Cardiff Archaeology Made My Childhood Dream Come True

Lisa Backhouse, PhD candidate
University of Reading

I remember being seven years old and telling my parents: ‘when I grow up, I want to be an archaeologist’.  Inspired by my mother’s love of history and my grandparent’s watching of the classic, TimeTeam, I set about conducting mini excavations in the garden.  Most of what I found was pretty boring – until the 1960s, the land my childhood home was built on had been cow pasture. However, I vividly remember my most exciting discovery – fragments of what turned out to be part of a Victorian Era china doll.  During my teens, I became distracted from archaeology by my love of literature and wanted to study this at university.  It was almost on a whim that when searching for undergraduate courses I revived my childhood dreams of archaeology and came across my perfect degree: a joint degree in English Literature and Archaeology at Cardiff University.   

Excavating a 16th century horseshoe in Hungary, 2016
One of the very many bags of pottery I excavated in Hungary.

As an undergraduate at Cardiff, I was the only student studying this joint degree but in spite of this, I always felt ‘at home’ and more suited to the archaeology department and I quickly realised that was where my passion lies.  The combination studying two subjects was, however, crucial to my academic development.  My literature course gave me the opportunity to study Old English and Medieval English, which later became essential in opening up the opportunity for me to read and use written sources of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval date in my Masters and PhD theses.  My three years at Cardiff not only created and instilled my love of archaeology, but cemented my fascination with the study of the medieval period, inspired by the passion I observed from my lecturers and the excavation opportunities I was fortunate enough to partake in. I completed placements near Burghead, Scotland, excavating an Iron Age to Pictish site and in Esztergorm, Hungary, excavating a medieval castle.  It was during this excavation in Hungary that I developed a fascination of medieval pottery, something which grew when I met Dr Ben Jervis joined the department at Cardiff in my final undergraduate year and eventually evolved into my current PhD project.

The addition of further excavations I arranged myself gave me enough experience to be offered a commercial fieldwork archaeologist contract for the summer I graduated which saw me join Cambridge Archaeological Unit, where a number of my colleagues were also Cardiff Archaeology alumni.

Following a year at Sheffield University completing my master’s degree, my current PhD project saw me partially return to being part of the archaeology department at Cardiff as my co-institutional partner with the University of Reading where I am based.  Despite not being based full-time at Cardiff, two of my three PhD supervisors are associated with Cardiff; Dr Ben Jervis who is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Cardiff and Duncan Brown (currently Head of Archaeological Archives at Historic England) who is a Cardiff Archaeology Department alumnus.   

Taking over one of the teaching rooms at Cardiff to record my PhD pottery assemblage.
Supervising Cardiff undergraduates at Cosmeston, giving some on site pottery lessons.

My current PhD research examines the relationship between people and pottery in early medieval Kent, focusing on social and cultural identity.  The Archaeology Department at Cardiff has played a vital role in my PhD, particularly during my data collection phase, allowing me to take over one of the teaching laboratories to record a large proportion of my main pottery assemblage.  I was also an excavation supervisor for the undergraduate fieldschool at Cosmeston Medieval Village, near Cardiff, coming full circle from my own undergraduate experiences on Cardiff field schools.

With my Cardiff associated supervisors, Ben Jervis and Duncan Brown

Over the course of nearly 6 years, archaeology at Cardiff has been a huge part of my life and I always feel a sense of great pride in being able to tell people I am both a Cardiff archaeology alumnus and current student.  Archaeology at Cardiff has been essential in my journey so far in archaeology and, I hope (!) will continue to be for many more years to come! 
Pen-blwydd hapus canmlwyddiant Cardiff!  

Twitter: @lisaback_house 
Facebook: Lisa Backhouse