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.

Posted by: archaccess | September 14, 2017

Riseley Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

Tagging along right at the end of the field school season, we have our last, but certainly not least, Independent Learning Archaeology Field School of the year in Riseley, Bedfordshire on Tuesday 12th – Thursday 14th September. 29 pupils and 4 6th formers from Wootton Upper School, Biddenham School and St Thomas More Catholic Teaching School excavated 8 test pits, mostly on the high street but one on Rotten Row.

The test pits were organised by Michael Stubbert of the Riseley Historical Society, using Riseley Village Hall as our base for the two days. This is the fourth year ACA have held a ILAFS (previous called HEFA) in Riseley; previous findings and reports can be found here. Despite the rain of the previous week the students arrived keen and prepared on a beautiful September day.


Catherine Collins, Archaeological Supervisor at Access Cambridge Archaeology welcomed the mixed year 8-13 students, 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?

The students were gathered into groups of 3 or 4, and  along with their supervisor, set out to answer these questions. Four 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. A bit puzzled at this entirely new task at first, they still made a good start and by the end of day 2 were proficient! By the end of day 1, all had got through the first two contexts, and had revealed fragments of pottery, bones and brick. Test pit 1 came up with the oldest find- some potential Thetford ware, produced around 1000 years ago. The mix of brick and other materials suggest some disturbance in the area when the house was built in the 1970s, it’s a great find! Other groups were working in the gardens of much older houses. Test pit 6 was located by a cottage originally built in the 1700s, and extended in the 1800s. They group quickly came down onto a yard surface, working hard to record then remove it to accurately date the floor, and see if earlier remains could be found. A surprise at test pit 4 was a bell shaped well. Riseley has many well throughout the village due to it’s high water table. This well does not appear on the 1910 map of the village and the owners of the property had not idea of it’s existence so were surprised when it appeared!

It’s also exciting for the pupils to discover some unusual archaeological features in their taster of archaeology. Some of the students were incredibly enthused about the excavation process and although it’s not for everyone, the data collection, lectures and tour of the university  really opened their eyes to what university can be like. One of the year 13 students on the dig has even decided to apply to study archaeology next year!


Day 3, and the students arrived in cambridge to apply their practical experience to the wider body of archaeological knowledge. Eoin Parkinson 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 Downing Colleges. After some very tasty food, they were given a tour of the college. One student said she enjoyed “Learning about the campuses and the lecture was a good experience. Seeing something new was good!” MH Wootton Upper. Back to work and it was on to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where 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 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  younger 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.

Pupils got a lot out of the day, realising what you need to do to get into university, so they are not caught out when the time comes. “I enjoyed being able to talk to people who had gone through university and knew about things I wanted to do. I have gained skills of working with other people from different schools and learning a lot more.” DM Wooton Upper. “I liked that we were able to work by ourselves and actually do it all without adults trying to take control” M M-C Wootton Upper School. One of the students even said to their teacher that this trip was the best things they had ever done. We’re so grateful when we get feedback like this because we know what we are doing makes an impact. Other staff appreciated to opportunity to introduce students to a university environment, be inspired to see where they can go if they do keep working, and start thinking independently (something that is assessed at A-level). 

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of all the schools involved, the supervisors and the residents of Riseley for making this another successful ILAFS. Special thanks go to Michael for organising the pit sites.

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) as part of the University of Cambridge ran a weekend of archaeological test pitting in the village of Longstanton on the 9th and 10th September 2017 in conjunction with the Longstanton and District Heritage Society (LDHS). The test pitting tied in with more recent archaeological work at Northstowe on Phase 2, where the excavation is going to uncover more about the large Roman settlement that has been identified on the old Oakington Airfield. Further information about the site and open day that was held there on the 8th July can be read about here.

The excavations in Longstanton also followed on from a similar test pitting weekend back in October 2015 that coincided with the end of the Phase 1 archaeology at Northstowe that was focused on the golf course. The results from that weekend can be read about here.

