Posted by: archaccess | May 24, 2017

David Parr House: a hidden gem

Although we are not running an ILAFS this week, you can’t keep us in the office when the weather is this nice! We have been digging a couple test excavations in the garden of an amazingly preserved and beautifully decorated 19th century house which has been fascinating to see.

Between 1886-1927, David Parr, artistic painter for the Cambridge based decorating firm F R Leach & Sons lived at 186 Gwydir Street, just off Mill Road in Cambridge. It is safe to say he often took his work home with him. Transforming his ordinary late Victorian terrace into a monument dedicated to the influences of the Arts and Crafts movements with influences from William Morris and others. After his death the house was lived in by his granddaughter Elsie Palmer and her family who did little to alter the fantastic decorations. Thus, this amazing body of work has been preserved and continues to be looked after by the David Parr House CIO charity. 

A recent grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled them to begin conserving and renovating the house, in order to make it in some way accessible to the public. As part of this the David Parr House CIO are looking to do some archaeological work in the garden of the house, before that area is also restored. With such amazing records and preservation of the house, this is a perfect opportunity to carry out archaeology of in a very tightly dated period of use and of a time not often studied; the 19th century.

Prior to a larger archaeological excavation involving the local community, Alison, Cat and Emily dug two 50 cm x 50m test pits in the garden to ascertain how deep the archaeology goes and therefore what scale of excavation would be possible. Finds from these evaluation trenches revealed a few bones, brick and china as well as some tile which looks very similar to that used in the house. A good promise that we will be able to get an archaeological insight into the everyday life of those in the house. This project will hopefully be a great chance to get many more people involved with the investigation and restoration of the house. We’ll spend some time now planning our next steps, and hope to bring you more news about this project in future months.

For more about the David Parr House, please see their website, Facebook or Twitter pages.

Posted by: archaccess | May 22, 2017

Peterborough Cathedral Excavation Report now online!

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) led the 2016 community excavations within the Peterborough Cathedral precinct, where 8 trenches were excavated by a over 150 volunteers over a 12 day period. The dig culminated with the Peterborough Heritage Festival weekend that celebrated both the heritage and history of the city of Peterborough and the Cathedral. Each day over the Heritage Festival weekend, we also had just over 400 visitors through the gate to see the archaeology.

The community excavations were part of the Cathedral’s ‘Peterborough 900: Letting it speak for itself’ project which had been awarded money from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of these 900th anniversary celebrations of the cathedral in 2018. This will also include the construction of a new Heritage Centre at the cathedral which will enable a larger number of visitors and school groups to engage directly with the public.

The final write up of the excavations results can be found on our website along with a summary of the dig. ACA would like to thank all the volunteers again for all your hard work last summer and to the staff at Peterborough Cathedral for allowing us to dig!

Posted by: archaccess | May 22, 2017

The ACA 2017 ILAFS season so far….

ACA are half way through the 2017 Independent Learning Archaeology Field School season (ILAFS) which started back in March. Our first dig was in Brundall (Norfolk), which was out third year of digging there and 35 school students were able to excavate 9 test pits, bringing the total so far dug in the village to 41. For this year’s dig check out the ACA blog post on the excavation. The test pits were mainly sited in the east of the village and with a lot of help from the Brundall Local History Group, we have started to track the development of the village that probably began in the Bronze Age with a cluster of activity noted on the higher ground overlooking the River Yare. The results of all the Brundall digs can be found on our website here.

Our second dig of the season was also in Norfolk, this time much further west in the village of Hillington. It was also out third year of excavations in the village where 29 pupils excavated a further 8 test pits that brings the total so far dug in the settlement to 26. Check out this year’s blog post for more information. Prehistoric and Roman settlement were both identified with also the first evidence for Early Anglo Saxon occupation for the village. This village continued to develop through the Anglo Saxon period as a settlement with at least two separate focal points of occupation, a concept that continued through the medieval period as well. Our thanks go to members of the Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Archaeological Society who have helped the dig grow; the results from each year can be seen on our website here.

