How to be an archaeologist…

Sara Goodridge – Land of Iron Archaeological Finds Intern

This summer I have been granted the privilege of working with the Heritage Fund‘s Land of Iron Landscape Partnership as an Archaeological Finds Intern, through the Santander Internship Programme at Durham University. The internship has provided a unique opportunity to not only learn all about the inner workings of community archaeology but also to expand my knowledge of the beautiful North York Moors National Park and its industrial heritage.

When the email advertising the post of intern landed in my inbox, I was intrigued, I knew nothing about archaeology other than what I’d seen on the television and in text books but I knew I wanted to learn more. As a student of History rather than Archaeology my knowledge of what the internship would involve was very limited to say the least, despite this I decided to go for it – after all if you don’t try you don’t achieve. However, I felt my desire to learn may not be enough to secure me the position so I turned to the North York Moors National Park website for some much needed research. It is here that my journey began as a volunteer. Having followed the registration process I signed up for the day hoping for a crash course in how to be an archaeologist in time for my intern interview the following week.

I arrived eagerly at a car park in the middle of the moors ready to learn all about archaeological recording. As it turned out the welcome was incredibly friendly and I was expertly guided through a whistle stop tour of archaeological contexts and features. This very first day’s volunteering introduced me to the friendly approach taken by all involved in the Land of Iron Partnership and from that moment on I was hooked. The site of my first ever archaeological experience was at the former Rosedale Railway and inspired the Historian in me to find out more.

Rosedale saw rapid development in the later part of the 19th century due to ironstone mining. By 1861 the Rosedale Railway had been built, with the additional Rosedale East Railway branch completed in 1865, in order to export the iron ore north to Teesside and County Durham. An estimated 11 million tons of iron ore was removed from Rosedale. The opening of the Rosedale Railway way was documented in the Newcastle Journal on the 19 April 1862, and describes the importance of the railway coming to Rosedale;

“The opening of the North Eastern Company’s branch line to Rosedale, by the vice-chairman, George Leeman, Esq., and the directors, took place at Rosedale on Wednesday.  Early in the forenoon a large party arrived by special train from the northy, including the directors of the company and many of the iron masters, and other distinguished persons connected with the great iron trade of cleveland and the district…  After inspecting, with delight and astonishment, the Rosedale Mining Companiy’s magnificent quarries and mines of magnetic ore, the whole party retired to the Crown Inn, Rosedale Abbey, where an excellent dinner awaited them”.
(Extract transcribed by Linda Cummings)

Photo credit; Rosedale Mines and Railway (Hayes and Rutter, 1974)The experience of that volunteering confirmed my desire to learn more about archaeology and made me want to secure the position of intern even more. Luckily my interview for the position was a success! In the meantime I didn’t have to wait long to volunteer again as the Land of Iron community excavation at Combs Wood this summer provided me with the opportunity to not just learn about archaeology from the side of a trench but to actually get in and start digging myself. Over the two week period that the excavation ran I volunteered for a couple of days each week. In these days the knowledge I gained was immense I learned everything from the complexities of measured drawing to the correct use of a trowel. The approach on site, that no question was a silly question, meant that I spent my whole time learning.

Due to my experiences volunteering before my internship had even started I had learned valuable skills and felt ready to take on the finds processing role. Along with my fellow intern Louis we’ve now spent the last five weeks engaging with and learning from the finds that have been discovered across the numerous archaeological sites within the Land of Iron. Louis’s recent blog, The Everyday, the Intriguing and the Odd shows some of the more unique and interesting finds that have crossed our desk so far and is a must read for anyone who wants to find out more about some of these finds.

The industrial heritage of the North York Moors National Park has become a new found fascination for me, in particular the material culture of the Victorians has certainly sparked some interesting conversations between myself and Louis as well as with volunteers during our task days. So much so that I have decided to use the subject for my dissertation when I return to university for my third and final year at Durham in October. The knowledge I’ve gained so far during my time as an intern has been invaluable however it is only the beginning of my research.

Land of Iron logos

If, like me, you have a desire to learn more about the Land of Iron there is an upcoming Heritage Open Days on 15 September with a walk and talk through the incredible ironstone industry (Grosmont to Esk Valley). For more information and to book tickets visit the National Park website.

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