Longstanton Both Years

The organisation was aided by Rodney Scarle of the LDHS and our base for the two days was at The Manor Longstanton, kindly hosted by Hilary Stroude. The weekend started with around 30 people arriving at The Manor for a quick briefing by Alison Dickens (ACA’s manager and Senior Project Manager at the CAU) and then it was out to site in the early autumn sunshine to start digging. A total of 11 test pits were excavated over the weekend, the majority in private gardens and sited along the length of the village between Thatchers Wood in the south, up the High Street, in Thornhill Place and Hattons Park to Striplands Farm and Hattons Farm in the far north. An additional pit was sited in the far east at Rampton Drift. Cat Collins (ACA) toured the test pit sites with Alison both days to offer advice and support where needed and were joined by Project Officer Matt Collins from the CAU on Sunday who is currently running the Northstowe Phase 2 excavations .

Despite some heavy rain Saturday afternoon that ended the day a little earlier than originally planned, the excavations went really well, with all the groups excavating to a decent depth and uncovering a range of finds, all of which adds to our understanding of the wider picture of previous settlement here and how it ties in with what has been discovered during the much larger excavations at Northstowe. The results from 2015 and once we have them for 2017 will be available on the ACA website here.

Of note however, a potential of three archaeological features were able to be identified within the confines of these small 1m2 test pits, all of which were found in the north of the village and close to the Phase 1 works, suggesting that the archaeology identified there does indeed extend west into the current village as they were recorded as being on the same alignment as the features identified in Phase 1.

Probable linear features of either Late Anglo Saxon (AD 850-1065) or high medieval (AD 1066-1399) date were partially excavated that may have been utilised as part of the settlement or perhaps as field boundaries. Analysis of the pottery will go some way in determining the probable date of the likely ditches, although further excavation in these areas would be the only way to fully determine the extent and use of these features.

Pottery of similar date was also found down the High Street and at Thornhill Place, although the latter showed the amount of disturbance that had likely occurred within the garden as in the same context was also found a tiny plastic mouse!

The excavations also showed that there has been a significant deposit of builder’s rubble at both Thatchers Wood and Rampton Drift with a distinct lack of earlier material at the latter, potentially due to its location beyond the original extent of the village, thought to be along Long Lane. At Thatchers Wood, it was found that about 0.3m of builder’s rubble had been dumped across the land, but this had actually sealed the earlier archaeology which was still visible in the clayey soils.

There was one test pit that was excavated close to the original manor site of Hattons Park (and named after the last Lords of the manor) and sited likely under Longstanton Primary School is today. Just to the west of this was excavated test pit five which uncovered a range of likely 18th or 19th century brick rubble and mortar suggesting that this may have been the site of or was close to some outbuildings associated with the manor or even remnants of the wall itself when it was taken down. As the majority of the deposit was made up of mortar remnants it is likely that the bricks would have been taken away and reused elsewhere. A nice find from this test pit was also the discovery of an Electro Plated Nickel Silver spoon, probably also of 19th century date.

At the end of the weekend, all the volunteers, garden owners and interested members of the public gathered back at the Manor for a brief summing up by Alison on what was found and tying it into the wider landscape, with a chance to see all the finds on display before they were bagged up and transported back to Cambridge for analysis by ACA.

Feedback from the weekend digging was extremely positive with 99% of the volunteers rating the dig as ‘excellent’, with some particular comments stating ‘It was fun and interesting and a great way to learn about the local area and meeting new people’ (HL), ‘It’s a great way to be outside, find out about the archaeology of the area and meet likeminded people. A great experience, well organised, more please!’ (PS), ‘I enjoyed getting family and friends involved to do something different. The support from Cat, Alison, Matt and Rodney was really helpful and we had a good time looking for finds and cleaning them’ (KH), ‘A good social activity which adds to the village history record’ (PH) and ‘Great fun, good to take part in something local and useful’ (JS).

