The University of Southampton
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Patrick Dresch MA in Maritime Archaeology, 2008

Marine Geophysicist

Patrick Dresch's Photo

The MA made me aware of many different aspects of maritime archaeology that I had not previously been aware of and helped me focus the questions I needed to ask to learn more.

Patrick completed his MA at the CMA in 2008. Since then, he has worked for one of the foremost cultural resource management firms in the UK as a marine geophysicist. In the following interview, Patrick discusses his time at the CMA and his professional life since.

*Photo courtesy of Wessex Archaeology

What’s your background?
I was born in Oxford in the UK and grew up there for the most part, although I did also live in the USA for a while. I did my BA at Kenyon College in Ohio (USA) majoring in anthropology which included archaeology, and minoring in religious studies.


What made you decide to study archaeology at postgraduate level?
After my BA I worked as a field archaeologist for a few years doing commercial archaeology in the UK. I thoroughly enjoyed the work but realised that my future prospects were rather limited and thought that an MA would help me shape my career within the field. After a drawn out period of wondering what to do I finally decided maritime archaeology was the path I wanted to take.


Why did you choose to study at Southampton?
It all came down to the reputation of the CMA. While working as a field archaeologist I had met a few people who had done the maritime archaeology MA and they all had good things to say about it. I also compared the course descriptions of various departments but choosing Southampton seemed like the best option.


What have you been doing since completing your MA?
I finished my MA in 2008 just as the economy was taking a downturn and lots of archaeologists, particularly field archaeologists, were being made unemployed. Looking back on it I was very lucky to retrain when I did. After handing in my dissertation I found myself unemployed for a while and tried to keep busy by presenting material from my dissertation at conferences. After that my first paid archaeology job after studying maritime archaeology was doing survey work in the middle of the desert in Abu Dhabi. I broke into commercial marine work by getting an English Heritage Professional Placement in Conservation. This was a one year training position based at Wessex Archaeology and focused on survey work and the use of marine geophysics. This placement led on to a job as a marine geophysicist with Wessex Archaeology and I’ve been with them ever since.


How did your time at the CMA prepare you for your career in maritime archaeology?
The MA is a one year course and there is no way you can become an expert in the field in that time frame. What it does do is to make you aware of the depth of the field and the sort of questions people are asking. It is then up to the individual to find what they are interested in and pursue it further. The MA made me aware of many different aspects of maritime archaeology that I had not previously been aware of and helped me focus the questions I needed to ask to learn more.


Tell us more about which parts of maritime archaeology interest you.
All aspects of archaeology interest me to a greater or lesser degree never mind just maritime archaeology. I think it’s important to be aware of different areas of study because it allows you to mix and match, and to a certain degree, to ask more interesting questions. At the moment my work focuses on interpreting marine geophysical data in a commercial setting. This means that I deal with data from all over the country which may inform the archaeological record from any period ranging from the Palaeolithic to the 20th century. My MA dissertation had a much more anthropological focus and looked at the development of Afro-Caribbean maritime culture, something I still study in my spare time.


Do you have a favourite moment of the programme?
There were lots of great excursions and field trips. The Roskilde trip is frequently mentioned as a highlight and rightfully so. I also thoroughly enjoyed taking the opportunity to study conservation at the Mary Rose Trust. One of my favourite moments though was during a field study in Lilstock as part of the geoarchaeology class when I got to climb into a muddy test pit to record a section, something I had been missing from field archaeology.


Do you have any advice for people considering studying archaeology at postgraduate level at Southampton?
My first piece of advice is that when deciding what to focus on do something you enjoy, particularly for your dissertation. Every one in the department has their own research interests and there’s no one right topic to study. Archaeology isn’t something people generally pursue for the money so if you’re not enjoying it you should probably find something else to do.


My second piece of advice is that diving is not the be all and end all of maritime archaeology. If you’re worried about studying the subject and don’t dive there are plenty of other interesting aspects of the field. On the other hand, if you’re completely obsessed with diving, remember to try different things since they may be fun and useful in the future. I enjoy diving but the use of divers in commercial archaeology is very limited and more and more work is focused on survey and marine geophysics. This advice can be expanded to archaeology in general in that you should always be willing to learn new skills.

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