From next week there is a free community excavation starting that will be taking place alongside archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) at the new town of Northstowe.

The community excavations at Northstowe will start on Monday 18th June 2018 at 9am and will run for five weeks until Friday 20th of July 2018. The dig is open to over 18’s only and there is no limit on the number of days you can participate, although the dig will run Monday-Friday only, there is no weekend work available. You will be working alongside professional archaeologists from the CAU as they continue to excavate Phase 2, which has found extensive archaeology mainly of Iron Age and Roman date.

There will also be an open day on Saturday 30th of June for members of the public (including children) to visit, with exhibitions of some of the finds, information, activities for younger visitors and tours of the current areas of excavation. More information on that will follow and you can read about last year’s open day here.

The goings on at last years open day at Northstowe

Some of the finds on display

The schedule for on-site work will be to arrive for 9am and the day will finish at 4pm. There will be a break for half an hour from 10.30am and an additional break for 45 minutes for lunch at 1pm. There is no opportunity to buy food at Northstowe, so please bring enough food/snacks, although there are shops in Longstanton village. Tea/coffee will be provided and there is fresh drinking water also available. It is advised that you should bring your own mug and water bottle.

Directions to arrive at Northstowe, from the the A14, is via School Lane, and from the north through Longstanton village, via the Old Oakington Barracks gate, on Rampton Road, CB24 3EN. You will need to stop and sign in at the security gate, who will have a list each day of who is attending the dig, from there you can follow the signs to the CAU compound, where there is plenty of parking.

There is also a CAU risk assessment that you will be required to read and sign on your first day on site, but there are also some health and safety guidelines below to read before you join the excavations.

2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe

2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe

If you would like to participate in the dig or for further information, please contact Catherine Collins at ACA on either 01223 761519 or via email on Places are limited and as stated above, you can attend the dig for as many days as you like, but please let us know beforehand what days you would like to attend. If you just turn up on the day, security won’t be able to let you in.


Posted by: archaccess | June 8, 2018

Foxearth Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Foxearth, our eighth field school of the year (and our first since losing ACA’s Emily Ryley to the National Trust) kicked off on Wednesday 6th of June 2018 in the wonderful Foxearth Hall Barn which would be our base for the two days on site, and one of our most impressive bases of the season! We were joined by 30 mainly Year 9 and Year 10 students from County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, The Ramsey Academy in Halstead and Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard with supporting staff and volunteers from the Stour Valley Archaeology Group (SVCA)  who formed back in 2013 after working directly with ACA along the Stour Valley, and included Jan Lindsey-Smith, David Orrell, Alan Border, Peter Hart and Jane Crone. Our coordinators for the dig were Corrine and Phillip Cox and our thanks and best wishes go to both of them for their hard work and input both before and during the excavations.

Alison Dickens (Manager of ACA) started the day off with a talk to the students and volunteers about the structure of the next three days of ILAFS, the first two within the village of Foxearth in north Essex, where the students will be excavating 1m2 test pits in back gardens through the village, and the third visiting the University of Cambridge and learning more about Higher Education. By undertaking this type of independent work, ILAFS aims to teach the students a range of skills that will be useful both during their time at school and college as well as in the future. Independent and creative thinking, team work, verbal communication and self-assessment are all part of the programme with this type of learning outside the classroom whilst also boosting the student’s confidence. Alison also talked about the practical side of archaeology and the all-important health and safety aspects of this unfamiliar activity to the schools.

After a quick break, with time for Cat Collins, ACA’s resident archaeologist, to brief the supervisors of each test pit, (they will also access the students over the two days, their attitude, and behaviour and how they work together), and the schools were split into eight groups of either three or four, with two students from each school making up the new team.

Foxearth is a small village nestled to the south of the River Stour, but has a long history and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Focsearde to mean ‘the fox’s earth’ or ‘the fox hole’. This is our second year of digging in the village; in the summer of 2017, a total of eight 1m2 test pits were excavated through the core of the village, with one sited in an outlying farmstead. The results of last years excavations can be found on our website here and last years blog post about the dig here.

The 2018 test pits were sited again mainly through the core of the village, in-between the 2017 test pit sites, with again one out-lying farmstead to the south of the present settlement. The students on arriving on site, set out their 1m2 test pit to begin excavation, digging down in 10cm layers that we call contexts. Each of these layers and the finds are recorded separately and Cat was on hand circulating the test pit sites to help the students and identify the artefacts.

TP 8e

The sun shone brightly for us in Foxearth on the first day and because it has been dry, it was hard digging all around. Each group worked brilliantly together, building on their team work and perseverance skills, to first get through the turf and then excavated the sun baked clay soils that Foxearth was built upon! The finds from the first day were generally from the post medieval and later, although a single small sherd of medieval pot (AD 1066-1399) was found from the upper layers of test pit six at Hunters Lodge.

We were also visited on Day one by the local press and four of the test pits were photographed to appear in both the Bury Free Press and the Suffolk Free Press next week (either the 14th or 15th of June).

Day 2 dawned bright and warm and after signing in again, the teams headed straight back out to their test pit sites to continue with their excavations. Many of the test pit groups found that pouring some water on the ground actually helped with the digging through the clay, with all the groups at least doubling the work they had done the previous day.

We were also joined on the 2nd day by Suffolk Archaeologist John Newman, who was on hand to identify the pottery in particular, but also circulated the test pits identifying other finds and offering advice. The full pottery report will be uploaded onto our website here, hopefully within the next week or so.

A few more sherds of medieval pottery were recorded from multiple test pits on the second day, all found within the centre of the village, one in the same layer as a plastic magnet of the letter J…the joys of test pit archaeology! But it shows just how mixed up the soil can be in a garden, particularly when people have been living there for hundreds of years. Evidence for probable Neolithic and Bronze Age activity was also recorded within the village, as a few sites yielded fire-cracked flint. These would have been utilised in cooking in later prehistory, by heating up the stones in a fire and then dropping them in a pot of water, this would boil the water very quickly, as quickly as a kettle does today!