ACA would like to thank again all those who took part in the excavations and to those whose gardens were dug up and to both Rodney Scarle and Hilary Stroude for their organisation beforehand as well as hosting the event at The Manor. The current phase of the Northstowe excavations may finish in the late spring next year, but there are many more phases to of this new town to investigate and hopefully we’ll be able to come back and dig in Longstanton again in the future. Watch this space!

Posted by: archaccess | July 19, 2017

Foxearth Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

It’s the last of your Independent Learning Archaeology Field Schools before we break for the summer! 32 students from Thomas Gainsborough School, Samuel Ward Academy and Ormiston Sudbury Academy arrived in Foxearth on Monday ready to see first-hand how we can understand the past when no records remain to tell us. Foxearth is a small village in North Essex, just south of the River Stour that forms the border with Suffolk and is 2.8km southwest of Long Melford and 4.7km northwest of Sudbury as the crow flies. The village sits on a geology of Chalk with superficial deposits of a chalky till with sands and gravels, clays and silts. The name Foxearth literally means ‘the fox’s earth’ or ‘the fox hole’ and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Focsearde. The parish church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul is of uncertain date, but some aspects of the structure have been dated to the mid-14th century. Brewing has also been an important part of Foxearth’s history.

Cat Collins, Archaeological Supervisor at ACA welcomed the mixed year 9, 10 and 12 students, 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?

There was plenty to find in Foxearth and find it we did! As ever, Day 1’s finds were more modern, but still plenty of 17th and 18th Century pottery coming up. Test Pit 5 and 6 in particular had a lot of material as they were on the site of the old brewery in Foxearth. They found plenty of broken bottles with the name of the brewery on them as well as building materials. Quite a lot is known about the brewery and it is great to be able to link physical artefacts to historical events. A 6th form students from Ormiston Sudbury was supervising the students on Test Pit 5 so it was also a great experience for him- leading his own excavation as he prepares to apply to university to study ancient History and archaeology. Test pit 1 also produced more modern 18th and 19th century pottery, and even though the students reached 70cm down, the context remained very consistently modern. Being very close to the church, there has been a lot of activity in this area for a very long time so it’s not surprising that the team didn’t hit natural. The same held true for test Pit 2, across the road opposite the old school house with a few pieces of medieval pottery. Test pit 3 produced a wealth of great finds- the cherry on the top being a sherd of saxo-norman pottery! The students were amazed that they themselves had discovered something about 1000 years old! The test pit was located at the crossroads, right at the heart of the village in the front garden of a house that had previously been a shop. Centuries of use in the area had left a wealth of objects to find, including a large amount of clay pipes. Test pit 4 a little way along the street in an area that is now a paddock found a different type of finds. Mainly modern pottery but also slag- evidence of metal or glass production at this site. Perhaps there was once a blacksmith in this area? Or maybe glass works for the brewery nearby. Further research by the students for their reports will hopefully put these finds into context. A little way along the road again and we had another complete change at Test Pit 7 where students came down on to an early medieval cobbled surface, beneath which late saxon Thetford Ware was found! Only modern houses occupy this end of the village, but it obviously has a much deeper history. It was also the test pit closest to our base, an 18th century tythe barn next door to a late 13th century moated hall. While the settlement of Foxearth has been around for a long time, but has changed and shifted in that time. The students archaeological excavations will continue to reveal that history to us.

The third day of ILAFS is always spent in Cambridge, pulling together the students’ knowledge and ideas in preparation for writing their reports but more importantly giving them a taste of what it is like to learn and live at university. A clear, set out talk on how to write in an academic style is very valuable as 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. It’s also really important to finish as it demonstrated when applying to universities that the student has not just passively viewed something, but actively engaged in a topic, and seen a difficult project right through to the end. The lecture by Eoin Parkinson is also a taste of what university style learning is like.

Reinforcing the morning’s lecture was an afternoon visit to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where 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 demonstrate that they skills they learnt over the last two days can be applied to any body of data.