Our third dig in March was a new site for ACA (as well as being nice and close) was in the village of Histon, just north of Cambridge. The Histon and Impington History Society had already excavated an impressive 26 test pits in 2016 through both settlements, so with the help of 49 school pupils, an additional 13 test pits were able to be excavated in Histon, with a focus around the current church of St Andrew’s and the remains of the second church in the village, St Ethelreda’s. The results from both years’ excavations can be found on our website, but the student excavations this year have added to what has been found with additional sites yielding Romano-British pottery plus a number also expanded the previously extent of Anglo Saxon activity, including around both churches before the settlement seemed to shift further east from the late Saxon period onwards. The blog from this years excavation can be found here.


After a break for the Easter Holidays we were back out test pitting at the end of April in the charming village of Blythburgh, close to the Suffolk coast. This was our first time excavating in the village (having dug for the previous four years in neighbouring Walberswick) and with the help of members of the Blythburgh Society and local residents we were able to dig a total of 13 test pits across the village with 47 local school students. The earliest evidence for activity was noted to be from the Middle Anglo Saxon period (8th century) that was also along the original main road through the village that continued to grow and expand through the Late Saxon and medieval periods. Initial results from the excavation also suggest that the settlement was not hit too badly by the various social and economic upheavals of the 14th century (including the Black Death). The results can be seen on our website here.

At the beginning of May, we embarked on another new site, this time in north Suffolk in the now one long settlement of Rickinghall and Botesdale. With the help of 24 local school students we excavated a total of 6 test pits in the northern half of the settlement, the sites were kindly found by members of the Quatrefoil Local History Society. The test pits yielded evidence for Late Iron Age activity on the high ground in the far north of Botesdale with then no finds dating to after the Norman Conquest. Rickinghall only was recorded in the Domesday Book on 1086, so it seems that the settlement spread north from there during the medieval period onwards. A record of the excavation can be found here, and our initial results from the first dig can be seen on our website here.

Well into the routine of digging this year, the next dig was in south Essex in the now small town of Southminster for our third year of excavations there. This year a total of 38 local school pupils excavated 10 test pits bringing the total so far excavated there to 32. For more information about this year’s dig click here. The first evidence for Iron Age activity was noted in the 2017 excavations around the edge of the King George V playing field that also yielded evidence for Roman activity. Despite the fact that Southminster was recorded in the Domesday Book, no Anglo Saxon pottery has yet been found through the test pitting, the rest of the finds date from the medieval period onwards, with a specific cluster of activity noted around the church, with evidence for a probable medieval structure noted in test pit 3, immediately south of the church. The rest of the results can be found here.

Last week we dug in another new site for ACA, at Old Clee, now a part of Grimsby in north east Lincolnshire. Despite a soaking wet first day, 29 Year 10 pupils were able to excavate 8 test pits around the 11th century church in Old Clee, an account of the excavation can be seen here. The name Clee comes from the Old English word for clay o there was some hard digging but hopefully some great results when the pottery report comes through. Results will be here when they are available here. The students had a long journey down to Cambridge, with many of them also visiting the city for the first time, seeing the Department, getting a tour and lunch at one of the colleges and learning more about what it is like to study at University.

The Cambridgeshire ILAFS for this week has been postponed until the autumn and with half term we have a couple of weeks to catch up around the office and get ready for the second half of the field school season that will start on the 7th June in Hadleigh down in Essex. Stay tuned to see what we find!


It’s another new site for us this week as we’re running the first of two Independent Learning Archaeology Field Schools happening in Lincolnshire this year. Old Clee was once a small village, based around the 11th century saxo-norman Church, which has now been absorbed into the growth of Grimsby. Pupils from Ormiston Maritime Academy, Caistor Yarborough Academy and Oasis Wintringham Academy however were primed to uncover the history and development of Old Clee from beneath the veneer of recent development, and give us a clearer insight into the origins of the settlement.

Alison Dickens, manager of Access Cambridge Archaeology welcomed the year 10 students from 3 local academies, explaining how the next three days would work practically, and also what the pupil’s could hope to achieve. The ILAFS programme is designed to inspire pupils on to higher education, by giving them the skills to take control of their own learning, giving them an experience of learning outside the classroom and boosting their confidence by seeing themselves achieve at a task completely new to them. The Day 1 talk sets them up for this, by explaining not only the practical skills of excavations, but also the key ideas to start interpreting the archaeology they discover. When a student find their first piece of pottery, or fragment of metalwork, we try to get them to think about what it could mean more widely. Where was the object made? What can it tell us about trade, status, access routes, in the past? Was this an agricultural, or manufacturing area? How has the natural landscape influenced the activities in the area? Keen to start answering these questions 29 pupils, divided into teams of 3 or 4, set out to excavate 8 test pits located on Church lane, St Mary’s Close and Greetham’s Lane.

