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This man has your childhood dream job: Neil the archaeologist

DailyEdge.ie speaks to the people who have the jobs you wanted as a kid.

AS A KID, what did you want to be when you grew up? Zookeeper? Librarian? Post man? In this series, DailyEdge.ie speaks to the people with your childhood dream jobs.

For people who grew up on a diet of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, archaeology holds a certain glamour – Neil Jackman has been doing it for almost 18 years.

Archaeologist Neil Jackman – please credit Steven Duffy Source: Steven Duffy

His love of history began in his native Lancashire, where his grandad regaled him with stories of WWII and carted him off to explore old ruins. He too was charmed by the magic of Indiana Jones:

I gradually became more and more interested in life in the past, and my mind was blown when I was six and my grandad brought me to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was utterly terrified, and after the sqawking, panicking and nightmares began to subside, the idea of being an archaeologist started to appeal.

Despite flirting with ideas of being a footballer or a fighter pilot (other noble childhood dream jobs), Neil went on to study Archaeology at the University of Wales. He came to Ireland at the beginning of the boom, where lots of construction meant lots of excavating building sites, and has been here ever since.

Is the job as good as he hoped it would be as a nipper? Short answer: Yes.

The tools of the archaeological trade – please credit Steven Duffy Source: Steven Duffy

“In some ways it’s even better than I thought it would be,” he says. “Although it may sound somewhat corny, sometimes in archaeology you get close to time travel.”

When you pick up an artefact that was last touched by someone thousands of years before you, it’s hard not to think of that person who last held it. What sort of person were they? Were they having a good day, was the weather kind, were they scared or happy?

However he admits that from a practical side, archaeology can be difficult. The average wage is €11-12 an hour, and the union is raising awareness of the need for basic facilities (like running water and toilets) on archaeological sites.

There’s also lots of research involved, meaning lots of time spent in museums and libraries reading up on the latest developments. But the rewards speak for themselves.

In 2007 Neil was head of a team that discovered a “perfectly preserved” mill, established by monks in around 650 AD, on the M6 between Ballinasloe and Athlone.

You could still see the axe marks in the timbers, we found ropes, parts of a leather shoe, a brooch and even a perfectly preserved wooden spade. I believe it is the finest example of its type ever found in Europe and it was just sitting under a thin skim of peat bog in a forgotten corner of a field.

He’s also particularly proud to have been a part of the recent excavation of Dublin’s Hellfire Club, at which was discovered megalithic art similar to that at Newgrange.

Neil Jackman gives a tour of the Hellfire dig to locals – please credit Steven Duffy Neil gives a tour of the Hellfire Club dig to locals. Source: Neil Jackman

In 2008 Neil set up his own company, Abarta Heritage, which provides audio guides for heritage sites around the country. Now that he’s based mostly in an office, he says he misses field work:

The constant scrape of shovel and trowel, always with the hope that you perhaps might discover an artefact or a feature that helps tell a story… The camaraderie and the friendships you can develop in archaeology are absolutely wonderful and one of the chief joys of the job. There’s nothing like digging a three metre-deep ditch while the rain slowly fills your wellies to get to know someone!


Yep. Being an archaeologist still sounds like the coolest job ever.

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Previously: Major megalithic art find at Hellfire Club passage tomb>

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