On the Friday all the students travelled into Cambridge and to the Archaeology Department  to hear a talk on settlement research and how to write up their results from the test pitting, pulling together all they have learnt over the last couple of days. The morning lecture was given by current PhD student at Cambridge, Eoin Parkinson, during which many of the students also gained the first experience of what learning at University is like.

The schools then went to both Downing and St Johns Colleges for a welcome lunch, but were also given the opportunity to see where students at Cambridge eat, sleep, work and socialise, the colleges at Cambridge acting as their family for the duration of their degree. For some students, not only was it their first time visiting Cambridge but also seeing the University parts of the town, rather than just focusing on the shopping!

The afternoon session began in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and was led by Jenny Williams, the idea of the session was to re-iterate what the students had learnt about settlements in the morning and how the artefacts found can relate to the settlements and applying this new knowledge in presenting a new way of displaying this in the form of a poster. As ever there was also time for a look around all the museum after the workshop (including a stop in the all-important gift shop!) We remind the students that all the museums in Cambridge have free entry and are encouraged to return when they have more time.

The final session of the day was a general talk by Dr Matt Wise, Schools Liaison Officer from Selwyn College on applying to University, the range of courses you can study and the variety of options available to you after you finish school. The aim of ILAFS is not to get students to study archaeology at University but to realise their full potential of reaching higher education, if that’s something they want to do.

The feedback from both the students and staff from the three days was all very positive with the majority of students saying they enjoyed both learning how to do something new as well as being able to visit the University of Cambridge. One student said “I have gained more experience of teamwork and leadership, also more insight to the working of the university. Also I learnt more about historical processed and the subject in general” (HD County Upper). Other quotes from students included “I think I have developed a new outlook on school” (PC (Thomas Gainsborough), “I have gained a new experience, new friends and possibly a new idea in my head as a university subject” (DT County Upper) and “I have gained more experience using valuable skills that I can apply in the future” (TES The Ramsey Academy).

The staff all also rated the day as either good or excellent and said in particular that “It was good to see the students interact more readily with different peer groups” (SO County Upper) and “The students gained outside knowledge – not just where they live and meeting/working with new people” (JL Thomas Gainsborough).

We want to thank all the students and staff from Thomas Gainsborough, The Ramsey Academy and County Upper School for persevering through the field school and working so hard. Our thanks also to members of the Stour Valley Community Archaeology Group and in particular both Corrine and Phil Cox for enabling the test pitting in their village.


Our first excavations in the parish of Bunwell in south Norfolk were undertaken over the 23rd-24th of May 2018 with the final day, the 25th, a non-digging day, the students travelled into Cambridge to visit and learn more about university. A total of 40 Year 9 and Year 10 students from Old Buckenham High School, Thetford Academy and the Hobart High School excavated 10 test pits in two separate areas, one around the church and primary school and the other at Great Green.

The test pit locations were found with the help from the Bunwell Heritage Group and its secretary David Neale in particular, who was also on site during the excavations for additional support with Peter Day.

Bunwell itself is a large parish that includes the hamlets of Bunwell Hill, Bunwell Street, Low Common, Great Green and Little Green, just over 7km east of Attleborough and 18.6km southwest of Norwich.  The long linear settlement along Bunwell Street is the largest of all these areas, set in flat open countryside, whereas the hamlets of Bunwell Hill and Low Common, set further to the south, are along the valley of the River Tas. The B1113 runs through the centre of the parish, connecting New Buckingham to Norwich, close to which sits the 15th century church of St Michael and All Angels’. The name Bunwell derives from Old English and was recorded as Bunewell in 1198 that likely means ‘spring or stream where reeds grow’. The settlement was not recorded in the Domesday Book although evidence for Anglo Saxon occupation has already been recorded from the parish. Previous test pit excavations by ACA have been undertaken in the neighbouring parish of Carleton Rode, the results of those excavations can be found here.


Day 1 and the students were full of energy to get started- but so they could focus that energy in the right direction we started with an introduction talk in the village hall by ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins, explaining the details of the ILAFS programme, some history of the settlement and what is expected from the students on the three days they are out of school. After a quick break with time for Emily Ryley (on her last ever ILAFS) to brief all the supervisors, including a couple of 6th formers getting some great leadership experience but also three PhD students from Cambridge University. Then it was time for the students to collect their equipment and head out to site to dig.

The students got down to the task and had the turf off quickly; the students proved to be hard-workers, with all teams excavating at least 3 contexts (30cm) of soil before the end of the day. They learn how to use new tools and techniques (especially the mattock), how to plan and coordinate their work as a team, and thought imaginatively about their finds to understand what they could tell us about Bunwell’s past. Three of the test pits found burnt flint. These are stones that had been used by neolithic people as a way of heating their meals or water, by placing the stones in the fire to heat, then placing them in the water- a technique that boils water faster than a modern kettle! They can be recognised by the ‘crackled’ surface on the rocks. These were found in the upper layers of the test pit, showing there had been some turning over of the soil layers. There had indeed, with some of the test pits having to battle through layers of rubble and refuse from buildings- it’s all still evidence of human activity though! They were rewarded for their efforts, finding some great things. Highlights included a bone die! And even a small section of false human teeth!

On Day 2 of the excavations, we were joined by John Newman, pottery expert who helped identify the finds. There were less of them than last week, but there were still three test pits who found medieval pottery. It’s always exciting to be the one that finds something several hundred years old! The other reason there was less to find was that many of the test pits hit the natural geology by lunch time on day 2, and all excavated to natural by the end of the day- a first for ILAFS! This means we can be confident that were weren’t any older find lurking beneath where the students were digging that we might have missed, which is great. It also meant that those groups who had finished a little early, could help those still finishing off and we were able to get everyone away at a reasonable time.