The clay soils of Grimsby proved to be no match for the strength of the students from Ormiston Maritime, Caistor Yarborough Academy and Oasis Wintringham Academy. Indeed it seems we were on something of a ridge between clay and chalk as there was a striking difference between the soils of test pits less than 100m away from each other. In test pit 8, they found a collection of materials, including some pig bones and teeth. According to a neighbour, the garden had been an orchard before the development of the neighbourhood. Pigs are often kept in orchards so this evidence seems to fit! Test pit 3 was also located near to an area that has had some historical investigation as it was next door to a 17th century moated manor. The manor site in fact has earlier medieval origins. The brick and rubble found in test pit 3 could be related to the pathway between the manor and the church. We will know once the pottery discovered has been analysed by a local expert. Results of the analysis will be available here.

Other more modern features were found at test pit 7 with a large amount of molded concrete appearing. The remains of some kind of structure. Another very different feature was found at test pit 7. Right at the end of the day, a clear distinction in the soil was seen on one side of the test pit. It is difficult to tell without further investigation was this cut feature could be though there is some debate about how it relates to the 11th century church as the test pit was right by the eastern end of the church, though several feet below down a bank. Perhaps then the students had reached an earlier level. The results of the pottery analysis will inform us further..

Identification of objects and interpretation of the contexts was given to the participants throughout the two days by Cat Collins, Archaeological supervisor and Alison Dickens the manager of ACA but also a Senior Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. In her ‘day job’ Alison oversees huge projects such as the 200+ hectare wide excavations at Northstowe. Test pits are a little more manageable. Cat has been an archaeologist for over 16 years now, both at ACA and at various commercial archaeological units were she has worked on a variety of sites and is a specialist in human remains. The benefit of their knowledge is invaluable to guide the students as they complete their first archaeological excavations.


After the rain, a beautiful crop of umbrellas appears!

Day 3 of the trip and the students visited Cambridge. Not only is this the first time most of them had visited the town, they got a unique chance to really see the University as well. It was a very long day for them, with much time spent in the coach, but hopefully rewarding. The Day 3 talk by Eoin Parkinson, PhD student, brings together their initial thoughts on archaeology, and explains how they can go about writing up their findings into a clear report. 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. Being in the surroundings of the University of Cambridge also hopefully inspires the students who are currently in year 10. 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 (where to put that bucket, who’s doing the sieving) and academic skills (connecting that piece of clay pipe to the arrival of tobacco in the 16th century) will give them a great start to their futures. We look forward to welcoming the schools again in June when they complete another excavation with their year 9 pupils this time.

We are now well into the season, and for our sixth dig, we have once again come to Southminster in Essex. 38 pupils from William de Ferrers, The Plume School, Ormiston Rivers and The Sandon School excavated 10 test pits. We extended our great thanks to those people who gave up their gardens to our pupils and especially David Stamp of William de Ferrers School for organising the school’s visit.

4 test pits were arranged on the edge of the King George V playing field, close to the community rooms which were our base. After instructions from Alison Dickens first thing on Wednesday morning, the students were keen to get out and start finding things. Other test its were located in the allotments, and also the local care home. It is always interesting to compare what the pupil’s expect archaeology will be like to the reality. While some expect they will be using diggers, or shoveling in clear open spaces, others imagine more delicate brushwork (similar to paleontology excavations). As Alison is able to explain to them however, they are completing a mini-version of a complete archaeological excavation. The only difference between their excavations and those of professional excavators is one of scale. Indeed, the students conducted themselves like true professionals, excavating with skill and determination despite the ground being rather hard after little rain.


After the first day, they had got through the first few contexts, and were finding mainly modern to 17th century materials. However, by working hard in a determined fashion, on the second day of excavations, several teams broke through the more recent disturbances and garden soils and started finding older materials. Indeed test pit 4 discovered undisturbed medieval layers. Just to prove how archaeology can vary in the same garden, 5 meters away test pit 5 found mainly builder’s rubble and sand. However the team were not disappointed and worked well together and were able to compare results with their close neighbours.

