“You never know what you are going to find" Peak District National Park worker shortlisted for archaeologist of the year

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A trip to Athens as a child sparked a lifelong love of history - now the Peak District National Park’s very own community and conservation archaeologist has been shortlisted for Archaeologist of the Year.

Dr Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted for Community Archaeologist of the Year in the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and Marsh Charitable Trust’s annual awards, something she says was a complete surprise.

“I didn’t know I had been nominated, never mind shortlisted but it is such an honour to be recognised for the work you are doing.”

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For Catherine her love of archaeology goes back to her childhood when her parents had National Trust and English Heritage passes and weekends were spent exploring old houses and ancient ruins.

Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Photo Brian EyreCatherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Photo Brian Eyre
Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Photo Brian Eyre

“In the early 80s I went on an archaeological cruise with school and we visited Malta and Greece.

“I went to Rhodes, Mikinios and Athens and the Acropolis. I was blown away by the history there but think I was too young to truly appreciate it.”

Catherine had not always wanted to be an archaeologist in fact she went to university and studied art.

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She said: “I’m originally from Salford so I didn’t know the reputation St Andrew’s had, I just thought it looked nice!”

Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Holding a roman oil lamp.  Photo Brian EyreCatherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Holding a roman oil lamp.  Photo Brian Eyre
Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Holding a roman oil lamp. Photo Brian Eyre

Catherine switched her course after discovering she preferred the history of art more.

Then still not pursuing a career in archaeology she went to Austria to be an au pair.

After returning to England she volunteered at a museum in Manchester and met her husband Ian while surveying the West Bank.

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She said: “History was the thing that I always found myself drawn to and kept coming back to.”

Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park.  Photo Brian EyreCatherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park.  Photo Brian Eyre
Catherine Parker Heath has been shortlisted as archaeologist of the year for her work in the Peak District National Park. Photo Brian Eyre

She then did a masters in Greek Archaeology at Birmingham followed by her phd while also finding the time to be a mum of three.

This was followed by Catherine’s PGCE so she could be a primary school teacher.

She said: “Archaeology is the study of not just the past but the people who existed before us.

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“It brings in all elements of the curriculum looking at how people made defences, what they ate and how they paid for things.

“You never know what you are going to find.”

Catherine has worked for the Peak District National Park since 2018, first as cultural heritage officer for the South West Peak Landscape Partnership, where she delivered the Barns and Buildings Project and the Small Heritage Adoption Project, training and working alongside volunteers carrying out a range of archaeological fieldwork.

Previously, she established her own business focussing on archaeological learning and outreach working with schools and community groups.

She also worked for a time as an adult education tutor for Birmingham City Council and later Derbyshire County Council, teaching the Archaeology of Britain and the Peak District.

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Her current role is Peak District National Park community and conservation archaeologist.

Catherine said: “I love my work as a community archaeologist.

“Working with communities and volunteers is so interesting, fulfilling and brings me much happiness.

“There is such a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience out there that brings real meaning to the work we do.

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“Involving communities and as wide a variety of people as possible in the care and interpretation of the past is really important, listening to different points of view and trying different approaches.

"The past is vast and no one person can know everything, so the contribution of a breadth of knowledge and experience from people of all backgrounds is vital.

“The past doesn't belong to any one group and it certainly isn't the preserve of the professionals.

“Archaeology is truly for everyone.”

Catherine, who lives in Buxton, is also involved with the Buxton Civic Association and has led tours around Grin Low Woods.

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She said: “Buxton and the Peak District is a hugely important place in the country.

“It is the meeting point of several county boundaries, there is evidence of Roman settlements as well as Saxon and Viking life.

“There is the different geology between the White Peak and the Dark Peak, there is evidence of lime burning in Grin Low Woods, the areas is also rich in coal.

“But also much more recent history still exists like the World War Two pill boxes.

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“Everything we find or preserve is a testament to life in all its forms and everyday is different as you never quite know what you will be working on.”The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and Marsh Charitable Trust’s annual awards, celebrate the passion and dedication of individuals and the outstanding contribution of archaeology projects which create social, cultural and environmental benefits.

The awards recognise people who voluntarily or professionally go above and beyond to make a difference and showcase excellence in archaeology.

Those who work alongside Catherine say she has been nominated because she is passionate about archaeology and enthuses others whilst sharing her knowledge.

Her work with volunteers has been particularly noted for ensuring everyone is included in projects, making sure people understand and are happy with their tasks, making them feel valued and their work appreciated whether it is desk-based or in the field.

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"It was such a surprise to be shortlisted. I had no idea I had even been nominated! What an honour and how humbling.

“I simply could not do what I do without the volunteers by my side.

“It is down to them that all the amazing work we do actually gets done."

The winners will be announced on Tuesday July, 16 as part of the Archaeology and Community Theme Day for this year's Festival of Archaeology.

All winners will receive £1,000.

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