a Silchester Fieldwork Bursary, please e-mail the Field School Director Amanda Clarke a covering letter. This letter should outline your reasons for wishing to apply for a bursary and, most importantly, why you would like to attend the Silchester Field School. We will review all bursary applications on the last day of each month and inform successful applicants in the first week of the following month. Priority consideration will be given to those students wishing to attend for more than 1 week.

When can I apply?

Applications for the Silchester Field School open every year in January, and close once all our places are filled. Places fill up fast so you need to apply early to be guaranteed a place.

Is it possible to start my time on the Field School midweek/on a day other than a Monday?

No, unless you have exceptional circumstances. Everyone starts on the Monday and has the same briefings before going into the trench. These briefings on Monday consist of introductory lectures about the nature of the archaeology and will give you instructions on what to do when you begin digging on the Monday afternoon. If you miss the Monday briefings it may be difficult to re-schedule them later in the week for you as the excavation is an exceptionally busy environment. If you need to discuss your start date, please e-mail field school administration.

How does the application process work?

You can apply either online or email us and request a paper application pack. Once we receive your application form we will reply to accept your application and request that you send us a 100 deposit within 14 days. If the Field School is full, we will put you on our waiting list. Once we receive your deposit, we will email you a Final Arrangements pack containing information on how to get to site and what you will need to bring and a link to an online Final Arrangements form. You will need to submit this form and pay your remaining balance before 1st May.

Is my application fee refundable?

Your deposit is non-refundable, but you can cancel your application and receive a full refund of the balance up until 1st May.

What if I need to leave early?

We are unable to offer refunds after May 1st. We suggest that you take out an insurance policy which covers this eventuality.

How soon will I know if I have been accepted?

We aim to get back to you within 14 days of receiving your application.

Can I change the weeks I am attending after I have signed up?

Yes although we would rather that you didn't! However if you do need to change weeks, this is not a problem as long as you give enough notice before the start of your time on site. Please e-mail us and we will do our best to help you get the weeks you want.

Do you accept credit cards as a method of payment?

We accept payment by cheque, debit or credit card. To pay by debit or credit card we have an on-line payment system. Payment links will be emailed to you once you have registered and been accepted into the Field School.

How is the working week constructed?

The working week begins on Monday (those camping can arrive on Sunday night) and ends on Sunday. Fridays are the day off. Participants can attend for as many weeks as they like, but not for less than one week. As a member of the Field School, each participant will receive, at the outset, a copy of the Silchester Field School Handbook. This provides all the necessary practical information, site reports, basic site recording instructions and assessment details. At the start of the Field School, everyone will take part in an on-site training day offering short talks on site Health and Safety, the use of archaeological tools, different recording methods and systems, environmental sieving and sorting, the use of the archaeological database, and site photography. This will be followed by a tour of the excavations. Each participant is then assigned to a site supervisor, and, during the course of their time on site, will learn to take responsibility for the excavation and recording of archaeological features under guidance. It is expected that everyone will participate in every aspect of site work during their time on the Field School. They will be kept up-to-date with site progress by means of a weekly site tour, and by regular reports from their individual supervisors.

excavating a burnt postTwo weeks of the Field School will provide participants with a theoretical basis to build on and consolidate if they remain on site longer. Staying longer than 2 weeks will allow the opportunity to develop their analytical and problem-solving skills. The experience gained on the training excavation will provide skills and foster attitudes which will be of value to any other archaeological fieldwork project.

Depending on how long you stay, you will be helped to gain the following skills:

  1. to identify and excavate archaeological stratigraphy
  2. to define and survey archaeological features
  3. to recover and process environmental samples
  4. to excavate, process and identify artefacts on site
  5. to record archaeological deposits and to recognise the characteristics of soil texture, colour etc
  6. to work as part of a team

Do you work at weekends?

Yes. Both Saturday and Sunday are normal workdays. Friday is the day off each week and there will be no food provided on this day.

What happens if it rains?

The archaeology on site is extremely fragile and vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. In light rain we will probably be able to keep working, but if the rain persists, or is torrential, we will be unable to work on site. In such instances we will do our best to provide other activities for example finds washing and the sorting of environmental samples. We may also be able to provide lectures and small group learning sessions (bearing in mind we are an outdoor project!) and there may be opportunities for small groups to be taken into Reading to visit, for example, the Museum of Reading. During prolonged periods of bad weather we may have to close the site but this would be at a very last resort. Also, in periods of very hot, dry weather we may adjust our working hours in order to avoid working in the hottest part of the day.

Do you cater for vegetarians and people with specific dietary requirements?

Yes, we cater for vegetarians, as well as nut allergies and dairy intolerances and Coeliac disease.
If you have any particular dietary requirements we would ask you to contact us in advance to talk them through with us.

What excavation equipment do I need to bring with me?