Pottery expert Paul Blinkhorn joined us for the whole of both days and was therefore able to give plenty of feedback to the participants about what they had found as well as talking more widely about how these small scatters of remains inform us more widely about the past. His expert eyes were able to identify some possible Iron age pottery from one on the test pits on the playing field. Previously we had found Bronze Age material so this is adding to our understanding of the development of Southminster. Recorded in the Domesday book, the archaeological evidence for the settlement are still elusive, but this year we excavated closer to the church than ever before and were rewarded with a wealth of medieval pottery at test pit 3. This test pit is also very close to the site of the old school. Possible evidence of the school was found in test pit 10, across a field from the old school site and nearby to the current primary school. There we identified the edge of a school writing slate.

TP 3l

Windswept and a little sunburnt, 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. One student summed it up well saying “I did not enjoy the blisters and back pains but I believe they were worth it.” PO Plume School. By the end of the second day students left Soutminster with some early ideas about the history of the area.

Those ideas came together the next morning with a lecture from Eóin Parkinson, PhD student at the department. This coalesced the student’s primary thoughts into definable ideas of how settlements develop and grow and how their own research can inform us. Lunch today was provided by Corpus, St John’s and Trinity Hall colleges. 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. A talk from Selwyn Schools Liaison Officer, Michelle Tang, helped by giving them some more facts and figures of courses, choices and where university might lead them in the future.

All the students have a great time for the three days with us: “I feel like I have gained more independence and it has convinced me to go to university in the future.” JR, Ormiston Rivers Academy. “Touring Cambridge was the highlight of the trip. Seeing what student life was about was great.” TC William De Ferrers School. Many of the students realise what a range of new experiences and skills they have gained from this trip, from practical, to time management, determination and independence. “I have learnt new skills and more about university as well as making new friends.” JD, Plume School

Many thanks to all who attended, helpout, gave up their garden and a special thanks to John Anderson of the Southminster parish council for this organisation. I will leave the final words to one of the students who really summed up the experience well. “I really enjoyed day 3, coming to the university, as I never really thought I was capable of attending such as high university but now I have been inspired to aim higher. Michelle [the Schools Liaison Officer] was really helpful”. RC, William De Ferrers School.

Another new site this week as we’re in the charming village of Botesdale, which merges gently into the next village of Rickinghall. 24 pupils from King Edward VI School and Sybil Andrews Academy arrived promptly on ter first day, keen to get started and were soon away at the 6 different test pits, getting down to their first contexts. The test pit sites were arranged by Cat Collins alongside the local history society. We had much interest from the local community about the excavations so hopefully we’ll be able to return next year.

Emily, Cat and Alison toured the test pits in the morning, seeing that all teams were working well together. Two of the test pits were being supervised by 6th form students, who were able to gain valuable leadership and management experience, helpful to their current university applications. One of the test pits, was sited in the garden of the old grammar school, originally a chapel, during the dissolution it was turned into a classroom. Possible fragments of the original stained glass were found by the students excavating. Two other test pits were located in the grounds of former pubs, and found fragments of German stoneware (often used for drinking vessels), clay pipes, and lemonade bottles. Test pit 2 found the remains of a chalk floor layer, probably relating to the use of the area as the yard for a coach house, a chalk floor being a method for laying down a new, clean floor. Finally test pit 6 found the base of a wall, possibly foundations of an outbuilding, long since demolished. John Newman was touring the test pits giving expert advice on the finds from the day. As well as some medieval pottery test pit 3 also found some more unusual items such as wig curlers, and a huge bone, probably from a horse! A photographer from the Bury Free News also arrived to document the students efforts and a story should appear in the newspaper sometime next week.

Day 3, and the students arrived in Cambridge to apply their practical experience

to the wider body of archaeological knowledge. Emily Ryley gave the morning’s lecture on the wider aims of the ILAFS programme, and spelling out the archaeological questions the students might like to tackle in their written reports. The written reports the student complete are very valuable to the learning experience of ILAFS, as it demonstrates that link between the classroom and future careers; applying skills and knowledge in a completely new context and producing written documentation of that. Hopefully full of knowledge of how to start tackling their projects, the students were treated to lunch at Newnham and Emmanuel Colleges. After some very tasty food, they were given a tour of the college, including seeing students bedrooms, which one pupil commented were “nicer than he thought they would be, not dark and small at all”. Good to know we treat students well then. Back to work and it was on to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, were pupils were given a task to examine the museum’s collections and then present to the others, what they could learn about that culture’s settlements and resources from the collections. For instance, one team were show the Roman Cambridge collection and were able to reflect both on local industries, and trade from across the Roman region. Another looked at the Indus valley in Asia and discuss religious beliefs and settlement patterns there. It’s really great to be able to give pupils something to focus on in their visit, and relate their learning to what they are seeing. From the day the students get a very well-rounded experience of university life, and study. The two 6th form students who had helped out supervising younger pupils on previous days were also able to get some dedicated time to go through personal statements, applications, and other pressing questions, as well as a private tour of the department and its laboratories. The year 9 pupils were also given a more general talk on university, demonstrating how they could start thinking about their own subject choices and where they would like to go later in life.

