We all played with rocks as a kid. Some of us even ate mud! Sarah Ingram, the amazing Archaeologist Iggle, continues to do so, except of course, for the eating mud part. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to play in the dirt all day long: sifting, measuring and cataloging it, searching for remnants of cultures past and learning about the history of people gone before… then the career path or archaeologist might be right for you! Combining a love of science, history, and getting our hands dirty, this important field tends to be male dominated, but Sarah Ingram has broken the glass ceiling with her giant hammer. We had a chance to interview Sarah and find out what it’s like to have the cool job of Archaeologist.
1. Thank you so much for doing this interview… can you tell me – What’s your job title and where do you work?
Thank you – I love talking about my work! Right now I am on contract as the ICH (Intangible Cultural Heritage) Researcher for the Carbonear Heritage Society in Newfoundland, Canada. I am responsible for research on their current special project, which is collecting memories, photos, and interviews on a German community that grew in the 1950s as a part of a push to grow industry in the province. (Whew!) Before that I had a year long contract with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, as a consulting archaeologist and ICH researcher.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the company you work for, what they do, and what makes them awesome?
The fun (and also difficult) part about working as an archaeologist is when you first start out you end up taking a lot of contractual positions. It’s fun because you get to try different elements of the work, fill your CV with interesting projects and accomplishments, and you get a change of environment and the opportunity to challenge yourself and your skill sets. The difficult part is that the current outlook for work in archaeology is not as study as other professions. Funding from the government is disappearing every day, and tenure track academic jobs aren’t really opening up at the bottom anymore.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to become a professional archaeologist?
I had an incredibly inspiring grade 10 history teacher, who had wanted to be an archaeologist herself but couldn’t because of some knee problems. Instead, she travelled the world and visited all the archaeological sites she was passionate about, so in class the photos that she used to teach us about Mesopotamia, Rome, Greece, the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians were pictures of her there. I fell in love with the idea of being around the past in the present, and learning abut it first hand from the ground, discovering something that none had touched or seen for centuries.
4. What did you go to school for? Did school primarily help you for this job, or did other hobbies, work experience, and personal learning on your own time help more?
I did an undergraduate university double major degree in anthropology and classics, and then an honours degree in archaeology the following year. Through my undergrad I jumped from Egyptology to Classical Archaeology to a colonial focus; as I had different experiences in class and in the field, I found my niche there. I then went into a Master’s degree, specializing in historical archaeology and colonial material culture. My thesis, which I have recently submitted (YAY!), was on a seventeenth-century tavern at Ferryland, Newfoundland, was of the first permanent English colonies in North America.
5. What’s a typical work day like?
A day as an archaeologist is never typical, even when working on the same project. Field work is usually in the summer, from May to October (depending on where you live, and what the ground and temperature is like), and then research, analysis is done in the fall and winter. For me a day in the field is full of digging, measuring, sifting, and cataloguing, and then after the field season there is cleaning, analyzing and the filing of artifacts. Reports, research, and presentations are also common daily activities.
In my current job I have been interviewing people from the German community I’m studying, hearing their stories, and collecting photos and memorabilia they have from the industries that brought them here. I also sometimes (when I’m lucky) get to crawl through abandoned buildings. My last contract at the HFNL had me working on a wells and stings project, which meant I got to travel all around Newfoundland crawling in their wells, exploring abandoned springs, and learning how to dowse for water with sticks and wires!
6. Are there a lot of women in your workplace? Do you ever feel like you have to make a special effort to hold your own as a women, or are you treated as a total equal?
Archaeology has always been a male dominated field, and although that is changing, the stigma that archaeology is an “old boys club” is still there. Whether I feel I’ve been treated equally really depends on the job I’m at, and the people I’m working with. For example, in Ferryland the last few years of graduate students studying out there have been women, and so we are welcome and treated equally. Occasionally you get men carrying heavy things for you, but for the most part my work and opinion are appreciated equally. Other times, the older men who aren’t used to it will treat you a little differently, giving you easier tasks or not asking you the same questions as the men. Things are changing, and it’s getting better all the time.
7. What’s the most interesting and exciting part of your job? What has been most rewarding part of your job?
Honestly for me it’s getting a first hand experience. Working in ICH research means I get the opportunity to interview 90 or even 100 year olds who have first hand memories about the history of the province I’m living in. It’s the folklore version of fieldwork. In archaeology, digging is the same thing. It’s also the most rewarding, because it’s this type of data collection that allows you to write reports, identify new stories, and learn about the past something that was completely unavailable before. One of the coolest places I got to dig was in Southern Italy, in a tiny town where very few spoke English. We got to talk to locals (through interpreters), learn about the landscape, and at the same time uncover a 1st century AD villa overlooking a plantation. It was incredible.
8. What are some of the more unusual perks of your job?
Honestly, exploring old, abandoned places and getting dirty is my favourite part of the job. There is nothing glamorous about archaeology, and you end up covered in filth and usually have ridiculous outfits and bizarre tan lines. It might not be as action packed or have as many guns, bows and whips, but it’s the closest I get to feel to being Lara Croft or Indiana Jones 🙂
9. What would you offer as advice to someone who wanted to get into the same type of job as you?
As important as getting the right university degree is, getting the experience might be even more so. Take as many opportunities as you can to volunteer, work in the field, and get involved. Look for different associations and join them. Sign up for a field school. Read blogs and talk to people to know when events like Archaeology Day are happening. Get out there! It’s important not only to get the experience so you can get a job or into a graduate program, but to also make sure it’s the right degree for you, and where you want to specialize. It’s hard on the knees, and dirty, but it’s adventurous, ever changing, and an opportunity to discover something about the past that nobody else knew.
Would you love to be an archaeologist? Leave a comment and let us know!
Do you know someone who has a cool job? We would love to interview them!