After two days of digging, the students had a good grasp on what it means to be an archaeologist and had also learnt a lot about working together, recording data and identifying objects. Day 3 is about translating these skills into world of Higher Education and showing how they are central to students now. Day 3 of the field school is designed to show them how students at university transform data into concrete knowledge. First then, the students had a lecture from Emma Brownlee, a PhD student at the university. This takes in all stages of writing a report starting with the background of how the settlement developed. Students will need to find out what we already know about the village and understand the influencing factors that might help reflectively explain the evidence we find. Presenting the data is next, and clarity is important here if the students work is to become part of our own archaeological records.  Transforming this data into an interpretation of the past is tricky for many as it requires imagination while also basing those interpretations on evidence. Taking their conclusions further, can we say how our evidence fits in with wider changes happening in the country at the time?

Lunchtime and the students got treated to a lovely lunch at St Catherine’s College and Downing college. The colleges can be very grand, especially when students are used to comparing the great hall to their school canteen, but we were given a very friendly welcome by the students who later took the students on a tour around the college so they could see the facilities and get a sense of what it was like ot live there. Seeing the bar, common room, library and other spaces allows them to really understand what it might be like ot live away from home one day.

Read More…


We’re off to the seaside! At least, very close by in sunny Suffolk. Blythburgh is one of the ILAFS locations that the ACA team looks forward to visiting most. Not just for the beautiful surroundings but also for the kindness of Blythburgh local history group, the local homeowners giving up their gardens and the dedicated school partners. This week we had a full complement of students from 5 different schools! Joining us were Sir John Leman School, Benjamin Britten Academy, Bungay High School,  /Ormiston Denes Academy, and Pakefield High School. It takes a lot of organising to get students on these digs and we are very grateful to the teachers for pushing their already stretched time to get the students to us.


Blythburgh is a very interesting village, as well as a lovely place to visit. The name Blythburgh means ‘stronghold on the River Blyth’, taken from the name of the river Blyth that meant ‘the gentle or pleasant one’ and the Old English word for burh to mean a defended or fortified settlement. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book as Blideburgh and had its origins during the Middle Anglo Saxon period as an important religious centre and one of the richest churches in the county. A Priory was founded here during the 12th century for the Augustinian Canons. The current church is magnificent, huge in comparison to the size of the village that supports it but beautifully structured, light and airy and with many fascinating details to discover. If anyone has read the Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers, they will recognise the features of the fenland church described in that book in this church also. This combination of river, coat, fertile land and important religious site means that there is archaeology here for our students to discover! Last year we found late Anglo-Saxon and medieval pottery in some of the test pits. This year our test pits are focusing more closely around the priory, as well as in the marshy areas by the river. We hope to find much more evidence from this period, as while the medieval settlement is focused around the church, in earlier times the activity may have been closer to the water’s edge. Results of the excavations from this year and last year can be found here.


After a introductory talk from Alison Dickens, Manager at Access Cambridge Archaeology, they were split into groups mixing students and teachers from different schools. Students have to get used to a lot of new tools and techniques in a short space of time. However, from the talk, watching each other, and just having a go they all quickly got the hang of it and gelled together well as a team. Also if I’m around (Emily Ryley, ACA Learning and Engagement Administrator) I will eagerly show you how to swing a mattock and hack out any troublesome roots for you.  What can I say, its very stress relieving…


And find some archaeology they did! The full pottery report giving the details of what was found will be available in a week or so here. However in a brief summary we had some really exciting finds! Almost all the test pits had medieval pottery  showing that the students had been dedicated in excavating to the lower and older layers. But very excitingly we also had some Anglo-Saxon material coming out of test pits near the river. Near the river a roof and a floor tile were also found which does suggest habitation in this area, not just people using this as an area to work, then living on the higher ground, but also building structures here. Very exciting stuff and the pottery report will hopefully tell us more next week.


Everyone has been interested in what the students have been doing, including BBC Radio Suffolk’s Guy Campbell who came and did a short piece on the dig for their drive time show which you can listen to here. Listen from 1.24.58. There was the open coffee morning held on Thursday morning in the church and organised by the local residents. Attended by some keen locals and surprised drop in visitors to the church the finds were on show to all. A special thanks to the lovely volunteers who provided coffee and cake too! We were also joined on Thursday by John Newman, long time pottery expert at ACA and a friendly helping hand to our students to help them identify their finds and work out what they reveal about the past. Test pit 9 came up with huge amount of medieval pottery, which given they were in a spectacular spot by the river, we can see that activity  must have been more concentrated here in the past.


Pleased with their efforts, it was now time for the students to bring them all together and understand the wider context of what they had found. Finding objects is one thing, but it’s only by understanding them in context can we learn from them. And the more objects, from more places, the more powerful we can make our arguments about the past. All this was delivered in a lecture by Jess Thompson, PhD student at the University of Cambridge. A clear, set out talk on what to write is very valuable as GCSE coursework has now been dropped, this is one of the few opportunities students have to write and gain feedback on a long piece of their own research, prior to A levels. We hope that the skills they learn from completing the report will stay with them, and give them an advantage when working independently. At this age is it easy to see GCSEs- your first big exam – as completely deciding your future but hopefully we can show the students that there is life beyond year 11. Archaeology won’t be for many of them, but hopefully the skills they learnt of motivating others (despite rain and clay soils), planning their work and time and academic skills will give them a great start to their futures.


The students also got to understand other finds an their wider meaning with a visit to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The students produced some great posters detailing who finds from a particular place can tell us about different aspects of the society they are from. Hopefully they will also think about this when examining their own finding in their reports.