Of the experience, pupils said they enjoyed “interacting with professional archaeological techniques” OM -King Edward VI School. “I really enjoyed looking at all of the things we found and trying to work out how they were used as a group.” IS- KEVI. Some pupils commented that they were able to form new friendships in their test pit groups, others that they gained entirely new skills, or became more proficient in organisation, and communication. The pupils were a credit to their schools and look forward to reading their written reports.

Our report on the pottery and other details can be found on our website here. Finally we would like to say a big thank you to our local co-coordinators in Rickinghall & Botesdale and we’ll look forward to returning next year!

TP 4p

After a break for the Easter holidays, we’re for our next Independent Learning Archaeology Field School, this time at Blythburgh. It’s our first time at Blythburgh, having finished excavating at Walberswick nearby. Based at the Holy Trinity church, a magnificent 15th century structure, graceful and inspiring, it sits just at the divide in the landscape between the fertile soils and the marshes and river which held their own treasures. We are keen to see what test pitting can reveal about the history of Blythburgh and the local history society are certainly very keen to find out more, after an excavation at the priory (now ruins) several year ago. They have given us a great welcome at Blythburgh, where local residents have done a great job organising locations for our test pits. They have also been incredibly welcoming and really impressed by the attitudes of the students.

TP 1c

Students from Ormiston Denes Academy, Sir John Leman High School, Hobart High School, Bungay High School and Benjamin Britten Academy all arrived eager, and keen to learn was archaeology is really like. A full complement of 48 pupils, meaning we could dig 12 test pits. In fact, we managed 13 as one test pit was so fast, they dug two! We therefore dug two test pits in ‘The Sanctuary’ before landscaping for a community garden is done.


John Newman toured the test pits giving expert advice on the finds. As Blythburgh is a new site for is we were unsure of what we would discover but were pleased to already to be able to recognise the history of different areas of the village. Test pits 4-8 were located along Angel lane, the original medieval road through the village and this is where we found a wealth of medieval pottery, including a very lovely base and side of a jug. In the 18th Century the turnpike was built (now the A12), diverting the flow of traffic a little away from Angel lane. Other areas of the village displayed mainly 17th-19th century materials, with scatterings of prehistoric burnt flints mixed through the layers. As ever, a full detailed pottery report will be available here We also had coverage of the event from Simon Ward of the Eastern Daily Press. The article can be read here


Student’s views of archaeology often drastically changes after their ILAFS experience; coming to realise just how many skills are needed, and how much paperwork there is! Of course it’s important as we want students to gain from the experience academically, as well as increasing personal learning and thinking skills, by producing a written report at the end. With new questions to focus on, the lecture to begin the morning on Day 3 in Cambridge, really seeks to bring together the knowledge they have accrued and starts them on the path to their own interpretations of the  evidence for complex patterns of human behaviours. This is complimented by an hour spent in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, looking at the same ideas, in many different cultures. Hopefully then these students will be able to go out and apply these same principles in other areas and be able to look topics at with a deeper level of interpretation.


Presenting at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The other major point of the field school, and spending a day in Cambridge, is to give students a real introduction to university, far more than just a tour around the campus to see if they like the buildings. The lectures, visits to the museum, lunch in a college, and talks from students and staff giving them the facts about university choices, all give a very realistic view of what studying at a higher level is like, and hopefully inspire pupils to take that path.This week Pembroke and Emmanuel colleges hosted us and Lynette from Corpus college gave a talk to the students about the future choices. With many schools now beginning GCSE courses in year 9, students are making decisions about their futures even earlier as we hope the skills they gain with us will benefit them. In their feedback teachers highlighted that students were able to gain an experience of education outside the classroom, as well as developing skills such as interacting with the public, and co-operate with others.

