I am not yet an archaeologist. But I plan to be.

I manage a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the site of a former medieval priory, in Milton Keynes.

This might not seem to have much to do with underwater archaeology, but it does. The site contains four medieval fish ponds of various depths and breadths, all of which are interlinked by culverts, the largest of which is linked to a small river that flows at the bottom of the site, and also to a series of drainage ditches that fill or deplete depending on rainfall and the resulting level of the ponds.

Several artefacts of significance have been found over the years, but the ponds and watercourses have not been explored.

Apart from a love of the ocean and surfing, I have for some time wanted to combine my passion for water and the Middle Ages. After two years of digs on site I decided to go back to university part-time to retrain as an archaeologist. In particular, as an underwater archaeologist.

So, that is the background. Having completed the theory elements of An introduction to Maritime Archaeology, Intertidal Archaeology, and Underwater Archaeology, I decided to sign up to the additional courses, and to gain as much experience as possible before I go back to Uni in 2022.

Last year I took part in the Prehistoric Intertidal and Submerged Landscapes course, which I found fascinating, practical, and well-delivered, so when I saw the Archaeological Project Management course I signed up straight away.

We started with introductions, and why people had signed up. This was so interesting, and I was astounded at how international was the network. I really enjoyed listening to people’s reasons for involvement. I found this part so inspiring, and for someone who is very new to maritime archaeology, I also found this eye-opening - the depth and breadth of experience in the Zoom room was exciting and fired my brain cells - so many watery avenues to think about!

Next Ian Cundy gave us some background on his credentials and experience, which was as fascinating as the course itself. He showed clearly how Project Management skills apply to everyday life, and I must admit, this was so much more enjoyable and easy to follow than the Prince2 course I had just completed for work! Already as he was detailing his own skills, I was thinking ahead to our own site, and how I would approach the underwater elements when it came to designing my own project management plan for the exploration.

Ian took us on a practical, step-by-step journey through the processes of archaeological project management. The accompanying images and information illustrated exactly what would be involved in designing and project managing my own project. Which is where the exercises came in. We were asked, using the project plan segments explained by Ian, to start planning our own process.

I used the time well to jot down all the areas I would need to consider if I wanted to go forward at work with my ‘pond dig’ idea. Imagine my delight then, when Ian asked us to work up and submit said project plans after the course!

I am now half-way through designing my plan, and hope to use it as a model for the practical element of the postgraduate research degree I intend to undertake when I have finished my undergrad. It has given me a timeline to work backwards from in terms of achieving my dive qualifications, academic and NAS qualifications, and for how and when the project will take place, and who I will need to involve.

While not the site of an underwater or intertidal wreck, the interconnected ponds are of great interest to many – they may well contain significant medieval and other archaeology which will tell us more about the priory site and its inhabitants. The ponds themselves were used for fish farming, and I am looking forward to seeing  what remains we will find in terms of fish, other animals, and artefacts. Because the watercourses are interconnected we might find reredorter and midden deposits. It’s best not to have preconceived ideas about finds but the specific knowledge I  have of the site suggests these as possibilities. Whatever we do or don’t find though, what I have taken from this course will be good news for the interpretation of our unusual site, and will be the impetus I need to get my dive qualifications (something I have previously found not a little scary!). 

So here’s to project management! The first project management training I’ve done that I wanted to dive right into!

Ellie James