While we do archaeological excavations on the ILAFS programme, we want to try and encourage our students to consider any subject at Higher Education. Archaeology just happens to be a great way of bringing together many skills and also highlighting the practical side of learning. It also shows students that university is not like school- there are many, many more subjects one can study. Expounding on these ideas Claire Nellany, Schools Liaison Officer at Girton College, gave the students their final talk, answering more general questions about university. Having visited Peterhouse and Trinity colleges for lunch, they had also got to see the other side of university- the social side which can be just as important to allow students to develop and discover new ideas and interests.

The three days have obviously had a big impact on the students.  “I felt that I have gained a more in depth understanding of archaeology, university and what it offers.” TW Ormiston Sudbury Academy. I just really enjoyed all of it and I loved being able to learn the dates of what we found. I think I am now better at analysis and working in a team.” LB Thomas Gainsborough School. Teachers agreed saying “Very good experience in team-work. They learnt to use different methods/ techniquies to learn about the past.” AG Ormiston Sudbury Academy.

The aims of the ILAFS was nicely summed up by one student: “I enjoyed learning about the university life and it made me think about going to university as it opened my eyes about life after school.” NG Thomas Gainsborough School


Many thanks to Carl Talbot for organising the schools and to John Newman for identifying the pottery on site. A big thank you to the team of volunteers from the Stour Valley Community Archaeology group for their help, especially Corrine Cox. If you would like to know more about her work in Foxearth, head here.


That’s it for field schools for the summer, but we’re going to be running two more ILAFS in September when the students return to school. Over the summer we’ll be catching up on paperwork but we’ll keep you informed about any potential future projects and news.

This week we are in Wendens Ambo, a scattered village near to Saffron Walden and Audley End House. With a population of just under 400 it nestles in the valley which is gets it’s name from, Wendene, amid the soft folds of chalk which form the uplands of north-west Essex. Wendens Ambo has a long history with evidence of settlement on the site since the Bronze Age. Excavations found remains of Bronze-Age flint tools in are area of Iron-Age and later Romano-British occupation.

The present day settlement of Wenden was begun in the Saxon period to north of the stream, near where the church is today. The church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 11th century that also most likely replaced an earlier wooden church on the same site. The settlement has since continued into the present day, facing challenges and changes such as the coming of the railway 1845 and the construction of the M11 immediately west of the village. Such changes have greatly influenced the village and it will be exciting to see if your students can show more exactly how the village has moved and changed.


Five schools came together to make the trip a success: The Bishop’s Stortford High School, Davenant School, Stewards Academy, Passmores Academy and the Hertfordshire & Essex School. 43 year 9 and 10 pupils from these schools plus 12 6th Formers joined us ready to get involved and discover something new about this village already steeped in history.

The first stop was an introductory talk from Alison Dickens, Manager of ACA, about how we 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. With so much already clearly going on in this village, how will what the students discover about the village change our understanding? Will archaeology agree with the historical narrative, will it change what we see? The great thing about doing test pits is that we can really get inside the heart of the village to answer these questions.

Two test pits were located in the garden of the Bell pub, while others were along Duck Lane, Rookery Lane and Chinnels lane. Test pit 1 on Rookery Lane quickly came up with a wealth of finds- they had hit a victorian rubbish dump with a wealth of marmalade jars, chicory coffee bottles and other objects. It just goes to show how our deposition habits have changed. Prior to dust bin lorries taking all our rubbish away, rubbish would often be buried at the bottom of the garden. Next door Test pit 2 came up with more modern objects including a toy car. Archaeologists call the way that objects have ended up in the ground the ‘deposition process’ and its important to think about to fully understand an object. Is this evidence of a buried hoard in response to invasion, or has this object been lost or thrown away? This adds an extra layer of interpretation to the objects.  