Students loved the three days with us, with many commenting that they would have liked to dig for longer! “[I have gained] historical knowledge that I couldn’t have learnt sitting in a classroom” and “[enjoyed] linking key dates in history to things we found” TB, Hobart High School. “I feel I have gained more confidence about going to a university and have learned so much more than I imagined.” PO Hobart High School. Other students commented on their Improved my historical knowledge and teamwork skills. As our focus is on Independent Learning , it was also great to see that some of the pupils enjoyed the chance to take the lead. “[I enjoyed] Being able to have a say in what goes on and actively taking part. Also having my opion listened to.” ZS Sir John Leaman High School.

Finally we would like to say a massive thank you to the residents of Blythburgh who welcomed us so warmly and really supported this endeavour. We look forward to seeing you again next year!



Behind the scenes: The pupils may do the digging, but at the end of the day it all has to fit back in the van again!


Posted by: archaccess | April 12, 2017

ACA on Instagram!

As an outreach unit, ACA are always trying to tell new audiences about archaeology and how they can get involved. With this in mind, we have joined Instagram. Our profile can be found at With only one post so far, we’re still finding the ins and outs of Instagram but will be bringing you many more posts and updates about our activities.

In a couple weeks we will be back out on our ILAFS programme, and can now join our pupils in posting photos of all the fun on Instragram.


Posted by: archaccess | March 24, 2017

Histon Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

The Histon Independent Learning Archaeology Field School has been our largest ever field school! 49 pupils from 5 different schools squeezed themselves into the Stable room at St Andrew’s church Histon on Wednesday morning. Sohamn Village College, Ely College, Bottisham Village College, Witchford Village College and Cottenham Village College all brought a selection of keen students for the 3rd of our field schools this year.

The students listened attentively as Cat Collins, explained the process of excavating a test pit, and what the students could expect to get out of the experience. We’re keen for these three day to really tie together different areas of learning; taking real evidence and relating it to concepts as well as less definable skills such as lateral thinking, teamwork and perseverance. All are needed to learn independently at university and we try and highlight this in our morning talk.

After a quick fueling up on squash and biscuits, it was out to site to begin their test pit getting the first context out before the rain started. But even that didn’t dampen their spirits! As well as their teachers, volunteers from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge were helping out, guiding students and giving them the benefit of their archaeological knowledge and excavation skills. 4 test pits were located near the remains of the ancient St Etheldreda’s church which can be seen as mounds and platforms in the field. Nearby test pit revealed some medieval pottery, and a few animal bones, but no human remains. All the test pits in this area have been kept open by the Histon and Impington History Society to dig a little further and see if any other finds become apparent.


Image courtesy of Cambridge News

While this is the first year ACA have excavated in Histon, the Histon and Impington History Society have previously excavated 28 test pits themselves so we are well on our way to building up a large dataset for the area! Locations of this years test pit are available from our website. Other test pits throughout the east of Histon village revealed a brick-lined well (we quickly moved the test pit away) as well as other pottery, clay pipes, metal work and possible metal manufacture. As we are scattered throughout Histon, we will get a great picture of how old various parts of the village are. Keep an eye out on our website for the pottery report.

On Day 2 we had a visit from Cambridge News, who produced a lovely video and article about the excavations, highlighting how the experience allows pupils to develop new skills as well as learning in a different way. . Pupils were still full of energy after a full 2 days digging and at all times displayed amazing determination and an eagerness to participate and understand. A very well-deserved Thank -you goes to David Oates for doing such a great job, coordinating all the test pit locations, and convincing homeowners to give up their gardens for the cause of archaeology!

Back in Cambridge for the third day of the field school and although most of the students have seen Cambridge, and know of the university, this is the first time many of them get to experience it first hand, from a student’s perspective. The morning was taken up by a lecture looking at the study of settlements and guidance on writing their reports given by Eoin Parkinson. We ask all students on the field school to produce a written report, examining the evidence they discovered during excavation, together with other sources of information to evaluate the history of the Histon and see how human events and influences have changed the settlement over time. 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 Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges who very kindly took on the unusually large group all by themselves! 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?

