Career Opportunities

Combining Geophysics and Archaeology: Nature of work and what to study

Subhadrika Sen
Subhadrika Sen
Posted on 17 Nov 2021
17:46 PM
Terrestrial and marine geophysicist Scott Chaussée out on a marine survey.

Terrestrial and marine geophysicist Scott Chaussée out on a marine survey. Scott Chaussée

Terrestrial and marine geophysicist from Wessex Archaeology shares an outline of a career
Students from both STEM and Humanities can work in Archaeology

Do you know that Terrestrial and Marine Geophysics can be used in archaeological digs and that too on both land and in water? It’s a unique combination of measuring the earth’s properties through scientific methods, analysing data to hit upon something hidden under earth layers or in deep sea.

We caught up with Scott Chaussée, a terrestrial and marine geophysicist at Wessex Archaeology, a UK-based company that provides archaeological and heritage services, to know how to make a career in this field and the skills needed for the job.

Edugraph: What is Terrestrial Geophysics and what is its relation with Archaeology?


Scott Chaussée: Geophysics is measuring the properties of the planet we live in. We use multiple instruments to measure these properties. For instance, we use the magnetometer that measures local variations in magnetism. The magnetism in a specific area, such as an archaeological site, gets enhanced during human activities. All these enable us to compare our findings with what’s already known archaeologically. In Terrestrial Geophysics, we put those together and create a plan of the land area to look at the variations which might be different from the natural properties of the earth. This is called Archaeological Geophysics — the process of ‘archaeological perspection’ where we can precisely target our resources without indiscriminate digging.

How does Terrestrial Geophysics differ from Marine Geophysics when it comes to archaeology?

SC: Marine Geophysics is extremely costly and difficult as the ocean is a massive pool to look into. The best thing we can do is to go on a boat and use an instrument like the marine magnetometer trying to scan the sea floor. We try to avoid large metal objects in terrestrial archaeological work because they are ubiquitous, but those are exactly what we look for on the seafloor. These may include ships, cannon balls, metal coins and wreckages.

How do you combine Terrestrial and Marine Geophysics in archaeological expeditions?

SC: We use the knowledge of Geophysics and almost similar techniques to find very different things in land and sea. Though Marine and Terrestrial Archaeology are different in terms of the magnitude of work, they are quite similar in several aspects like the skill sets needed and the techniques applied in terms of data analysis.

What type of clients do you mainly work with?

SC: We get in contact mostly with clients that are undertaking construction projects and looking for an offshore survey company to collect data. They usually send that data to us, a group of specialist archaeologists, to look at things from the archaeological perspective.

Can you briefly describe a day at the workplace?

SC: Life at the workplace can be quite busy. There are always multiple projects running — this one is being reported on, that one is ready to be analysed or others are being analysed. We get to have a hand in every element of the lifecycle of a project. Since we get different data types, each of us is assigned a different dataset to work on.

A typical day in the office involves going through the sonar scans of the seabed and flagging up anything looking anomalous — it could be anything that is different from a rock, reef or sand. We mention all these in our final report, which is sent to the client. The sheer variety of our daily work can be really exciting!

What kind of educational background is needed for the job?

SC: Our archaeological team is quite diverse. I got my first degree in Anthropology and did my master’s in Social Archaeology. There are others with a degree in General Archaeology. Some other members of our team come from Marine Geomorphology background with an understanding of seabed formation, erosion and deposition. We also have people who have their first degrees in Geology and Geophysics.

Actually, a lot of expertise in our profession can come from on-the-job training. You can study humanities and still work in the Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) field. You can also be STEM and really engage with those scientific, mathematical and the actual physical aspects of Terrestrial and Marine Geophysics.

Can you name some institutes that offer courses related to the work you do?

SC: Most universities in the UK have Geophysics in their undergraduate programmes. I went to the University of Southampton and am currently pursuing my PhD from the University College London. The University of Bradford is a popular destination for Archaeological Geophysics. You can enter this job sector with a degree in General Archaeology or any of the STEM subjects.

What are some of the skills needed in this profession?

SC: We deal with massive chunks of data and meet tight deadlines every day. So, data organisational skills, personal organisational skills, time management and the ability to multitask are really important. You can be the best data analyst in the world but if you take too much time, that’s not going to help you.

Can you tell us about the nature of the job?

SC: When you approached me for the interview I was actually out on a survey, which is quite rare for us as we don’t collect data on our own unless there are special research contracts. Otherwise, this job doesn’t require extensive travelling.

Survey companies usually post us a hard drive, multiple hard drives or set up a server for downloading their data. Sometimes we get it straight from the boat. Once we get the data, we have workflows, daily meetings and assigned tasks. At every stage of a project, we have somebody monitoring our work. So there’s a lot of feedback involved in what we do, which, I think, is crucial.

Are there any apprenticeship opportunities for international students in Terrestrial and Marine Geophysics?

SC: Wessex Archaeology doesn’t offer any apprenticeship programme for either domestic or international students. The UK, of course, has a system in place where pre-university students can work part-time. Offshore firms or more survey-intensive companies are likely to have opportunities for international students willing to work as apprentices.

Last updated on 17 Nov 2021
17:46 PM
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