Other test pit found earlier objects. We had high hopes for test pits 3 and 4 which were located in the area of a known Roman Villa. The did indeed come up with several sherds of Roman pottery and roof tile, as well as some medieval pottery. Great work guys! Interestingly test pit 5, very near by had only later materials. The objects were identified by the ACA team as we went round and helped by John Newman, an expert on the local pottery types. We were all very intrigued by the discovery in Test pit 8 of a 15th/16th century lead token. This had a ‘Daisy Wheel’ pattern on it, a common medieval design that was often scratched into wall, wooden beams and any other spots using a pair of compass shears.  Interpreted as a protective or ‘witch’ mark it was a really interesting object to find. Test pit 8 also had evidence of the Arts and Crafts movement relating to the previous occupants of the house. Great to see such an range of finds! This is the first year we have been in Wendens Ambo so although we are just starting out there is a whole wealth of knowledge about the village already, some of which can be found on our website.  Now the M11 cuts through the area, and along with the railway, has brought new influences into the development of Wendens Ambo.

The test pits were supervised by 6th form students from The Bishop’s Stortford High School and Hertfordshire and Essex High School. This not only gave the 6th former’s valuable leadership experience, but the younger students also enjoyed being lead by non-teachers. They also needed to interact with the public, as we had many local residents of Wendens Ambo very interested in the local dig. The students were able to show their finds off to an impressed audience. “I enjoyed meeting locals and learning more about Wendens Ambo.” JB Passmores Academy.

For Day 3, it was off to Cambridge to bring together the concepts we had introduced on Day 1 and the practical side they had already seen. Now it was time to start interpreting those results. Students views of archaeology often drastically changes after their ILAFS experience; coming to realise just how many skills are needed, not just practical digging but also diligent recording to conceptualising a dramatically different past lifescape in a village. 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.

The day also included lunch at Peterhouse and Pembroke colleges for the students. Not only is time for a necessary refuel, its a time for the students to realise just what university is about- its not a continuation of school, but something much more exciting. Some pupils believe university is like boarding school, where there are restrictions on your time and maybe even on your mobile phone use! However we hope to show that through the ILAFS project and later on in Higher Education, you can take control of your own learning. Shona Watford, Schools Liaison Officer from Corpus college elaborated on this further with her talk at the end of the day. All in all it was a very positive three days which students and staff alike greatly enjoyed.

“Course Leaders were clear, helpful and enthusiastic” JP Herts & Essex High School. “I have learnt social skills and archaeological skills which was very interesting, a better insight into history of a settlement and a more indepth understanding of how to structure a report.” FP TBSHS. “I have learnt more about university and how work is completed there. I have discovered new things. JB Passmores Academy. “I think that  have a much better understanding of archaeology and university life and developed a wide range of skills that can be transferred to many things.” LB Herts and Essex.

Thank you to the local history group for their efforts organising the test pit locations. The local residents of Wendens Ambro remarked at how well behaved the students were and they certainly have been a great bunch. Many thanks to Alexander Cokewoods from TBSHS for helping organise the trip.


Posted by: archaccess | July 10, 2017

Northstowe Open Day

On Saturday 8th July the current ongoing excavations at Northstowe, run by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), held an open day for members of the public. The archaeology is being undertaken in advance of construction of the new town development.

A simple Phase Plan for the current excavations

Phase 1 was focused on the golf course and uncovered four distinct sites from the Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods and was completed in late 2015. The site of the open day is part of the phase 2 works on the old airfield site which began in  October 2016 and will continue into 2018. The archaeology of this phase focuses on a large Roman settlement, of at least 20 hectares (50 acres) in extent.

Some of the Roman roof tile from site

The Roman settlement here is arranged around a crossroad with arms heading out roughly northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast (plan above). A series of squared enclosures sit at the crossroads and along the longer southwest-northeast axis, with evidence of wells, rubbish pits, ditches, cemeteries and a pottery kiln. Several building have been identified from within the enclosures, some have produced large quantities of roof tile and a stone column, both of which may eventually hint at the status of this building. From the artefacts already excavated, we can say that 1600 years ago this place was a thriving centre of domestic activity, industry, commerce and worship.

