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Wednesday 7th February 2018

MEET GARETH CHAFFEY: A SHERFORD ARCHAEOLOGIST

Meet Wessex Archaeologist Gareth Chaffey, who talks to us about his career in the industry, and what his role has been on-site at Sherford. 

What inspired you to become an archaeologist? 

I always wanted to be an archaeologist from an early age, through an interest in the past and how people previously lived. I found it fascinating to try to understand how different cultures developed over time. As a child, I visited many archaeological and historical sites, and I also had an interest in the Romans. I went to university and studied archaeology and developed a real interest in early prehistory.  

How long have you been working as an archaeologist and what do you enjoy most? 

I have been an archaeologist for 18 years, and have been with Wessex Archaeology since 2001. I began as a field archaeologist and in 2014 I moved into management. Commercial archaeology is a fascinating career which allows enormous exposure to archaeological sites, sometimes of national importance. Even as a manager I see incredible archaeology and artefacts on a daily basis. 

What are your key responsibilities at Sherford? 

I manage the archaeological team undertaking the excavations across Sherford. Every time a bucket hits the ground in a new area, an archaeologist is present and I help to facilitate the team’s work. I work closely with a larger team to guarantee that the archaeology is dealt with in a comprehensive and appropriate way, ensuring that the archaeological remains on site further help us understand how this part of Devon has developed over time. 

What is your most memorable or significant archaeological find? 

The discovery of five Early Neolithic houses near Heathrow Airport. To find one example is rare, so to uncover so many was unexpected and fascinating. Throughout my career I have always been thrilled by the moment of discovery - knowing that you are first person to see an artefact that has been in the ground for hundreds if not thousands of years. It can be a very emotive thing, particularly when dealing with very personal items. 

What interests you the most about working at Sherford and what is the most interesting artefact you have found so far? 

Being involved at Sherford offers a wonderful opportunity to work on a project of such an enormous scale. We were one of the first teams on the site in January 2015 so we have had the opportunity to see the development take shape and grow. We have found interesting evidence covering the last 6000 years which has massively increased our knowledge of prehistory in Devon as a whole, and we have so much more to find in the coming years. For me, the most interesting artefact has been an Early Neolithic polished stone axe which had clearly been used to fell trees. It was then deliberately broken and buried in the ground. It was a very rare and stunning find. 

How does Sherford differ from any other excavation site that you have worked on before? 

Alongside the scale of the project, this is my first involvement in the construction of a new town! The outreach element of the project is also exciting. We have already had two open days which were really well attended by the public and there are plans for more. We also regularly give talks to the local community and visit schools to help teach the children about the fascinating historic landscape in which they will live and go to school. 

What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in archaeology? 

If you have an interest in archaeology at a young age there are several groups you could join to experience archaeology and learn more. The Young Archaeologist’s Club (YAC) is a fantastic group which could help. Beyond that, many universities offer archaeology as a degree, which many firms would require in order to pursue a career. Having a passion for the discipline is also essential. Wessex Archaeology is full of specialists and experts who are so passionate about what they do. It means that I still find archaeology fascinating and interesting even after so many years.