* You need a trowel – a pointing trowel – the best is the famous WHS made by Spear and Jackson, this trowel is almost universal in use in the UK. BUY THIS ONE! Get the 4” one, it will provide years of service and will become one of your closest friends. They cost anywhere between £10 and £20 depending on where you go, so it is worth shopping around.  The Marshalltown 4.5” trowel is also very good and is more common in the USA than in the UK. DO NOT buy a cheap one for a couple of quid because it will break and you will lack serious credibility amongst your fellow diggers. Also do not turn up on site with a gardening trowel – it could be the worst thing you ever do! Diggers become very attached to their trowels so it is always a good idea to personalise it – carving your initials into the handle is always popular, but you must be careful where you carve them because you could end up with blisters from the carvings. Personalising your trowel also prevents ‘ownership disputes’. Another idea is to paint the handle in a distinctive and bright way – this again identifies ownership, you can find it easily if you have left it lying on the ground (a lot of trowels get lost this way) and it will look cool. Also don’t turn up on site with it looking brand new – this can be quite a faux pas – best to rough it up a bit by having a bit of a trowel in the back garden. Old and worn trowels are cult objects.

* Most other equipment will be provided, you really only need to take a trowel, but you can expand your toolkit if you want: a paintbrush, a toothbrush, a teaspoon, a wooden cooking spatula and toothpicks can all be useful.

* You will need good sturdy boots that you don’t mind getting caked with mud. It’s worth spending money on because they need to be comfortable and they could prevent injury. Steel toe-capped boots are advisable – especially if you are mattocking or moving lots of large stones. Wellington boots are a must on muddy sites, oh and girls, wellies with pretty patterns and colours on them are acceptable. Footwear really depends on the type of site – sometimes you can get away with trainers if it is only light digging in sand for example and there isn’t any lifting of heavy objects or shovelling to do.

* A good hat for protection against the sun – this is so important – you must have a hat, a cap is really not up to the job. Floppy sun hats, beanies or Indiana Jones hats are ideal. A woolly hat is useful as well because even in the summer you could be digging on an exposed site.

* Hard wearing trousers are a good investment and usually have lots of pockets to keep things. T-shirt and shorts are fine in the summer – comfort is the main priority rather than fashion. Dig out some old clothes – old jeans are good because you can make them into shorts. Warm clothing is necessary as well. Good waterproof clothing is essential, especially in the UK so buy the best you can afford. If you are camping the tents sometimes come provided or you might have to take your own.

* Digging can be tough on the joints, so hard wearing gloves are useful, as are kneeling mats (the site may provide these or you can get your own from garden centres), you can wear knee pads but you may be the object of a few ‘good natured’ comments by other diggers.

* Sun cream. Without wishing to state the obvious but if it’s hot then you will need a lot so get something strong – factor 15 is the absolute minimum.

* Water. You will need a lot of water even if it is cold because you will be expending a lot of energy. There may not be water access or undrinkable water at the site so take a 1.5 litre bottle with you. You may need more if it is really hot. Drink a little and often, keep it within reach and try and shade it from the sun if you can. You will also lose salt from your body so it is a good idea to take a small bottle of water with a pinch of salt dissolved in it to sip during the day as well. You do not want to find yourself dehydrating in the burning afternoon heat.

* Digging can sometimes really be in the middle of nowhere, so take food with you. Chocolate is great for boosting blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates are ideal so lots of potatoes and pasta in the evenings to go with the beer.

* Take a small first aid kit with you, insect repellent and toilet paper – your toilet on site could be the woods and even if there are toilets – you don’t really want to find out there’s no paper, do you?

* Keep a small journal or notepad. Write down events during the day, find out the names of the people in charge, find out what the purpose of the dig is, make a note of your trench number and which layers important finds come from. If you have drawn any plans or trench profiles then try and take photos of them for your own use. You will need this kind of information when you have to write the report on your fieldwork and a running journal will help you keep track of developments in other trenched and will help you understand what is going on – it is also a nice record to keep and to look back on.

* If you know beforehand that you will be doing geophysical surveying using magnetometers then you have to make sure that you have clothing that does not have any metal on it, e.g. zips, buckles, studs, shoelace eyelets etc. Wellies (without metal buckles or toe caps), track-suit bottoms, T-shirts and sweaters are the best things to wear for magnetometry. You cannot wear metal either, so no watches or jewellery!

* Look at the Archaeology Field Safety Handbook for more detailed information, go to


* Barker, P.A. (1993), Techniques of Archaeological Excavation. Third edition. London and New York: Routledge. – THE fieldwork book used by thousands of archaeology students for years, it is superb. I think there may have been a fourth edition published recently.

* Drewett, P.L. (1999), Field Archaeology. An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge. – Another extremely good book.


There are risks associated with fieldwork as well as risks associated with being in a foreign country if you are doing your fieldwork abroad so these are some vaccinations that you may need:

* Tetanus – you must be up to date with your tetanus boosts, as well as the obvious risks of cuts and scratches from dirty objects, tetanus can be caught from the soil, so it is important to have your tetanus jab.

* Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A – can be caught from areas of poor sanitation and from contaminated food and water. You can get a single combination vaccine for these.

* Rabies – there is a risk of this from animals in rural areas, which is probably where you will be if you are digging abroad. This is administered as a course of 3 injections within a 1 month period.

* Diphtheria – can be caught from coughs and sneezes, there is a particular risk if you are excavating in Eastern Europe and Russia. Can be combined with Tetanus as a single combination vaccine.

* Hepatitis B – can be caught from infected blood, sanitary levels in hospitals abroad can vary considerably so there can be a risk if you are unfortunate enough to end up in one. This is administered as 3 injections over a 6 month period, you must get all three.

* Yellow Fever – can be caught from infected mosquitoes, you should have this if you are going to countries with a high risk, in fact you may not be allowed into that country if you do not carry an International Certificate of Vaccination which you get when you have the injection.

* Tick Borne Encephalitis – very nasty and can be caught from infected ticks in forested areas of Northern and Central Europe especially in the summer. If you are going to a high risk area then it is advisable to get this. Administered as 2 injections about 1 month apart, it is advisable to get this 6 months before travelling or as soon after you have your fieldwork place confirmed as possible. It can be expensive.

* Malaria – if you are going to a high risk area then take your medication both before AND after you return as prescribed.

* Consult you doctor before going abroad to discuss what vaccinations you may need.

* UK residents should apply for a European Health Insurance Card in case of the need for medical treatment abroad – this can be obtained free of charge. Go to to apply for one.