Some of the pottery excavated, included a head from a jog or flagon

Site tours were given by CAU staff currently working on the phase 2 excavations and a count by the wonderful men on the security gate at the end of the day recorded nearly 500 visitors to the site, which may have been helped by the lovely sunny weather!  Many of the finds were on display, including posters of further information about the archaeology and the history of the airfield, when it was in use during the Second World War. A drone video of the whole excavation area was also playing on a loop, giving visitors the true sense of scale to the size of the settlement.

Site tours and the display area for the open day

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) were also on site to promote the upcoming test pit excavations in Longstanton village. These are planned to take place over the weekend of the 9th-10th September 2017 and will follow on from excavations in the village in 2015. It is hoped that the results from these smaller excavations will tie in with what has been found at Northstowe to bring together a bigger picture of the archaeology of this region. If live in Longstanton and are interested in volunteering your garden please get in contact with us directly, or if you are local to the area and want to take part in the test pitting please also get in contact.

Volunteers signing up for the Longstanton test pitting and signing the visitors book

ACA also had a range of hand-on activities for the younger visitors to site to learn more about archaeology. This is based on the work we undertake in Primary Schools targeting the Key Stage 1 and 2 History curriculum and was a chance for children to experience archaeology first hand and even relate back to things they had learnt in the classroom.  For further information about these days or to book a session with us, please click here, or if your children what to do more archaeology, the Young Archaeologists Club, Cambridge, takes all children between the ages of 8 and 16.

ACA’s Emily Ryley showing some of the younger visitors about viking weaving methods and what artefacts can tell us about the past

ITV Anglia also came out and filmed the excavations with CAU senior manager Alison Dickens, who explained the archaeology. The video can be watched here.

Filming for ITV Anglia news

The CAU and ACA would like to thank all the many visitors who came out on Saturday to see the archaeology and learn more about the local area. All the comments left in the visitors book were very positive, commenting on how interesting the site is “Absolutely fascinating window into our past – just beneath our feet. Fantastic heritage. Well done!” (JS), the knowledge of the archaeologists “Extremely interesting to see and a fantastic and informative talk given” (SS) and the range of activities available for the young visitors to site “Fantastic insight into local area and made interesting for kids” (FT) and “Great activities for kids” (ER). ACA will try and keep you all updated on a future developments on site.

Posted by: archaccess | June 30, 2017

Healing Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

Last week burning sun, this week downpours. It seems that every time we are in Lincolnshire it has been wet! Back in May were were digging in Old Clee and now we are in the village of Healing, near Grimsby again with year 9 students from Ormiston Maritime Academy. The North East Lincolnshire Archaeology and History Society were back again to help us and had arranged 7 test pit sites for us, in locations on Low Road, Rookery Road, Aylesby Lane and at Healing Manor.


With a sense of déjà vu we awaited the arrival of 27 students from Ormiston Maritime Academy. It had been raining hard all night and so although that meant the ground would be soft to dig, it might put several of them off. However the pupils of Lincolnshire are made of stern stuff and most of the students did arrive. The morning’s briefing by Alison Dickens outlined the importance of careful excavation and maintaining clear archaeological records, which also means keeping them dry. There are many challenges in archaeology! More importantly the talk also tries to show the students that their work can uncover much more than knowledge about their individual test pit. By comparing the test pits we can see how the village has changed and moved over time, getting a snapshot of industries and processes, confirming settlement areas versus agricultural uses of the land. More widely we can compare villages to one another. Do all settlements follow the same pattern? Do events such as the black death or industrial revolution affect settlements in the same way? When we could hide from the rain no-longer the students braved the elements and set out to discover the past of Healing.