Rounding off the day was a talk from Anita Magee, Schools Liaison Officer at Emmanuel college, who spoke to the students about university, and the choices and the choices they have. We really hope that their experiences over the last three day will set them thinking about what they do now can set them up for the future, as well as equipping them with the skills to succeed. Skills and experiences highlighted by teachers included “getting a feel for university”, “an opportunity to be challenged beyond what they do in the classroom”.About their experiences students said: “I have gained the skills to be able to adapt to a new activity and be able to persevere.” (IA-C, Bottisham Village College).


A happy test pit!



For the second of our Independent Learning Archaeology Field Schools this year, we were based in the lovely village of Hillington in Norfolk, for the third time. Joining us were King’s Lynn Academy, King Edward VII academy and Springwood High School, who were co-ordinated by James Smith, a teacher from Springwood. 29 pupils excavated 8 test pits under the guidance of 10 6th form pupils, who inspired younger pupils through the examples they set as well as gaining some valuable experience for their CVs and personal statements.


ACA staff were also always on hand to offer advice and guidance to pupils, beginning with an introductory talk on Day 1 to outline the archaeological process and expectations for the three day field school.


Test pits were fairly closely grouped at Hillington, as it’s a smaller village which meant that we were able to tour the sites fairly frequently. This was made even easier by being able to use the Norfolk Hospice, Tapping House  as our base and they were very gracious hosts. We were also aided by the West Norfolk & King’s Lynn Archaeology society. They were kept busy by the excavation of a local resident’s fish pond which had revealed a stone floor layer. Associated pottery dated the floor layer to the later medieval period, including a lovely piece of late Grimston ware, part of a flat rectangular dish of some kind. There was also a slightly more unusual find of a pewter buckle dating to c.1350-1500. Pupils were excavating test pit 4, only a few meters away and so had the incentive to excavate down to the same depth the fish pond had reached, to try and reveal the extent of the floor layer. Discover it they did by the end of Day 2, and they also added some late Saxon and late medieval sherds to the growing record.

On Day 2 of the excavation, Andrew Rogerson, pottery expert from Norfolk Museums Service at Gressenhall joined us and cast his expert eye over the finds from all the test pits. It turned out that test pit 4 was not alone in their medieval discoveries as out of 8 test pits, only 2 did not find medieval pottery! Even better, in terms of the students getting to see a variety of pottery types and time periods, several produced Saxon periods and test pit 6 even discovered some possible late Iron Age materials. It’s all very encouraging and really demonstrates the depth of history in the village, giving some great details which the students can mention in their written reports. Excitingly some of the pieces the students were finding were particularly large- this is another archaeological clue for students that we were seeing undisturbed, in-situ deposits.   Much of the pottery was produced locally at Grimston. This is a type of pottery which we often find across East Anglia, giving us an idea of the trade networks in the area.

On the third day, ILAFS students arrived in Cambridge, ready to put all the pieces of their knowledge together, and see how we do this at the university also. The first lecture, focusing on settlement studies, as well as giving guidance on academic writing, was given by Eoin Parkinson, a PhD student at the university. Queens and Corpus Christi colleges, then took the students for a wonderful lunch and tour of the college (including spooky tales of the college ghosts at Corpus!). Students are often confused by the Cambridge system of colleges, so it’s great to be able to demonstrate that the Cambridge system isn’t that different at all, and that they can expect a warm and friendly welcome as prospective students.


The 6th form students who had done so well supervising younger students at the test pits had a session just for them, focusing on Personal Statements. It was great to get some dedicated time with Lynett, the Schools Liaison Officer at Corpus Christis college to run through this tricky area. Meanwhile the younger pupils spent time at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, applying some of the archaeological skills they had learnt to understand the museum’s collections a little better.


The year 9 and 10 pupils then returned full of enthusiasm after their workshop at the museum for a presentation from Lynette about university life and future choices, rounding off a fantastic three days, full of fun and different skills. The Students and teachers certainly enjoyed the experience and got a lot from it saying: “Greater confidence in taking on new tasks and the value of teamwork.” (JC King Edward VII Academy). “Analytical skills are very important for any job” (AB King Edward VII Academy). More knowledge about university, people in the past, and what artefacts we find underground. Also more confidence in talking to new people.” (LS Springwood High School). “Setting my mind to the task and working properly in a team.” (EW Springwood High School).

ACA would like to thank all the students involved, especially the 6th formers who displayed a great level of maturity and they younger students who approached these new skills as a challenge to overcome. We really hope these skills are the foundation for your future learning!

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