Q&A with Cat Jarma – on encouraging potential archaeology students

How did you become passionate about archaeology?

I grew up in Norway, and going to see the Viking ships in Oslo when I was very young made a great impression on me. Although I had been really interested in history it was only when I moved to the UK at the age of 18 that I realised I could make a career out of it – I saw a TV documentary and got hooked! 

What do you think is the best way to encourage young people to get involved in archaeology?

By letting them take part as much as possible! This doesn’t have to mean going on a dig; museums and heritage sites are great too. The important thing is to encourage them to think about the people who lived in the past, and what we can learn from what they left behind.  

Apart from excavation experience, what else do volunteers get out of taking part in a dig?

Digs are a great way to get a better understanding of how we learn about the past; and how each wall, pottery sherd or animal bone can be used to piece together the past. They are also a great way to learn new skills, make new friends, and be active outdoors.

What is your favourite part of an excavation?

Probably the end of a day’s digging, when we step out of the trench and get an overview of what we have found and how our understanding of the site has changed (or not!) since the day before. And looking through all the finds trays of course!

What has been your most exciting find?

A piece of decorated pottery,  which was probably not exciting to anyone other than me! I worked on a site in Zambia and was writing my undergraduate dissertation on the pottery we found there. This particular piece had decoration of a type I hadn’t seen there before, which could tell me a lot about the people who lived there 1000 years earlier. 

What do you hope to find this year at Berkeley?

At the end of last season we started excavating what is probably a Norman building. One of the summer school students found a coin there last year, so we’d love to see what else this trench can reveal! We’ll also be carrying out more advanced geophysics this year, which will help us understand the development of the site a lot better.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a degree in archaeology?

My best advice would be to give it a go if you can. Try to take part as a volunteer in an excavation, or at least go to visit a dig on an open day. Try to think like an archaeologist wherever you go; what do the surroundings tell you about the past? What can you find out about the past from place names, maps, lumps and bumps in the landscape, or architecture and monuments incorporated into new towns? Archaeology is a subject with endless topics to specialise in, so a degree in archaeology can be useful in a great number of ways. 

Check out Cat’s blog (last updated in 2016) on her research into isotope analyses of a Viking mass grave in Derbyshire: www.untanglingthepast.net