Soon after Emily, Cat and Alison set out too, touring the test pits, checking how students were progressing and giving encouragement and direction were needed. The test pits were each supervised by a member of staff from Ormiston Maritime Academy or volunteers from the NELAH society, although the students were quick to take to a new task. It had been raining hard all night and continued to do so all day. Working with the extra challenge was difficult but the students did their best and by the end of Day 1 had all finished their second context and had the techniques of how to dig and record. Keeping the record booklets dry was a challenge so students chose the sensible option and came back early to the base to copy up their records and warm up with a cup of tea.

On Day 2 of the dig, the sun dawned, if not brighter, then at least drier, as while it was still raining it wasn’t quite a hard. We like to take the optimistic viewpoint. We were joined by Jane Young, a local pottery expert. Who gave the students a brief talk on different types of pottery, showing them some examples of whole pots. It really helps when we can demonstrate to students in a visual way, how their small finds are real pieces of the past. Our pottery finds from Lincolnshire were quite small as it was very difficult to spot things in the dark, heavy clays of Lincolnshire! Teams had to abandon using the sieves to catch small finds and go through it with their hands. We did make some discoveries however with test pits 3 and 7 brining up some possible medieval brick. Handmade bricks are very different to our modern bricks and were often made locally in the same way for hundreds of years. As Test Pit 3 is now a field, this gives us a clue that the medieval settlement of healing was in a different position to the current settlement. Test Pits 4 and 5 were located in the garden of a large house and the discovery of a seemingly undisturbed medieval layer suggests that this area has not been cultivated for a very long time, but has has a fairly consistent use. If the area had been disturbed we would have expected to see much small, broken pieces of pottery, rather than the large pieces in a clear soil context that we found. Other Test Pits found butchered bones, fragments of shell and other evidence of occupation. We were given a warm welcome by the people of Healing and the students enjoyed themselves despite the rain!

After all their hard work, the students deserved their day exploring Cambridge. It’s a long journey down but we hope it is worth it to inspire these pupils to achieve the very best they can. As a Russell Group university is very outward looking in it’s approach to learning, producing research that is used across the world in to understand and develop products, services and impact many people’s lives. While ACA focuses on archaeological knowledge, the skills that the students learn on the ILAFS programme are transferrable to many different subjects and work areas. Skills such as communication, structuring their own work, achieving aims by effort and persistence and working cooperatively. All are highly useful in the workplace. The written report the students produce as part of the programme reinforces the academic skills which are also of use no matter where students decide to go. Gathering and comparing different types of data, interpreting and judging that evidence to produce a clear and technical report is a skill that will always come in handy. This was all explained in the morning lecture, given by Eoin Parkinson, phD students at the department.

At lunchtime the students went to Trinity or Gonville & Caius colleges both for a tasty hot lunch and to see how university students live. Cambridge is quite different to many universities being based throughout the town and having a college system rather than one central campus. Some of the students loved the ‘Harry Potter’ vibe of the colleges with their old buildings and portraits of old masters. But it’s also the atmosphere of the colleges- collective bodies of students working together and being a family. We talked about what it would be like to live here, and what some people liked, what others didn’t. It helped that the rain held off too.

After lunch we were at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, putting into practise those ideas that were given in the morning’s lecture. It was a fun time, looking at the medieval and roman settlements in Cambridge as well as the Indus and Mayan civilisations. It’s all the same archaeological skills no matter when and where you look! Finally to round off the day and reinforce the message, the students had a talk from Emma Smith, Schools Liaison Officer at Homerton college. The skills that the students have learnt over the last three days and that they will demonstrate in their reports could take them anywhere they wish to go. Hopefully a little bit of guidance at this early stage will put them on that path. Teachers accompanying the students felt they had most benefited from learning the skills of teamwork, knowledge of a top university and perseverance. “The whole experience was really beneficial. Students and I really enjoyed it.” LB. Students said they had gained “Experience of how to do archaeology and what university is about. Knowing that I found pottery from Germany.” LK “I gained a lot of information about the subject and what it is like at the University of Cambridge.” CS. Students said they particularly enjoyed getting outside, learning more about university and gaining self confidence

We would like to say a big thank you to the North East Lincolnshire Archaeology and History Society and Sarah Leadley from Ormiston Maritime Academy who did much to organise the last three days. We hope you enjoyed it!