The ILAFS programme allows us to show students their potential futures by touring them around the University and experiencing what life as a student is like. The visit to a college for lunch and a tour usually make a big impression on them and this week as no exception. Visiting either Sidney Sussex or Downing college, made a good impression on the students and they were able to see where students lived and enjoyed themselves as well as worked hard. Later in the day they had a talk from the Downing Schools Liaison officer who took them through some of the different routes and pathways you can take at university and beyond. The talk also mentioned what they could be doing now to help their futures. As students often make choices or actions that affect their futures very early on, it’s really important to inform students, even before their GCSEs, where those choices can shape their future.


The day certainly inspired some students and there were many conversations about futures, choices and where they could aim. Several of the students have said that they would now like to apply to Cambridge when the time comes, so aiming high! Many students (and some teachers too) have said that the experience on ILAFs has opened their eyes to opportunities that are available to them, and that’s what ere are here to do; show students a different path and how they can achieve that.


Particular thanks to Sonia Boggis and Alan Mackley of the Blythburgh society and Alison Copeman at Sir John Leman School for their roles in organising this ILAFS. There has been much talks from both the schools and the local residents about how polite the students were and how kind everyone has been to each other- so well done everyone, you have been a credit to your schools! All the local residents and schools have been so kind, welcoming, accommodating (thanks for all the cake and delivered coffee!), and generally amazing, that we are going to make every effort to come back next year and we can’t wait!


I could not end this blog with also mentioned Rafael the Cat. Resident of The Priory in Blythburgh he is a most extraordinary cat, involved with everything going on, and friendly and welcoming to all. He joined us on our walks around the test pits, welcomed visitors to the church and provided endless amusement to the ACA team. So to round off here are just a few of the many, many photos and fun times we had.




Bonus doggies!


One of the great things about the ILAFS programme is working alongside interested local community partners. Our friends at the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group have done some sterling work in researching the origins, growth and changes in their village. Often completing extra test pits alongside ours or finishing off tests pits if our ILAFS student’s don’t quite managed to reach natural in the 2 days they have.  It is a pleasure to be working with them again this year.

TP 2h

We know from previous excavations that there is a wealth of evidence from different periods to be found in both Histon and Impington. Test pit excavations have already revealed Neolithic flints, rare bronze age pottery  and even two roman coins found near Histon Church. As a settlement well connected with other surrounding villages as well as Cambridge as a major centre pottery form other manufacturing centres in the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods have also been found. The finds show how the Histon shifts and moves over the centuries, with evidence of more intensive use of outlying areas over the years. A summary of the findings has been produced in a booklet by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group.

This year getting their first introduction to archaeology was 35 students from Soham, Witchford and Bottisham Village Colleges. With many thanks to Beacon School Coordinator Sarah Pollard, they arrive keen and eager to start, and enjoy 3 days in the sunshine! The full ACA team were there with Cat Collins giving the morning’s instructional talk, Emily Ryley coordinating the students, and ACA’s Director, Alison Dickens offering archaeological advice and encouragement. After receiving a briefing on how any why we dig test pits, the students were split up into groups, mixing students from different schools to get digging on their test pits. The Histon and Impington Archaeology Group had chosen sites in areas that haven’t had previous investigations so it was up to the students to tell us what had happened there! The first day was warm and sunny and all the test pits managed to get their first few contexts out, finding mainly modern materials as expected, although Test pit 4 already had several pieces of Neolithic burnt flints.

Day 2 and a slightly cooler day and understanding the process more meant that the pupils really got down to it. Almost all the test pits produced medieval pottery which is great. We have sent the pottery way to expert Paul Blinkhorn for further analysis to get a more accurate date and clearer idea of what the students have discovered. Test pit 6 at The Dole near to the park came down onto a layer of chalf and a layer of clay. They worked hard to get through it, and wondered if perhaps it may have been remains of a building or other activity? We hope to find out the answers early next week, as all the test pits, part from 4 who hit natural geology are being completed by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group. They continued a test pit last year after the students had left, and found two Roman coins at the bottom! Here’s hoping they find some more interesting objects!


Made simpler, by not having far to travel, the students arrived in Cambridge for Day 3 of the ILAFS programme. This is where the morning was taken up by a lecture looking at the study of settlements and guidance on writing their reports given by Emma Brownlee, a PhD students at the Department of Archaeology who had also been helping supervise a test pit. The students felt they were much more prepared for the demands of university level work after the lecture which guides them through how to write and submit a report covering the aims, methods and results of their test pit excavations. After marking and grading, all students receive a certificate of participation and an assessment of their data collection as well as personal, learning and thinking skills during the two days spent excavating, along with detailed feedback on their written report, if submitted. Writing the report also gives an excellent practice at writing coursework, developing those skills which they will rely on at A-level and university.

At lunchtime the schools were hosted by Jesus, Clare and Downing Colleges. The students really enjoyed their visit to the colleges commenting on the food and the lovely buildings. The group also filled the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the afternoon. They were given an exercise relating to the points on settlement history discussed in the morning, and asked to use the museum’s collections to discover what they could learn about the settlements represented in the collections. This involved thinking about some of the same questions they had used to examine their own finds; where did the pottery come from, what could it tell us about trade links, what was the land used for, was it valuable land? They really enjoyed seeing other artefacts, including some hand-axes found in Histon!

The final session of the day was with Jess Lister the new Schools Liaison Officer at Downing College college who gave the year 9 students a talk on their potential university and later careers. While this might seems a little premature it is very helpful to start introducing these ideas early. Not only does it help focus pupils by giving them an aim, they can also start to build relevant experience and make sensible choices that will open doors for them in later life. “It was very informative and helped me to understand more about archaeology and the process of excavation as well as university life.” IC Bottisham VC. “I liked all the extra information that was given to us to help us choose what to do in the future and learning something I hadn’t done before.” GB Soham VC. “I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment when we came across an interesting find.” NT Soham VC.


