Whenever I tell people what I do for a living I'm always surprised by how many people respond by saying it's their dream job. To those on the outside looking in, the job and the images it conjures up are mixed to say the least. On one hand adventure in far flung lands, remote deserts and the search for exotic treasures and relics... on the other, Time Team and a plethora of beards and stripy jumpers looking at small walls in a series of muddy test pits. The media doesn't have an "in-between" when it comes to archaeology...
I am lucky that my role in archaeology combines my two passions – engineering and archaeology. I joined Costain in 2014 and after a variety of roles became Principal Archaeologist supporting various works and bids. As Package Manager and Principal Archaeologist on HS2's Enabling Works Contract I have a job which allows me to combine my interests and act as bridge between the world of construction and the world of commercial and research archaeology. Building this bridge, though metaphorical, has been a complex matter and over the years I've had to earn a variety of construction qualifications to understand how to make things work. I've worked as a Surveyor and Construction Foreman as well as a Field Archaeologist and Researcher. The role involves uniting two groups whose ideas and aims are not always clearly aligned. The main stay of my role is to ensure that we engineer for the archaeological works in a way which is safe, sustainable, respectful to the archaeology and allows a complex package of works to be delivered on time and to budget while also realising a whole series of academic agendas too.
The biggest challenge has been the works at St James's Gardens in Euston where we are currently in the process of archaeologically excavating a post-medieval burial ground believed to contain up to 61,000 burials. The site dates from 1789 and was in use for a relatively short space of time before being closed as a result of the Metropolitan Burials Act of 1853. Our stakeholders, Historic England have guidance which states that a large burial ground is classed as a site with over 2000 burials.... We are clearly about to re-write the rule book on this project.
The most significant element of the works has been to ensure all the burials within the site are treated with the utmost dignity, care and respect. I am very aware that as well as the 200 people who work on the site, I am also responsible for the care of those buried within it and that is not a role to be taken lightly. Therefore, a key part of this process has been to design an 11,000m2 encapsulation structure which spans the site and allows the work to be protected from the elements and screened from public view. The structure itself is unique and bespoke to the site and I was adamant from the beginning that this mammoth structure needed to be designed to support and maximise the archaeological works, as well as providing the necessary screening.
The structure is packed with innovations which promote safe, thorough and efficient archaeological working including bespoke lifting equipment for moving funerary monuments and specific lumen levels in the LED lighting to ensure the best quality archaeological photography even under electric light. Time lapse cameras and overhead gantries and walkways give the freedom to take excellent working shots and create a complete record of the site. This helps us to build a vivid picture of archaeology in a more holistic manner. We've also introduced electric plant to the site to replace the traditional archaeologist's wheel barrow with the charging points being built into the tent structure to maximise efficiency and safety. The 1 tonne tracked dumpers reduce the manual handling and make the works more efficient. As they're ride-on dumpers it makes the process more fun too!
We've even introduced UAV technology into the recording process as well as LEAN and ergonomic processes in the on-site labs.
By thinking outside the box and being introduced to a variety of different trades and disciplines across the course of my career I've found unexpected excitement, challenges and success in being able to help make small changes and even some major changes in two industries which I am proud to be a part of. Engineering for archaeology is a truly unique challenge and I will never get bored because no two archaeological sites are the same.
Ultimately though it would not be possible without an incredibly talented team of engineers, surveyors, designers and a whole host of other specialists so this one is for the St James's Gardens team who made it all possible. Thank you!
Caroline Raynor is Work Package Manager and Principal Archaeologist for Costain Skanska Joint Venture on the HS2 Enabling Works at Euston. She has a particular interest in uniting the fields of archaeology and engineering.