In this kind of hot and humid weather it’s just as hot inside as outside and so why not get digging?! 39 pupils as well as 11 6th form students and their teachers joined us for a two- day dig at East Rudham. Students came from Fakenham Academy, Alderman Peel High School, Cromer Academy, Litcham High School and Thomas Clarkson Academy and were all a credit to their schools, displaying determination to dig as well as making insightful remarks about the history of the village and the archaeological process.

We were again based at St Mary’s Church and we were very grateful for it’s medieval air conditioning system (read: thick stone walls). Alison Dickens, manager of Access Cambridge Archaeology welcomed the mixed year 9, 10 and 12 students, 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?

This is the second time we have dug in East Rudham and our 10th ILAFS of the year. The previous report can be found here. A map showing where this year’s test pits were located can be found there- most were group in a field close to a medieval moated site and within sight of another church in the village. A 6th form student from Fakenham Academy supervised each test pit, helping students to organise themselves, stepping in to motivate the team and assessing the younger students. These are all very valuable skills to have in the workplace and at university and is a highly useful experience to have when writing their university applications in the next few months. Teachers and members of the ACA team also toured the village checking in on students and giving the benefit of their archaeological knowledge. Despite the incredible heat on Day 1 the teams were soon discovering finds for the first time and by the end of Day 1 we already had a number of test pits who had found medieval pottery. All the test pits were close by to known areas of anglo-saxon settlement so it would be interesting to see if they found supporting evidence. Jo Stone, our Beacon School co-ordinator was very excited when she spotted a lovely piece of 11th century pottery which included a thumbprint, part of the decoration of the pot it came from. Another test pit found the complete end of a clay pipe which by its size probably dates to the 17th century. Other interesting finds included a button, coins and building materials which together suggest changing uses of the area as it is now a field and was previously common land. I will look forward to reading the student’s reports interpreting their findings.

The third day of ILAFS is always spent in Cambridge, pulling together the students’ knowledge and ideas in preparation for writing their reports but more importantly giving them a taste of what it is like to learn and live at university. A clear, set out talk on what to write is very valuable as 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. During lunch at Clare college, a member of the admissions team for Cambridge there highlighted to the students how much of a useful experience ILAFS is. It demonstrates to universities that you have not just passively been along on a trip, but taken it through to completion, putting in much time and effort to achieve that. Trinity and Christ’s colleges also took students for lunch and a tour so that ILAFS pupils could see how university students live as well as work.


After lunch, while the younger students were at their session in the museum, Emma Smith, Schools Liaison Officer at Homerton 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.



Being in the surroundings of the University of Cambridge also hopefully inspires the students who are just deciding their futures. We had some great feedback from the students for this session which we try to offer to any older ILAFS participant. “I enjoyed the personal statement session as it gave great insight into the types of criteria universities look for in this part of the application.” GG Fakenham College. “I have gained and developed skills that will help me to show evidence of these skills such as leadership and verbal communication skills as well as working successfully in a team.” MK Fakenham college.

Younger students were just as positive about their experience. “It was informing and very helpful in terms of helping me decide my future.”CY Litcham High School. “I really enjoyed visiting the university. It really inspired me to work even harder so I might one day study here. … Thanks to the staff for a brilliant experience!” L, Cromer Academy. “[I learnt] that there is more to university than I thought.” JD Thomas Clarkson Academy


Staff highlighted “how by mixing up students from different schools, the students learned how to work quickly and effectively with others, a valuable skill for the workplace.” JS Fakenham Academy. The Field School “also increased their confidence and ability to learn new skills and work independently” (KH Litcham School). Many thanks to Jo Stone from Fakenham for organising the schools to come on the trip and thank you to all the staff and students who came!


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