The project will supply most basic equipment needs for the duration of your time on site. If you are keen to purchase your own digging 'kit' in advance there is an archaeological tools supply service run by archaeologists for archaeologists (Past Horizons). You can order equipment on-line. The recommended size and issue of trowel (4" WHS) costs 14 and there are many other useful items for sale. See

Should I take out any insurance cover me while at Silchester?

It is recommended that all outside participants purchase their own insurance, although the University of Reading's Public liability Policy would respond to an accident to an outside participant caused by the proven negligence or lack of care on the part of the university.

All valuables are the responsibility of the individual participants.

If you have to leave the project early due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances, we will not be able to refund your fee. You may be able to take out an insurance policy to cover such an eventuality.

Is there a telephone or Internet access on site?

There is a site mobile, which can be used in an emergency. If you have a mobile phone this can be charged-up on site for a small fee. There is Internet access on site. Computers in the IT cabin can be used at lunch-times and/or by arrangement with the Field School Director. There are also a number of Internet cafes in Reading which can be visited on the day off.

How do we do our laundry?

Unfortunately we cannot offer a laundry service. However there are launderettes in Reading, and there will be opportunities to take washing in on the day off.

What are the washing facilities like on site?

We do have running water on site but it is not hot water. Flushing portable toilets are available and are professionally cleaned each week. The showers are located 3 miles away - transport is provided to them - and there is an opportunity to have a hot shower at least every other day. You will be showering with your (same-sex) team-mates from site so if you wish to preserve your modesty, bring a swimming costume. We do have on-site solar showers but they are quite basic!

Does everyone camp on site? Is there an alternative?

Most people do camp on site - it is all part of the experience! However if you are concerned about sleeping in a tent for your time on the project you can stay in one of the B&B's in and around Reading. You would be responsible for getting yourself to and from site every day (although we will provide lifts from certain pick-up points) and the project would not cover the cost of your accommodation.

Which are the best weeks to attend?

It doesn't really make a difference which weeks you attend as you will receive the same experience and high level of teaching whether it be week one or six. A lot of people tend to flock towards weeks one and two wrongly thinking that if they get there first they'll find all the best artefacts! Obviously this is not the case and each week has its merits there is certainly no better week to come than another.

My wife and I are joining the project for 1 week in August. We are a 'mature' couple and are somewhat concerned that we will feel isolated with so many young people on the excavation. We also intend to camp.

Although the majority of the participants are young students in their early 20's, we do also have a very strong contingent of more 'mature' participants. Our older team members have also acknowledged that there is an extremely friendly atmosphere on site and that everyone mixes in very well. We try and locate those who like early nights on a 'quieter' area of the campsite but there is always some unavoidable noise - especially on weekend nights. Although gatherings of people are banned in tents after 22:00 and there is a curfew on site parties after midnight in the marquee we do suggest that you bring earplugs!

I do not have a car. How isolated are we on site?

Mortimer train station is two miles away and we can provide lifts. There is a supermarket in Tadley, which is about two miles away and we aim to provide regular opportunities to visit there in the evenings.

What do we do on the day off?

Most people sleep! But there are trains and buses into Reading for those who want to get into London or Oxford, or do some shopping or laundry in Reading.

What do we do in the evenings?

There is no electricity on site in the evenings so we make our own entertainment. We do provide quiz nights and film nights (in the marquee!) and there are plenty of opportunities for walks around the Roman town.

Is the campsite secure? What about valuables?

We advise people not to leave valuables in their tents. There are secure lockers available for storage of valuables in the HQ cabin.

What will I need money for?

The only money you will need on site will be for charging your phone and using the internet, which each cost £1. You will also need pocket money for sweets, chocolate, drinks etc.

Can I receive academic credit for attending the Silchester Field School?

We currently offer academic credit to students from abroad i.e. 20 UK credits (equivalent to 10 credits on the European Transfer Credit System, or 8 US credits) for four weeks participation on site and ten UK credits (equivalent to 5 credits on the European Transfer Credit System, or 4 US credits) for two weeks. We are happy to offer academic credit to students of other UK universities, but you would need to discuss this with your home institution in the first instance. If you wish to gain academic credit for your time at Silchester you must inform field school administration in advance so that the means of assessment can be discussed.

Prof Fulford and Nick PankhurstWho teaches on the Field School?

Professor Michael Fulford, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Reading, directs the project. The Assistant Director of excavations is Amanda Clarke. She is also the Director of the Field School, and has worked for many years in field archaeology in Britain and abroad. During the excavation season, at least 20 professional staff are employed as excavation supervisors and managers to ensure that the training and supervision received by the participants are of a high standard.

Is it possible to obtain a UCAS reference to go with an application to study Archaeology at university?

The project is willing to supply references for any participant, as long as we are notified in advance. These references will be completed and sent to the participants by the beginning of October. A Certificate of Participation is also issued to every participant and endorsed by the University of Reading if requested during the application process.

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Department of Archaeology
University of Reading
Whiteknights, Box 227
Reading RG6 6AB

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