Training Digs

Since 2001, York Archaeology has been running Training Digs (previously known as We Dig or Archaeology Live) offering members of the public a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience of a real archaeological dig.  Taking place in York and Nottingham, participants investigate sites that feature deeply stratified, highly complex archaeological deposits in areas of international significance.

The project is participant-funded and delivered., meaning the trainees who take part fund 100% of the project. They also carry out the entirety of the excavation and recording work with guidance and lessons from professional archaeologists. This is real people-powered archaeology!  

In previous years, trainees have investigated York’s Roman defences, explored the remains of Viking-Age buildings, and re-discovered a lost medieval church. The core aim of the project is to offer a comprehensive introduction to the theories and methods of archaeological practice within an accessible, friendly and engaging learning environment.

What to Expect

Over the course of a week with the staff of York Archaeology, trainees will learn the basics needed to work on a full-scale archaeological excavation. The core skills to be covered include:

  • Single context excavation – you will learn how to recognise, reveal and excavate individual layers or features that have laid hidden for centuries.

  • Use of a variety of tools – our work can range from delicate trowelling to more energetic work with a mattock and shovel.

  • Photography – the important process of creating a visual record of your archaeological context.

  • Single context recording – you will learn how to accurately the record the location, form and dimensions of your feature.

  • Finds identification – you will uncover a wide range of material and we will show how to spot, identify and excavate archaeological artefacts.

  • Finds processing – each find has to be lovingly cleaned, sorted and catalogued so that we can learn as much about them as possible.

Alongside these key skills, there will also be introductions to various archaeological specialisms, including archaeobotany, conservation, pottery dating, small finds identification and stratigraphy.

Plus, if there are any other areas of archaeology you’d like to know more about, our knowledgeable team can point you in the right direction.

Sample Schedule

Each day is broken into four sessions and laid out like this:

Session 1: 9.30am – 10.30am

Tea Break (15 mins)

Session 2: 10.45am – 12.30pm

Lunch break (45 mins)

Session 3: 13.15pm – 15.00pm

Tea break (15 mins)

Session 4: 15.15pm – 17.00pm

Each day will start with trainee check in, a safety talk and a brief explanation of what has been found so far and the plan for the coming day. The excavation will follow a schedule of workshops and tutorials. In some cases, such as poor weather, it may be necessary to make changes to this.

For more details, check out our current excavations below!

Current Training Digs

Kids DIG York 2024

York

Do you know a budding archaeologist? Do impromptu excavations take place in your back garden? We are delighted to announce the return of Kids Dig York this Easter!

Kids DIG York 2024

York

Do you know a budding archaeologist? Do impromptu excavations take place in your back garden? We are delighted to announce the return of Kids Dig York this Easter!

Previous Training Digs

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2023

Continuing our investigations of a section of the formal gardens to uncover its 16th and 17th century origins and the location of an Orangery

Willow House

York - 2023

 This year, we will be returning to a trench that we opened midway through last season, with the hope of answering some of the questions raised last season.

Kids DIG York

York

We DIG Willow House 2022 we return to the heart of the city. We are investigating a fascinating site nestled within the shadows of the city walls. 

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2022

Following on from our 2021 excavation, we’re chasing the archaeology that we found to try and tell more of the story behind them.

Willow House

York - 2022

We return to the heart of the city and are investigating a fascinating site nestled within the shadows of the city walls.

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2021

The We Dig Wollaton 2021 project is an archaeological training scheme organised and conducted by York Archaeology in partnership with Nottingham City Council (NCC), and the University of Nottingham, Department of Archaeology

Old St. Oswalds

York - 2021

With the Archaeology Live! mantle now being used for our summer festival of archaeology, this marked the final time the training dig would go under the name. In August of 2021 we began work on a new site in Fulford.

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2023

Continuing our investigations of a section of the formal gardens to uncover its 16th and 17th century origins and the location of an Orangery

Willow House

York - 2023

 This year, we will be returning to a trench that we opened midway through last season (Trench 6), with the hope of answering some of the questions raised last season.

Kids DIG York

York

Kids Dig York is our brand-new family archaeology experience aimed at, you guessed it, kids!

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2022

Following on from our 2021 excavation, we’re chasing the archaeology that we found to try and tell more of the story behind them.

Willow House

York - 2022

We return to the heart of the city and are investigating a fascinating site nestled within the shadows of the city walls.

Wollaton Park

Nottingham - 2021

The We Dig Wollaton 2021 project is an archaeological training scheme organised and conducted by York Archaeology in partnership with Nottingham City Council (NCC), and the University of Nottingham, Department of Archaeology

We DIG St. Oswalds

York - 2021

With the Archaeology Live! mantle now being used for our summer festival of archaeology, this marked the final time the training dig would go under the name. In August of 2021 we began work on a new site in Fulford.

We’ll be adding more of our previous excavations here in time – please bear with us!

Frequantly Asked Questions

The million-dollar question! This will vary from site to site, so check out each dig’s page for more information, particularly the main aims.

None at all. Whether you’re on your first dig or already a veteran, we can tailor the course to fit your requirements. Anyone aged 16+ is welcome to attend (14+ if accompanied by a guardian who is also participating in the course).

Theories and techniques are taught at a steady pace and participants are encouraged to take as much time as they need to get to grips with them. Everyone learns in a different manner and we take pride in offering a relaxed, supportive learning environment. The site manager will be constantly on hand to answer any questions and assist with any issues.

Clothes

To take part in the excavation, we require each participant to bring their own pair of steel toe capped safety boots with good ankle support. Slips, trips and falls are the most common workplace accident in archaeology, so good ankle support is a must! ‘Sturdy’ walking boots will not be accepted.

In addition, participants will not be permitted entry to the excavation area in shorts, long trousers must be worn on-site.

As you can never predict the British weather, you may also wish bring a good set of waterproofs. Gloves must also be worn when excavating, you’re free to bring your own or use a pair provided by us; ordinary gardening gloves will be fine.

Equipement

We will provide all necessary digging and recording equipment, although as archaeologists have a close bond with their trowel, you may wish to buy your own WHS 4’ archaeologists’ trowel (they really are the best!). The Past Horizons website is a good starting to point to source a trowel.

We take our health and safety very seriously. Training excavations are run in the exact same way as York Archaeology’s full-scale commercial excavations. All participants will receive a full induction and access to the site risk assessment and all YA staff are trained first-aiders. When working in a trench, all participants must wear full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). This means hard hats (when working in deeper areas), high-visibility vests, safety boots and gloves – we will provide everything but the boots.

We will be including our Accessibility Statement for each dig shortly on its page. In the meantime, if you have specific accessibility requirements, don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to us about it!

Archaeology can be hard work, but we always ensure that our training courses run at a speed that suits each participant. There will be no time pressure to complete tasks – we’d much rather do a good job than a quick job! There will be regular breaks and a rotation of tasks, and if anyone needs to take a breather, no problem!

York Archaeology and our Training Dig’s fully support the BAJR Skills Passport scheme and we will be happy to document and sign off on the experience for any participants with a Skill Passport. More information on the scheme can be found here.