I have been a field archaeologist for twenty years, the last four self-employed. Being self-employed changes the emphasis of responsibility for developing your knowledge and skill base and presenting yourself as a marketable resource. Self-employment makes you more aware of your expertise, but also of your skill and knowledge gaps.
Up until 1997 I was a typical circuit digger and was not progressing in my career, although I had worked on well over a hundred projects and felt confident in my abilities. I was regularly employed as an area supervisor/project supervisor, but sometimes sporadically. At present I am consistently employed at supervisor/project officer level. So what changed for me? I decided to obtain specialist knowledge, initially in photography, where I took City and Guilds courses and chose modules to cover landscape, buildings, site photography, and macro-photography of finds. This raised my game and made me realise that standards were not all they could be within the profession. I compiled a short field manual Photographic method for field archaeologists, and used this as a basis for teaching undergraduates at Liverpool University and a local college. Through writing this manual, my knowledge has increased in the areas of standing buildings and macro-finds photography.
My second area of development was a consequence of site practice. I had always asked visiting specialists general and specific questions about drift geologies/ soils but now I consult the Institute of Geological Sciences gazetteers before I visit a new area to work. I also consult the relevant SMR/HER before I start the new job. To maintain this as a permanent knowledge base, I compile a site diary and update as the project progresses. In 1997 I decided to formalise this learning by taking a Diploma in Landscape Science. My third area of development lies in Roman coin identification and conservation. This is largely self taught, starting with compiling a field guide to Roman coin identification and metal finds. This is an excellent way to learn. At the current point in my career, skill gaps still exist.
I have identified the following three areas for improvement
surveying: I volunteered to do the surveying on a project in exchange for training in use of a total station
Desk Based Assessment: my Diploma in Landscape Science taught me how to locate and identify sites from a variety of sources, develop a programme of fieldwalking/earthwork survey, design a trench layout to define the sites limits, and write a project design for an excavation. I asked a former colleague if I could write one for free, on the understanding that he would provide the necessary mentoring
report writing: I studied various report pro-formas, and began writing, with feedback from independent editors. I taught myself to use a range of documentary sources for pre-site assessment and for interpretation of excavation results. Finally, I wrote reports for the public on standing buildings, and again submitted these for independent editorial review
So don’t wait for your employer to provide the CPD training. Create it yourself. Gain practical knowledge in the field, and bolster it with background reading. Talk to specialists. If you can, formalise this knowledge by gaining qualifications. Also be aware of local and regional research agenda. If you don’t know how to excavate a pottery kiln, or record a standing timber structure, look at published reports. Never be afraid to ask ‘how do I do this?’ It is the secret to success.