A special thanks to David Oates for his hard work organising the test pits and convincing people to let a bunch of teenagers dig up their garden!


Beautiful Cambridge

Another new village for us this week- we certainly are expanding our survey of the Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) across East Anglia. The village of Hilgay is located on the southern banks of the River Wissey in southwest Norfolk, just over 5km as the crow flies south of Downham Market and 12.7km north of Littleport. The modern village sits on a raised island within the fens, and the drainage of the fens has elevated this island even further in more recent times. The name Hilgay derives from the Old English to mean ‘island or dry ground in marsh, of the family or followers of a man called Hythla or Hydla’ during the Anglo Saxon period and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 when the main landowner was recorded as the monks of Ramsey Abbey who built a priory here as a Benedictine Cell, known as Modney Priory.  The church of All Saints is situated very much on its own in the southeast of the village and dates from the 13th century.

James Smith from Springwood High school was once again our dedicated Schools Coordinator and pupils from King Edward VII School joined us as well. It is wonderful to have these ongoing relationships with schools, as pupils encourage each other to join in the trip and can pass down their own experiences to younger pupils. In this case we had 8 dedicated 6th form students who had been on the dig before themselves coming to help the younger students and guide them on their work. It’s a good opportunity for them to get some leadership experience and show just how responsible they are. Day 1 dawned bright and sunny and the excited students arrived to start the field school and we used the Village Hall in Hilgay as our base. After a talk from Catherine Collins, Archaeological Supervisor, they were sent out with their 6th form supervisor to get digging! A little confused to start but they soon got the hang of it and over the two days we were really impressed at the progress they showed.

Test pits were located in a field next to Hilgay church, the allotments nearby, Scott’s terrace, Church Road and Hubbard’s Drove, giving us a nice spread across the village. The pits were found by local resident and amateur archaeologist Bill Howard, who was also on hand through the duration of the dig with additional help and support. The students were soon finding things, mostly Victorian pottery to start and the test pits certainly found a lot of it. Always exciting to find something you recognise. Test pit 9 also found a lost dog who had escaped from its home and helped return him to his proper owner. Always nice to have a friendly and fuzzy extra test pit member but back to the archaeology! Very excitingly test pit 7 found some Iron age pottery at the end of Day 1. It’s rare to find and as the field where it was found is near the church suggests that this has been the centre of the village for a long time, where as now it has shifted slightly north. Test pit 2 on Hubbard’s drove even had a possible sherd of Roman pottery and others produced medieval so a great range of finds! It was great to have pottery expert Andrew Rodgerson on site with us to identify their finds. You can read more about the findings here once the pottery report ha been completed.

Day 2 and the forecast was very different. Those excavating in the fields had to battle the wind as well as the rain but luckily for them they hit natural, meaning there was no more archaeology to find, by 11am and spent the rest of their time helping other groups. All the groups battled bravely through the rain, although some certainly lost the battle to the mud!


Warm and dry in Cambridge on Day 3, the students got up to a lot of fun! First was a lecture, not the normal style of teaching for these students but a taste of uni life. The talk also taught them much about how we interpret archaeological finds, how they fit together and how you can present the information clearly. The students will now go away and write a report on their finds and we look forward to reading them! After patiently paying attention it was time for lunch and many thanks to Corpus Christi and Christ’s colleges for giving the students some lunch and giving them a tour around the college. After lunch the students got to explore some more archaeology with a session in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where they explored objects, and what they can tell us.

While the younger students were at their session in the museum, Mark King, Admission Officer at Christ’s college took the year 12 students for a session designed for them. Together they looked at personal statements, working through examples and pointing out areas which are of interest to universities. Personal Statements are a key part of the admissions process but for many it is the first time they have had to ‘sell themselves’ and their skills. Pointers on what to highlight are therefore useful, not only for UCAS applications but also in job applications.


Then it was the turn of the year 9 students who were surprised at the choices and opportunities they could have and where they could take them. Mark put into perspective for them the journey from where they are now, to where they might like to be and how their GCSE choices, and showing their  potential would be important to their futures. Students certainly felt the trip has shown them now opportunities. “I feel like my eye have been opened to a lot more new things and possibilities. It made me more motivated to do more” JA King Edward VI Academy. “Opening another career path I am going to consider” ER Springwood High School. “I want to go to Cambridge.” VT King Edward VI Academy.


We hope the student felt they have gained from this trip and that they can continue to build on what this experience. We are always here to answer any other questions they have over the coming years.

“I enjoyed contributing in a team and meeting my team that I otherwise would not be with. I enjoyed experiencing and learning about university that I couldn’t from school.” NA King Edward VI Academy

TP 9e

Well done everyone!


Posted by: archaccess | April 30, 2018

Althorne Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2018


Playing in the sun before the work begins

Aaaaaand we’re back! After a break in our calendar and the Easter Holidays Access Cambridge Archaeology is back for our next run of ILAFS, starting with a new site- Althorne! In previous years we have been in Southminster. It will be interesting to compare the two villages now we are moving slightly west in this area of Essex, shaped by the river and seas that surround it. Althorne is a small village, 22km southeast of Chelmsford and 4.5km northwest of Burnham-on-Crouch overlooking the River Crouch to the south. It is on a peninsula of land in southeast Essex known as the Dengie Hundred. Althorne was not recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, although some of the parish was potentially included in the record for Southminster. The name Althorne derives from Old English and was recorded as Aledhorn to mean ‘(place at) the burnt thorn-tree’ and in 1198.

