Volunteer Archaeology: Discover Local History and Learn about Digs


Volunteer archaeology allows beginners and experienced excavators to take part in archaeological digs and learn about local history

Volunteer archaeology is the perfect way to be involved in archaeology-even if you are not a professional. Whether you want to gain excavating experience, or are an archaeology veteran; enjoy archaeology as a hobby or want to learn more about local history, there is a form of archaeology for you.

What is Volunteer Archaeology?

Many people assume that volunteer archaeology equals amateur archaeology. In fact, the main difference between commercial and voluntary archaeology is money.

In the UK, many local societies and national projects operate volunteer archaeology projects. These projects are self funded by the organisations involved, rather than sponsored by academic bodies or commercial concerns . Often, funds are raised by events or by charging participants and members a nominal fee.

Volunteer archaeological digs involve professional archaeologists who work as consultants or who offer their services for free. This is the main difference between commercial and volunteer archaeology; the participants are not paid.

Why Become an Archaeology Volunteer?

So why become a volunteer archaeologist? There are a number of good reasons:

  • Learn about archaeology. Most commercial archaeological ventures are reluctant to take on novices because of health and safety regulations. Deadlines for commercial excavations also restrict the number of trainees taken onto the team because of the lack of time to supervise. On a volunteer project, experts are more than willing to teach, making a volunteer dig the perfect place for the inexperienced to gain valuable knowledge and skills.
  • Learn about local history. Many local groups work with professional archaeologists in their area to discover more about their local history, something that can create a more cohesive community spirit as well as helping residents learn about their area’s past.
  • Archaeology as a hobby. Volunteer archaeology allows retired professionals and other interested parties to pursue their interest in the past as a hobby rather than as a fulltime job.

So how do you become a volunteer? There are a variety of different options.

Join an Archaeological Society

Joining a local society or community archaeology project is the perfect way to be involved in the archaeology and history of your local area. Local societies generally raise their own funds through events, ensuring that that their members do not have to pay a fee to take part in excavations.

Local societies are often long established institutions and many of their members are experts –either from long years of experience or because they are retired archaeologists themselves. Others hire in professionals to work with members.

Community archaeology offers resources and support for anyone interested in exploring archaeology in their local community. Leicestershire Museums Archaeological Fieldwork Group is one example of a local group which runs a network of groups and societies.

Volunteer for an Archaeological Dig

Alternatively, you can volunteer for a national project, run by professionals where you can learn about archaeology or offer some of your free time to a project that appeals to you. Unlike local societies, most national projects often charge a fee from participants.

Archaeology Live! Is part of York’s Hungate excavations which began in 2007 and consists of programmes of events concentrating on Roman, Viking and medieval archaeology. Participants include local people and visitors with experienced archaeologists supervising and training volunteers’ .Theprogramme of events for 2011 includes weekend courses, taster courses and one to two week stints, for which a fee is chargeable.

Vindolanda Roman Fort also has a developed volunteer programme which includes professionals working with local societies and individual volunteers. Under 18s are welcome with an accompanying by adult, making it perfect for training young archaeologists with no previous excavation experience. Once again a fee is payable.