All you need is a reasonable level of fitness; a keen interest in history, and a willingness to learn new skills.
One site that uses volunteers is Mont Castel in Port-en-Bessin (Calvados), perched on cliff-tops overlooking the English Channel.
Here archaeologists and volunteers have unearthed weaponry, including arrowheads thought to date back to the War of the Gauls led by Julius Caesar against the tribes of ancient Gaul between 58 and 50BC.
A dig is organised at Mont Castel every year and volunteers will this year be on-site throughout September.
The Mont Castel finds are important as dig leader Cyril Marcigny said: “Finding Roman artefacts in northern France is quite rare.”
Volunteers stay in gîtes and work Monday to Friday. “And we work hard during that time!” Mr Marcigny said. “The site at Mont Castel was fortified. It was probably a port.”
While many volunteers are archaeology students, others come from all walks of life. Olivier Moran who is close to retirement said: “I began volunteering on digs to learn more about the history of my region. But it’s such fun that I wanted to keep doing it.”
Each dig has its own rules about who can sign up and how to do it. And some have very specific needs.
One, ‘dig’ for example, is underwater. The year-long underwater ‘excavation’ at Chalon-sur-Saône in Gergy, Saône, runs until December 31 – but volunteers must have an FFESSM plongeur niveau 2 (P2) qualification to help the search for artefacts from multiple periods of history.
Anyone who wants to join a dig should first log on to the archaeology section of the Openagenda website – www.goo.gl/fkP89e – and search a list of upcoming digs around France.
Volunteers can create a personal diary into which they can place any digs that interest them.
It is possible to search for digs by date, historical period, or geographical area.
Once included in a personal diary, information about the dig, including contact details, are revealed.
Volunteers apply by submitting a lettre de motivation by email. Most, but not all, require volunteers to be over 18 but there is no upper limit.
Volunteers sometimes have to produce a medical certificate from their GP. Many require a tetanus or DPT (diphtheria, polio and tetanus) vaccination, assurance responsabilité civile, and a refundable deposit.
Digs can last from a few days to more than a month, and longer excavations often ask volunteers to commit to at least three weeks on site.
Robot takes underwater digs to new depths
A robot could be the future of maritime archaeology.
The OceanOne robot was put to the test for the first time off the coast of Toulon earlier this year, as it studied the wreck of La Lune, the flagship of King Louis XIV’s fleet, that sank 20 miles out to sea in 1664.
No artefact had been collected from the wreck, which lies 100m below the surface of the Mediterranean, until Stanford University Professor Oussama Khatib guided OceanOne from the safety and comfort of a computer on a surface ship to collect a delicate vase from the vessel in April this year.
The robot – likened to a robo-mermaid – has been designed with a human-like head and hands, so that human divers and operators on support vessels can interact with it easily.
The technology in OceanOne’s hands allow a human operator on a control vessel to ‘feel’ any object that the robot is picking up, while the robot can adjust its own grip, so it can hold even the most delicate items safely.
Prof Khatib said he hoped it could in future perform skilled underwater tasks in places that are too dangerous or deep for human divers.
Volunteers sought for digs this month
September 7-October 4
The chateau at Loches, Indre-et-Loire, is part of a site dating from the Middle Ages and digs have taken place here for three years. Volunteers to work on this site should be at least 18, have their own safety footwear and up-to-date tetanus vaccination.
Students have priority.
September 5-October 1
La Ferrassie, in Dordogne, is a large cave dating to the Paleolithic era. Volunteers must be at least 18, with an up-to-date DPT vaccination, and must volunteer for the whole dig. They will be housed in caravans.
September 12-October 1
In the Vallon des Glauges, near Eyguières, Bouches-du-Rhône, archaeologists will search for the remains of a 14th-century workshop producing an oil valued for its antibacterial, antiseptic and fungicidal properties. Volunteers need to be 18, motivated and fit. Accommodation will be in a gîte.