Joining us on this trip was William De Ferrers School and the Plume School. A bit thank you to David Stamp and Jean Ingram for organising the pupil’s involvement, and to David Ingram for finding the sites for them to excavate. At this time when schools and budgets are facing increasing pressure, we really appreciate the local contacts that make these kinds of opportunities possible. 26 pupils arrive on a sunny day in Althorne, ready to start and explore this new opportunity. We aim to give pupils the skills, inspiration and experience that will lead them on to higher education, as well as producing valuable research. It’s a lot to achieve, but all taken in manageable steps. The first is to set out the steps for excavation, and understand what the process is. Luckily, the spring has finally arrived so after a talk from Cat Collins giving instructions of what they will be doing for the next two days, the    students stepped out into the sunshine and scudding clouds ready to become archaeologists.

As this is our first year in Althorne, we really weren’t sure what we would find but had test pits scattered in the village in the playing field, Lower Chase and Fambridge Road. It’s an interesting location to excavate as the area is a high ridge surrounded by water ways and therefor perfect as a place to live, defend and trade. The heavy clay soils might have proved less appealing to ancient farmers but the sunny hillsides are now home to vineyards. Early finds were modern as you might expect, but as the students dug deeper, they noticed a change. Some test pits had very clay soils to start, then a distinctive band with flecks of chalk in the clay before returning to pure clay again. This might be where chalk had been ploughed into the fields to modify the soil ph. Above were mostly modern finds, but within and below this chalk-flecked layer were some interesting finds! Almost all the test pits found medieval pottery, and two even found Roman! It’s really exciting as we don’t know about the Roman settlement of Althorne, so the pupils really have discovered new knowledge to add to the history of this area.


John Newman our pottery expert had been helping with the identification of the finds which also included many burnt flints. These are lumps of flint that have been heated in a fire by stone age people. As they are heated the surface acquires a distinctive crackled look. The heated stones would have been used to heat pots of food and show that Neolithic people were already living in this landscape.

Windswept and a little tired, the students were very pleased with their efforts. Archaeology is hard work, and we recognise the effort the students put in by giving them a grade for the practical excavation. While they didn’t enjoy the heavy clay soil, working through it shows great determination and reflects well on them. One student highlighted inthir feedback how they felt they had learnt “skills that I wouldn’t learn from other things” (JH Plume School) and teacher on the trip said “The whole experience gives them valuable life skills and teaches them to work with the community.” JI Plume academy.

The year 9 pupils from both schools showed an amazing level of commitment and detail throughout the dig and continued to do so on Day 3 of the trip to Cambridge. Jess Thompson PhD student at the archaeology department at Cambridge gave the morning’s lecture giving details on how to write a report in an academic fashion, synthesising archaeological and historical information to come to clear conclusions. Writing the report will prepare students for those bigs steps they will have to take in the level of work they need to do in later years. By becoming comfortable as with the work now, they are at a great advantage.

Often students are a little confused by the word ‘college’ at Cambridge as they imagine something closer to a 6th form college. However visiting the colleges gives a great insight into how students really live, work and play. In this way hopefully ILAFS attendees can imagine themselves as students one day too. The pupils visited either Christ’s or Pembroke College which allowed them to explore both sides of the university- the academic, and the living communities that colleges provide. A talk from Girton Schools Liaison Officer, helped by giving them some more facts and figures of courses, choices and where university might lead them in the future.

Many students said how the trip had boosted their confidence and self-esteem as well as giving them wider experiences. “I loved working together as a team and also the lecture about university life. I realised there are a lot of opportunities open to you.” AH William de Ferrers. “I feel I have gained a sense of self-confidence” LC Plume school. “I have a wider understanding of life of a uni student.” MB William de Ferrers.


Thank you again to all our schools and local community contacts. The dig was also featured in the local paper, where you can see some more pictures of the students hard at work here. It has been great to continue this work with you and look out for next week’s dig in Hilgay, Norfolk!


Boris the archaeology tortoise at Test Pit 6. A slow digger but valued team member.



Our second dig of the year and are in Rickinghall and Botesdale. Originally separate with Rickinghall being first recorded in the Doomesday book, and Botesdale appearing in 12th century records, the two villages have since grown together over the years. This is our second year excavating here after a successful dig last year, which you can read about here. Once again the local history group supported us in our dig, and we also had the support of two volunteers from Cambridge.

32 pupils from King Edward VI school and St Benedict’s school joined us and arrived eager to start the day. An introductory talk explained to the students how they should go about excavating, but also very importantly, the concepts and ideas that determine why we do archaeology and influence how we interpret what we discover. We know something of the village from historical records, but how will the student’s discoveries in the village change our understanding? The great thing about doing test pits is that we can really get inside the heart of the village to answer these questions.


Test pits were nicely spaced out along the length of the village, giving us a good spread to see how different areas of the village have changed. In some places we were very close to where we had excavated last year and it would be interesting to see the difference. With directions from a supervisor, the students set out laden with their equipment to begin digging! The first context always takes the most time but the students had clearly been listening in the morning talk as they laid out the test pit clearly and recorded it accurately. Test pit 1 had a slightly more difficult time, being the furthest away from the base and they also encountering many roots as they excavated. However we were interested to see what we would find in this area as the test pit was opposite the toll house at one end of the village. Further down the street and test pit 2 were bringing up a lot of material, mainly recognisably Victorian and later but it’s always exciting to find objects that you can recognise yourself! At the other end of the village, nearby the co-op Test Pit 8 were excavating in a property which records have shown dates back to around the 15th Century. After their first couple of contexts, the group came down upon a cobbled flint floor- a great feature to find! After recording the floor layer, they continued through it, to understand the date it was laid down. Judging from the pottery it was probably 19th or 18th Century, and there appeared to be a sandy layer beneath. Either another floor or the base of this one. The students had made some great progress on Day 1, buoyed on by the warm spring weather, and went home satisfied with their efforts.

Day 2 and the expert eye of John Newman cast his eye over the pottery finds from the test pits. Confirming that we found our first find of medieval pottery! It’s always exciting for the pupils to find anything from the past themselves, and having an expert like John can help them connect the objects they find with real people and real lives from the past. This is the first taste of archaeology many of the students have had, and certainly the first time they have had a chance to discover artefacts for themselves. It has a big impression and we will look forward to hearing their thoughts and interpretations when they submit with written work. Test pit 4 actually found a huge amount of medieval pottery, which is currently being analysed by Paul Blinkhorn before the report is put up on our website here. Test pit 4 worked very well together and managed to excavate a whole meter down! The upper levels were full of interesting things- like these brass fire tongs, a 1950’s Airfix model and green bottles. A large amount of 13th and 14th Century pottery was found too, some of the earliest we had from the village.  Although we know the records of this village go back further, it is interesting to see what the limits are of the physical evidence. To leave something for future archaeologists to find, Test Pit 4 buried a time capsule of their own at the bottom of their test pit! It included notes from the pupils, a recent coin, some information about ACA and even a BBC microbit! Hopefully something from this collection will survive for future archaeologists to discover and understand why this meter square of land has been disturbed.

After two days of digging, the students had a good grasp on what it means to be an archaeologist and had also learnt a lot about working together, recording data and identifying objects. Day 3 is about translating these skills into world of Higher Education and showing how they are central to students now. Day 3 of the field school is designed to show them how students at university transform data into concrete knowledge. First then, the students had a lecture from Emma Brownlee, a PhD student at the university. This takes in all stages of writing a report starting with the background of how the settlement developed. Students will need to find out what we already know about the village and understand the influencing factors that might help reflectively explain the evidence we find. Presenting the data is next, and clarity is important here if the students work is to become part of our own archaeological records.  Transforming this data into an interpretation of the past is tricky for many as it requires imagination while also basing those interpretations on evidence. Taking their conclusions further, can we say how our evidence fits in with wider changes happening in the country at the time?

Students work is all part of the wider archaeological record, and a trip to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology enforces this. The students enjoyed the session and were able to explore other objects and what they could tell us about settlements. Seeing the wider collections in the anthropology gallery showed them just how broad studies can be, and all the different places in the world Higher Education could take them.  The students really enjoyed being able to investigate the museum but also have a wonder around at their own pace. “I enjoyed finding out more about the local area and it was really good finding things. It was also interesting going to the University of Cambridge and going to the museum.” DS St Benedict’s High School

The other side to the day is the experience of university in general. The skills we teach the students can be applied to many different subjects and coming to Cambridge show them all the different subject they could study and ways in which they can learn. Touring either Queens or Emmanuel college showed them how students manage their own work and think for themselves, just as they have been doing for the past two days on the dig. A talk from Robinson SLO Eleanor Humphreys also gave the students about how they can take the next steps to realise their own dreams. The pupils themselves were questioning why they needed to know about university, when they hadn’t even chosen their GCSE options yet. We believe this a is a critical time for pupils however, to enthuse them about their future so that they set themselves on the right path to achieve later. It certainly had that impact on some of the pupils. “I feel like I have been guided about my education and inspired to work hard.” AE St Benedict’s High School. “I feel I have gained a lot of knowledge from the field school. I have tried something new which I really enjoyed and have had reassurance about university and its aspects.” NF King Edward VI School

TP 1h

“I feel the Field School has improved my communication and leadership skills, as well as making me consider my future education life. I have gained a lot of knowledge and a love for the subject of history.” FR King Edward VI School. “I think I have learnt how we can interpret finds to gain knowledge about the past and I understand how universities operate much more than I did before.” NP King Edwards VI School.

Hooray Hooray it’s ILAFS time again! Yes, after a long long winter, Access Cambridge Archaeology is set to be running our field schools once again. This year we are starting off at Brundall where we have excavated for the past 3 years. Once again we owe massive thanks to Nigel Roberts for helping organise the participating pupils, and Jacky Heath and Ann-Marie Simpson of the Brundall Local History Group who organised the test pits. 12 students from Framingham Earl High School and 4 from Holt Youth Project gathered in St Laurence Church to hear what they would be doing for the next three days, and gain their instructions for how to be archaeologists!



The ACA team, Alison Dickens, Cat Collins and Emily Ryley were keen and eager to start the pupils off on their excavations and make it a good start to the year. Cat Collins gave the introductory talk, and Emily Ryley instructed the supervisors on their duties, although all had helped before so knew what they were doing! We are always grateful to the volunteers who support us in our efforts to show young people what archaeology is, and give them practical skills and experience they can use in the future. Then it was time to get digging- 6 test pits were located in Blossom Hill, Springdale Crescent, Cucumber lane, Greenacre Close and Saint Laurence Avenue. The first context always takes a little more time as the students find their feet (or rather hands) as they use unfamiliar tools and need to organise themselves practically. But they soon got going and were finding their first archaeological artefacts. The landscape in Brundall seems to have been quite turned over as even on the first day the students were finding Neolithic burnt flints and even a lovely scraper core. Returning to the Brundall Memorial Hall which would be our base for the rest of the dig, the pupils left tired, but looking forward to the next day.


On day 2 Cat and Emily continued to motivate the test pits encouraging the participants to start thinking now about the wider questions they will answer through this excavation. Being reflective on the evidence as it is uncovered is an important archaeological skill, as it helps us to guide the excavation process and spot those patterns which might otherwise be missed. We were also joined by John Newman, a pottery expert who toured the test pits shedding new understanding on the evidence so far discovered. Pottery was rather thin on the ground to examine but all the test pits produced some 18th to 19th century pottery and Test Pit even had a medieval sherd. We have been excavating in Brundall for 4 years now so in our future write up of the settlement, we will be able to compare the test pit data from across the village and really pin down where the heart of it was and the rate of expansion.


The Eastern Daily Press Newspaper also visited the dig on Thursday morning and their write up of the student’s find and experiences can be found here. The rain set in soon after lunch on Thursday but as all the test pits had nit the natural geology by then, they were able to pack up early having completed the aim of their excavation. At least the snow held off until weekend!

Brining together all they had learnt from the practical excavation, the pupils from Framingham Earl High School came to Cambridge on the last day of the field school with several aims in mind. Firstly, to inspire the pupils to show them what they could achieve through higher education. Meeting students and staff, they could envision themselves there in the years to come. Second, they were there to be shown how to write up the important archaeological results they had found. The morning’s lecture, given by Emma Brownlee which outlines how use the data gathered to understand patterns of settlement development, as well as how to present this in a project. The written project is a lot of work for the pupils, but it is highly valuable as practice for marked coursework and university-style work. With the dropping of GCSE coursework students now have less experience of this.

After all this hard work, it was time to see the lighter side of Cambridge and have lunch! Emmanuel college were our very kind hosts and served an excellent lunch. Students particularly enjoyed seeing the beautiful building, and two students even tested out the acoustics in the chapel and gave an impromptu recital! The sun shone warmly and the students thoroughly enjoyed their time there, making many Harry Pottery analogies to help understand the structure of the University and its colleges. Back to the archaeology department but this time to explore the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. We are always seeking to improve and expand our offerings and the museum activity has taken on a different focus than last year. This time the students are focusing on how objects in the Museum’s collection can illustrate different aspects of a settlement’s history. Looking carefully at different objects and drawing them they collected their ideas together onto a poster for others to look at.

To cement the pupil’s impressions of Higher Education and give them some concrete information on how to turn their experience over the past three days into a potential future, the last part of the day was devoted to a talk from the Schools Liaison Officer at Robinson College. Eleanor Humphrey spoke to the pupils about how they could take the skills they have learnt over the past three days, and apply them to any area. Particularly inspiring was seeing the pupils realise the broad range of options open to them and what choices they could meet now to help themselves in the future.


The students had to rush to catch the train back at the end of the day but they certainly enjoyed their time with us. They were enthusiastic and curious to a tee and a real credit Framingham Earl High School. It’s been an encouraging start to the year and we hope to have many more great stories to bring you about students getting involved with archaeology.


Posted by: archaccess | February 12, 2018

ACA’s Thank-You Day 2018

Title slide

On Saturday 10th February, Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) held their 12th annual Thank-You day event within the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research on the Downing Site at the University of Cambridge. This event that has been happening since 2007 is a way for ACA to thank all the local coordinators, past and present, for all their effort with each village we test pit in and to celebrate all that was achieved during the 2017 archaeological season.


Setting up ready to welcome everyone

A lot of hard work goes into organising each ILAFS dig; our local coordinators find sites to dig the test pits on, help recruit volunteers, work on logistics of each day of digging with us and are often there during both days of the dig as essential extra pairs of hands! Their enthusiasm and dedication has been essential to the ongoing success of ACA over the last 13 years, contributing both to the ongoing research into these settlements but as well as the numerous secondary school students who attend each ILAFS with the aim of raising their aspirations towards Higher Education.

The day started with ACA’s manager, Alison Dickens, talking through each of the 13 villages that ACA excavated in during the 2017 field season, which included both new sites for this year and villages that we have excavated in before. These were: Brundall (Norfolk, Hillington (Norfolk), Histon (Cambridgeshire), Blythburgh (Suffolk), Rickinghall & Botesdale (Suffolk), Southminster (Essex), Old Clee (Lincolnshire), Hadleigh (Essex), North Warnborough (Hampshire), East and West Rudham (Norfolk), Healing (Lincolnshire), Wendens Ambo (Essex), Foxearth (Essex) and Riseley (Bedfordshire). Alison was also able to talk about the results from each settlement, briefly describing how the pottery results can give us clues about how the village developed and changed over time.

In 2017, ACA excavated a total of 128 1m square test pits with over 480 local secondary school pupils from across East Anglia as well as in north Lincolnshire and Hampshire. Added to this are the additional 20 test pits excavated by community groups in 2017, which in total brings a grand figure of 2,368 test pits that have been excavated by or the results collated by ACA since 2005. A very impressive figure indeed!!

After a delicious buffet lunch, which gave a chance for all the local coordinators to mingle and talk with the ACA staff, the afternoon session started with the further activities that were undertaken in 2017 by ACA. These included the Northstowe Open Day that was run with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), and the associated community test pitting in Longstanton, relating to the ongoing work at Northstowe. Trial excavations were undertaken by ACA in the garden of the David Parr house in Cambridge in advance of a possible future dig and ACA attended both the Cherry Hinton Festival in September and The Cambridge Antiquarian Society autumn conference.

Emily Ryley then delivered further statistics on ACA to include numbers from its inception in 2005.  Some of the key figures are the sheer number of community groups we have worked with, over 70, mainly across the east of England but some are further afield. With these community groups ACA have enabled a total of 759 test pits to be excavated by members of the pubic, as well as taking part in at least 11 trench excavations, six fieldwalking events and one geophysics training exercise.

Community Groups

Emily also went on to talk about the Cambridge Archaeology Learning Foundation (CALF) days that ACA run in primary schools, bringing the subject of archaeology and the concept of the past to a much younger age group, compared to the ILAFS programme. If you would like to find out more about CALF days please click here.


The day finished looking at what is in store for ACA during 2018, including the 12 sites that will be excavated as part of the ILAFS programme and also includes a number of new settlements, such as Althorne (Essex), Hilgay (Norfolk), Bunwell (Norfolk), Thundersley (Essex), Great Gidding (Cambridgeshire) and Fulmodeston (Norfolk).

2018 Sites

We are, as ever, immensely grateful to everyone who has worked with ACA, not just in 2017 but in all the previous years as we continue to give hundreds of secondary school students the chance to help realise their full potential in regard to Higher Education and the University of Cambridge. Please continue to follow this blog and ACA on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for both what work we are currently undertaking as well as future plans as they emerge.

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